Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Importance of Being Serviced

Yes, the title of this entry is a terrible play on words that has probably been recycled a hundred times in any number of food blogs. It also wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people thought it extremely stuck up; not everyone is particularly bothered about whether or not you get a smile when the Subway girl hands over your change or how much in depth knowledge a waiter has of his wine list after all. So I apologise for making you cringe through it. The unavoidable truth is, however, that service is arguably the second most important part of any meal you pay for and as such, the cheesy title is warranted.

As we all know, service forms the link between the food you eat and the experience any given restaurant offers. It has the remarkable power to brighten your day when you find it in places you wouldn’t expect; equally so it can downright spoil an evening when it adds an undeserved percentage to what’s already a terrifying bill. Service is, of course, especially important when dining out proper, as the aim of any respectable restaurant should be to make the entire experience a relaxing one, altogether sending the customer away feeling like he or she had been the centre of attention and properly appreciated.

Here’s where I like to add a bit of perspective. You’d know very well not to expect Patrick Guilbaud’s surgical precision in say, Juice of George’s Street; most of their mains clock in at around the ten euro mark as opposed to fifty. Time and manners should, by comparison, be all that you’re concerned about. It’s what you’re paying for, right? As such, in restaurants like Juice, the little things that you shouldn’t expect make a huge and endearing difference: the glass of water appearing at your table without having to ask, regular refilling of said glass, unprompted recital of the day’s specials and a check up during each course... none of this you’d necessarily miss – and indeed probably don’t – in many similar restaurants but Juice impressively nails each one. It points firmly in the direction of a good, customer orientated mindset which deserves just as many plaudits as any enjoyable meal and will ultimately do half the work of drawing visitors back in for seconds.

Perspective can also be applied to the lower end of the eatery scale. Take McDonald’s: a fast food business where the fundamental idea is to get the food out into the waiting mouths and be done with it. They’re never going to produce a dickie bow wearing Ronald lookalike to personally deliver your meal, but you can still differentiate between a location that actively makes an effort toward offering service that isn’t necessarily expected and another that doesn’t. Think one in which the guy behind the counter offers to bring the food to your table if it’s quiet, instead of silently asking you to wait. This isn’t a difference that’ll to put you in a bad mood like a wrong order in an upmarket restaurant would, but it’s a small gesture that demonstrates whoever is serving you acknowledges the experience of the individual as opposed to the masses. You won’t ever tip him for it (shame on you!), but it certainly ought to register as an example of good quality service.

The reason I’m discussing this at length (although given how long every other entry is, so far it’s about right!) is because the other day, I had two very contrasting experiences with service. I was in town with Grace and, as always, looking for a place to eat before she headed Cinema-ways for Alice in Wonderland. I’d been racking my brain for a restaurant nearby Henry Street that I wanted to try and finally, I remembered that I hadn’t yet visited Koh on the Millennium Walk. I’d always heard good things about it; the combination of Asian fusion cuisine served in a trendy bar setting had several reviewers writing all sorts of pleasantries when it first opened. Awards soon followed, and it’s been firmly rooted on my ‘to do’ list since. It was decided. At first, getting a seat on a Friday night looked a difficult ask but they soon had us at a table with menus in hand. One plate of prawn crackers with a sweet chilli dip later and I’d chosen both a starter and main: Vietnamese shredded chicken salad followed by Thai style king scallop and prawns. Grace was skipping both and going straight to dessert as per usual, the Thai sticky rice and mango rolls in particular catching her attention. The salad, when it arrived, turned out to be a perfectly light and fragrant starter with the added bonus of ground peanuts! Nothing to get excited over if you’re allergic, especially given it wasn’t actually listed on the menu (I’d question what anybody with an aversion to peanuts is doing in an Asian restaurant in the first place to be honest) but for myself it was a welcome addition to the dish. Grace’s dessert was happily delivered at the same time and reminded me very much of a milk rice pudding I’d had in the now deceased Rajdoot. In other words, it was extremely delicious. She finished and split for the film, I stayed for the main. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty, thirty and finally forty without so much as a word from any of the staff. Yes, they had glanced in my direction quite a number of times but I hadn’t been looking for their attention, so nothing happened. By the time it was nearing three quarters of an hour I gave up, explained what had happened and paid for what I’d eaten. Why did I not simply point out to the staff that there’d obviously been a mix up with my main order you ask? Because the mistake itself was entirely independent of their failure to notice that nothing was happening at my table, despite it being a) a Friday night in an obviously popular spot where turning a table should probably have been a concern, and b) the aforementioned multiple looks in my direction. The manager was naturally apologetic, and in fairness offered to take one of two items off the bill as a good will gesture. Personally, I prefer to pay in full for whatever I’ve eaten; I’ll never request items be removed but won’t say no in cases like this, so I did appreciate the effort when he brought it up. The problem was that I paid for everything despite this. Whoops!

