big business · choices · keep trying

Eating Out

Yesterday I met a fabulous friend for lunch. We are spoiled people who live in a city in Western country and so we met at a shopping centre where there must be around 50 places to choose to eat at in relatively close proximity. We had decided to eat in the bookshop café where they serve decent food at a good price but it was full, probably because it serves good food at a fair price and the staff there are friendly and helpful. Perhaps this was our problem; our expectations had been set too high.

Once we couldn’t visit our first choice, we were feeling a bit indecisive so we toured the new outside food area where there wasn’t anything for less than about £15 a head. Sure, we are lucky enough to be able to afford that but this was meant to be a quick bite to eat and we really didn’t want a big plate of food so we headed inside again. Is it really unreasonable to hope to get a sandwich or salad and a soft drink for less than £10?

We decided to try the café of the large department store. It has different food stations to choose from and lots of space even on a busy half term. We queued up at the food counters of our choice, paid the eye-watering prices and sat down to two truly under-whelming trays of food. One small salad and a cup of tea had cost me £10.50. The salad contained obviously old potatoes, had little to no dressing and tasted dry and bland. The cup of tea came in a pointless tiny teapot that didn’t pour well and with long-life plastic milk. The person in front of me in the queue ordering a coffee got a small jug of steamed milk but the tea drinkers apparently have to have the fake plastic stuff as that is corporate policy. My friend’s omelette gave her a stomach ache all afternoon and neither of us could eat the small triangle of bread that she had ordered with it for £1.50 which managed to be both stale and raw doughy in the middle. We resolved never to return there.

The problem is that this is maybe the fourth place we have resolved to not visit again in the last month. It used to be that there were rubbish but cheap chain places and nicer places where you paid more but you were spoiled by things like service and quality. Now, apparently, you have to make do with being surprised when things are nice. I really don’t think that we are asking too much. The thing that kills us is that many of the now ignored places used to be favourites until recently that we would visit on a regular basis.

I get that the staff in these places are on zero hour contracts and are being paid peanuts. I expect nothing from them and try to always leave a decent tip. I also understand that it is a competitive market out there for companies, that food costs are going up and that the temptation to cut corners must be huge. BUT this corporate complacency cannot last.  We will just keep moving on to another place and ultimately stop eating out as much.  I know I sound like I am complaining about nothing here, I totally get that I am lucky enough to eat out and that the issues with these places are all small things but these are some of the issues that I, as a paying customer, have noticed in the last few months:

  • Cheap edits to menu favourites – when you list something on your menu and have done for the last year or so, please don’t think that you can get away with changing how you make it, presumably to cut costs, and we won’t notice. When you used to take fresh mango slices and ice and blitz them to make an expensive but delicious smoothie, we will notice when you change it to syrup, ice and one slice of mango for the same price. We also won’t order it again. We might have continued to order it if you had put the price up and told us why.
  • Fake milk – yes is lasts longer and reduces your washing up BUT it tastes awful, isn’t inflicted on the coffee drinkers. It also means more plastic for landfill. As a tea drinker I would rather you put the bag in a mug, added BOILING (not almost) water and a splash of milk than all the tiny teapot hassle and plastic milk. It’s not like you make the tea option all that much cheaper and we still have to queue for four hours as you make two beverages with coffee in them.
  • Dirty cups and glasses – yes, shabby chic is an ongoing aesthetic but please try to check that the dishwasher has removed things like the previous users lipstick marks before you make my new drink. When I bravely point out the gross remnants, please try not to roll your eyes and sigh and me as though I am expecting too much.
  • Broken toilets – there is always at least one broken toilet everywhere now. Instead of adding ‘extra touches’ like hand lotion, flowers and art in the toilets, please just make sure that they are clean, that there is enough toilet roll and they are all working. Sure, one broken toilet usually means that there is another working one but that means we are all unintentionally hassling the toddler who is trying to have a poo and her already stressed mother. Also, I get that it takes time for a plumber to arrive but in most of these places the same toilet, with the same sign stuck on it, has been broken for months. If you ask the staff they just smile and shrug.
  • If you are going to pretend to welcome us at the door, on account of this being corporate policy, please also pass on any pertinent information, for example, there is no point in your going to all four levels of the building to look for a table as we are full at the moment. Also, please stop making your staff do things like welcome us – it’s tedious and humiliating for them and not actually all that welcoming for us when they are obviously are being forced into doing it.

I think that will be enough to be going on with, I am going to make myself lunch at home now.

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