Service with a Smile… Or not.

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Service in the UK is a huge pet hate of mine. To put it bluntly, it is woeful. And no, I haven’t been to every establishment in the London hospitality industry, however it is a common assumption (and one with story-telling truth behind it), that the service over here is notoriously bad. From the way employees – whose wages your custom is paying for – speak to you, to their lack of professionalism, to the way they dress, I have been surprised, outraged, and just darn gobsmacked at the way customers are treated here.

This post is inspired by a fairly dissapointing experience I had last week at a Jamie Oliver establishment – yes, THE Jamie Oliver. He has two restaurants called Union Jacks, situated in London. The concept behind them is combining traditional British food  and pizzas! While my experctations were high (I loved the Naked Chef as much as the next person), I felt personally let down when our pizzas turned out to be bland and uneventful. However, I am no food critique, so I let that pass – it did the job and filled my stomach. But the service reallly was the final straw for me. For one, the waitresses were dressed like they had just rolled out of bed. They had matching branded shirts, but one was wearing it with a short skirt and stockings with holes in them and another with it tied up into a knot at the back (showing off her ‘muffin top’!) I’m all about being casual, but this was downright scruffy. Secondly, most had their hair down! Our particular waitress had long, frizzy hair which I could just imagine falling easily into our food. Then, when she took our order, she sat down next to me (what the?!) and basically told me – didn’t ask – she wouldn’t bring out my starter before my main because everyone who didn’t have one would watch me eat it. So I ended up inhaling my prawn cocktail (literally only a teaspoon of shrimp on a forest of lettuce), while my main got cold – nice.

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(Spot the Shrimp)

Wow – that was more of a rant than a critique. But it was a very infuriating,  and definitley not cheap, experience! And believe me when I say it hasn’t been the first – ever ordered coffees at a ‘counter service’ establishment, and you have to wait for them to make the drinks, before you can pay? So you have to stand there, staring at them make your coffee and complete your order. Then you can almost watch your coffees start cooling down while you pay! I don’t know if it is because I have worked in proud, professional cafes back home, but the golden rule was NEVER leave your customer standing at the counter. Take the money and sit them down. That way you can batch make coffees, and serve them nice and hot to all those who have ordered – simple.

Cliché as it may sound, the best service I have had in London town so far is from a New Zealand owned cafe. ‘Sacred’ epitomises the New Zealand Cafe experience and brings it to life throughout six locations around the city. After a gruelling 9am – 9pm drinking session on Australia Day the night before, the quiet, escapism Sacred offered was one I welcomed with open arms. We wanted to visit the flagship cafe, so took a stomach-churning tube ride into the heart of London on Sunday. Tucked away on the famous Carnaby Street, Sacred stood as a haven away from the loud noises of the city. We were surprised it was open as many cafes shut on Sundays – had to be owned by kiwis.

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With a basic, yet mouth-watering menu on offer, I went with the toasted bagel with avocado, tomato and sour cream – plus a side of bacon of course. My suffering boyfriend bought the huge sausage roll slice, which “tasted like home.” After ordering with a very friendly staff member, (and told to take a seat!) we ventured down to a den-like basement level, with a New Zealand themed decor, dim lights and incense – paradise for us hung-over kiwis. Then came the coffee – delicious, hot, not too milky and served with a smile. It was surprising how much we appreciated having satisfying coffee to drink while waiting for our

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Then came the food – again served with friendliness, politeness and professionalism – it tasted pretty darn good too.

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So I left Sacred happy with what we paid, the food we paid for and the service we received. That’s all I ever ask for. This post turned into a bit of a rant, but one I’m sure many of you could understand. When you are  prepared to spend your hard-earned cash in a service-based establishment, you expect be treated with an intent to attract your return custom. As I have such an issue with bad service, I will probably complain about it again down the line. But I am glad to have a clear idea as to the service my future cafe staff will offer my future customers.

