Why walking out of restaurants should be encouraged
Euan Ferguson: Why walking out of restaurants should be encouraged | Food and drink | Life and Health
Sunday July 1, 2007
For a country now based on service industries we don't do it particularly well, do we? It's like Poland attempting to base its economy on vowels, or Portugal depending on glamour modelling. Thursday wasn't the first time I've left a restaurant without paying, but it is, I think, the first since I started having shaves, and jobs, and grown-up morals, and certainly the first time in which the cutlery wasn't plastic and the leaving wasn't accompanied by ill-suppressed pneumatic giggles.
Gorgeous little restaurant on the Old Brompton Road, and the food was grand. Snails and, later, veal. And, later still, coffee. Much later still. Much, much later. The manager was away, and the mice were playing, and what they were playing appeared to be a complex avoidance game called Deny Euan Coffee. I asked eight times. Each time to be told, in the kind of languid French accent that charms you the first few times, but then rather swiftly makes you want to invade their country again, that it was on its way when it patently wasn't, because I could see the machine sitting there and the pretty Frenchies flirting with each other and not, at all, flirting with the machine, not even a pretty hand-flutter in its direction: they hated it and, by extension, me.
My voice began imperceptibly to take on the same vicious passive-aggressive tones a policeman habitually employs when using the word 'Sir' to interview a paedophile, or Tony uses when 'endorsing' Gordon; but eventually it came, and good it was, and an hour later I tried to pay.
There was a card, with money in it, which I tried to give to them. They giggled and scurried and went into the kitchen to flirt some more. Someone would be with me in a minute. I walked to the counter to pay. A chef shrugged, went off to flirt. Minutes passed. Hours. Dawn came. Another dawn. Glaciers melted and re-formed. Deserts began to stretch and yawn and expand suddenly into infinite distance, then oceans burbled over them and small fish croaked and grew wings, and by the time I and my latest inappropriate friend, Tory Girl, got home we had aged by almost eight-and-a-half million years, though it did hang rather better on her and yes, I must update this picture.
I had tried, so hard, to pay. But something snapped. I grabbed the card from the resolutely empty desk and lifted the inappropriate one (kicking and squealing) by the flimsy-looking but surprisingly strong pink bra strap and carried her into the rain to get our lives back. The next day I felt like a heel: but they still haven't returned our calls, offering to pay.
I'm not quite sure when it all went so bad. A day after this episode I was sitting, waiting for someone, in a bar, watching the second barmaid on her break, staring at nothing, smoking as she chewed her food, and I knew it would all go wrong. And right enough, as soon as she was back on, and the clever one went off on her break, everyone was served the wrong things, and she made everyone come round to her till to tell her, again, the things she wanted to get wrong because she couldn't hear, because she had jacked up the music, her own, to mire us in loud bad chewing music. One couple shook their heads and left. When my mate came in I shook my head and took him off somewhere else (though it's much easier when they have a bra strap).
The change, I have slowly concluded, occurred when someone decided that staff had more rights than customers. To lounge, and chew the cud, and put on moron-music, too loudly, and get orders wrong, every time, and be the most important person in the place because they're the one who studied least hard at school. Often the staff are, of course, wonderful. Some of my best friends are, of course, barmaids, barmen. But they are the whizzy-eyed bright fast ones, who make your night a delight, and get the fat tips. Never has consumer choice been more powerful. But the change in emphasis from the power of the customer to the power of staff can be no more perfectly exemplified than in the unconscionable smoking ban in pubs and restaurants. Nothing in the last decade's Labour legislation will have changed British life more. And I suspect that, hope that, in return, you and I are going to walk out of a few more places without paying, because the British customer can, albeit slowly, change, too.
Have YOU ever walked out of a restaurant/refused to pay/complained?