Now a few Euros lighter and feeling just as hungry, I decided to make a bee-line for Eddie Rockets on O’Connell Street since word had, by now, gotten around that they’ve completely revamped their menu. As always, you’re immediately seated by whoever’s on security detail (in this particular branch) and within minutes, seen to by one of the waiters. In this case, I wasn’t given a menu immediately and it looked like the beginnings of another wait. Thankfully, a waitress noticed that I was on my lonesome after only three minutes and quickly fixed the problem. Eddie’s 1, Koh 0. A quick glance at the menu reveals that last year’s blue plate special ‘sliders’ are now a permanent fixture, and at four euro for two with a decent portion of chips to boot you’re looking at one of the best meal bargains Dublin city has to offer outright!


The sliders themselves are miniature versions of the classic hamburger (based on the White Castle favourite, stateside) with a small slice of cheese, Eddie’s secret sauce and fried onions thrown in on top. Simple, compact, tasty and filling. Midway through, the same waitress who’d spotted me earlier checked up to see if everything was okay. Eddies 2, Koh 0. I finished up quickly and left the tip that would have otherwise gone to Koh if everything had worked out.

The difference between Eddies and Koh is obvious. The latter is a twenty euro main course restaurant; a trendy spot that’s built up a fairly decent reputation amongst Dublin’s foodie elite in the past couple of years. It's the kind of place you’d expect – at the very least – regular checkups on the diners. Yet for forty-five minutes, I was stuck in a bubble! Eddies, on the other hand, is a near fast food café style eatery where few, if anyone, expect much beyond a burger and fries to be delivered, yet alone good service. Where Koh got it all wrong, Eddies got it absolutely right but what’s important to acknowledge is that none of what they did well was anything they necessarily had to do, beyond getting a menu into my hand to begin with of course. Perspective is the watchword. Everything that Koh did wrong, on the other hand, was a service disaster, because they forgot the absolute basics on a night where they needed to get those at least right. This was made a double shame since the food itself had been pretty enjoyable, and for that reason I will eventually go back; mistakes do after all happen everywhere and I don’t complain for the sake of it, but this was unfortunately one that repeated itself over the forty minutes. In a nutshell, I’d have major concerns if this wasn’t the first time it’s happened in Koh but will be happy to revisit to, hopefully, try out the rest of their menu.

Ultimately, I prefer to concentrate on whatever positives I can take from a bad situation. I had an enjoyable meal in Eddies and discovered that they now offer what’s probably the best value on decent food in the city. If you haven’t already checked out their new menu – and I’m sure most of you have – then get down there right now for a few sliders! And if you’re happy with their service, don’t forget to tip.

Koh Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge
New Millennium Walkway,
Dublin 1

Tph: 01-8146777

http://www.koh.ie/

Eddie Rockets
O’Connell Street,
Dublin 1

Tph: 01-8722374

http://www.eddierockets.ie/iopen24/

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