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8 responses »

  1. Hi Kel – you need to lodge a complaint with Jamie Oliver. I am sure he would be horrified!
    Kiwi cafe chain in London – nice!
    I have talked to a number of travellers who agree with me that NZ is one of the best countries for coffee.

  2. I can feel your upsettness from here ! But you are so right service is as important as the food. My pet hate is serviing the meals at individual times to the same group ie your main then what seems forever the other members of the party receive mains one by one which seems to happen here in NZ more and more.
    I dont know what these “owners” or managers dont get about basic hospitaltiy rules.
    Kiwi cafe sounded great for a recovery breakfast sometimes its just nice to have the familar.

  3. If you want to experience service go to the States . I have yet to go to a cafe , restaurant , Hotel or shop where the service has been bad . The cynics amongst us would say that is because the employee wants a tip . To date I have never tipped someone working in a clothes or shoe shop and the service and product knowledge like in the restaurants has been impeccable . Sometimes I think that Kiwis travel with Rose tinted glasses . I am in the retail business and I would definitely put NZ service on a par if not below that of the UK , especially on product knowledge . As this is a coffee blog there is only one chain that I know of in NZ that even offers an Americano ( which is what I drink ) on the menu and that is Columbus . Try ordering one in Starbucks in StLukes or Queen St the staff will look at you blankly and say sorry we don’t serve those . My daughter used to have to try and explain that I wanted a long black in a medium cup with hot milk and water on the side to a vacant looking waitress .With reference to the comments written above I would suggest that the travellers spoken to have not had coffee in New Orleans , Columbia , Venice or various other places around the World . In my opinion and its only my opinion NZ has a long way to go to catch up with other parts of the World on their coffee , service and most importantly product knowledge .

    Love this Blog site and I look forward to your next posting .

    • I would have to disagree with you 100%. This post was about service, not really product knowledge, and I think the UK fails epically on both scales. I agree that in NZ often lacks product knowledge, but in the case of your Americano, unless they have been to Italy, of course the barista might not know what it is if it is not on the menu. If it was on the menu, and tbhey still didn’t know how to make it, then that is a different story. However, Im sure you would agree they are always accomodating and try to make you whatever you order – even if they fail. That is good service. The fact that they have not been trained in all types of coffees is not their downfall, but that of their managers. Try asking for a flat white here in the UK! If its not on the menu, you’re out of luck.

      Kiwis may see the world through rose tinted glasses – but a lot of the time they only have back home to compare against. And back home is pretty damn awesome 🙂

  4. I agree that very poor service can ruin an otherwise good experience or make a bad one totally foul.

    I am surprised that you found a cafe where you ordered your coffee, waited for it to be made then paid for it. Plenty of cafes have counter service, but at every one that I’ve been to, you order and pay, then wait for the drinks to be made. Personally I prefer ordering at the counter, then getting the drinks, etc, delivered to the table (or full table service) but I can live with counter service if the place is otherwise good.

    Brian.

    • Hi Brian – thanks for your comment!

      I know what you mean about paying THEN having your drinks made, but I have to admit I have had to wait, then pay – including at Cafe Nero in Portsmouth! haha But I personally don’t like counter service. I think one of the great things about eating out, is getting served on, made to feel special 🙂 but I gues, like you said, if it is somewhere amaaazing, I would put up with it 🙂

      • To me, counter-service (as opposed to order at the counter, drinks delivered to your table) is the hallmark of a takeaway place, but since it seems to be the model all the major coffee chains follow, it sets the bar low for anyone else in the sector. I can see why busy places do it though: cuts down on the costs at the expense of making the customer wait.

  5. Yes I guess that is true. At a cafe I worked in back home, we would be SO busy every day. And thinking about how we dealt with it was having that extra staff member – I would be banging out all coffees whilst my team member would be running them out to the customers. Expecting them to stand there and WAIT was almost blasphemy! But I can see by doing so, the boss won’t have to pay for that extra waitress 🙂

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