Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Study in Contrasts, or: I get some wicked service and some scatty service and think I need to forsake my weekend cooked breakfasts and take a stand.

Two recent eatering events have really highlighted the vast disparity in waiters' switched-on-edness to me. One experience left me ruminating on the value and warmth of a waiter who is engaged, knowledgeable and friendly, and the other left me just really pissy.

Item The First: On Friday night Buzz and I ate at Nudel Bar, on the recommendation of The Melbourne Veg Food Guide (and on the recommendation of my stomach, which demanded flat rice noodles and Asian-style vegies now, biatch). And as psychically predicted by stomach which led me directly and zombie-like to Nudel Bar, there were flat rice noodles with vegies on the menu, and I marvelled at the homing signal that my main digestory organ can emit when hungry.

When I ordered I asked the waiter if that dish contained any fish or oyster sauce. Clearly her psychic powers were on high alert too, because she asked if I was vegan, and said that she thought that there might be some non-veganness in there. She came back with a special menu that listed different dishes suitable for vegans, vegetarians, coeliacs and all other sorts of 'difficult' eaters (the menu didn't say that. I just made it up as an encapsulating term for us eatering freaks), and said that although my rice dish was on the vegan list, she had had a feeling that it did contain fish sauce, had asked the kitchen, lo
and behold it did indeed and she recommended something else which she had also checked with the chefs. What a woman!

My vegan Mee Goreng was a huge serve, very tasty and all over just edging on to value for money at $19.80. What left me grinning and with a wish in my heart to return, however, was not the lovely crispy fried shallots or rich sauce, but the waiter's attention to detail, that she bothered to check with the kitchen for each dish, and that the restaurant even had a special list.already prepared. Nudel Bar, this is great service and the lovely w
aiter with red hair deserves a pay rise and a big hug.

Below: Vegan Mee Goreng at Nudel Bar.

Item The Second: Buzz and I often go to Gluttony on Smith Street for breakfast, partly because they have a separate vegan menu, partly because their cooked breakfasts are great, and partly because they are absolutely massive. In fact, when I was overseas I had particularly naughty thoughts about how many I could eat.

Below: big & tasty Gluttony breakfast for girls with hungry tummies

A few months ago we noticed a run of instances at Gluttony where, for example, my toast came with butter (and when sent back for rectification but never reappeared), or my plate came served with a little pot of mayonnaise which necessitated a whole re-litigation of how my breakfast was cooked, and removal of said breakfast once the kitchen had confirmed it was all very buttery. Mostly we were served by a very scatty waiter who appears to make a habit of not really listening and spacing out a bit. This made us abandon Gluttony for a time, but the lure of their chili beans and olive toast brought us back.

On the next few occasions we were served by a different and very capable waiter. Ms Capable Waiter informed us that vegan breakfasts were normally cooked in Nuttelex, whereas up until then we had been informed by Mr Scatty Waiter that it could only be cooked in oil. Ms Capable Waiter was very switched on and my meals came out squeaky-clean-vegan and yummy.

Today, however, marked a new low in Gluttony/MissT relations. We were served by Mr Scatty Waiter again. I very clearly said that I was vegan and wanted my meal cooked in Nuttelex. He said that they only did it in oil, which was confusing but I agreed - I'd already been pretty clear that no dairy was the go and said the 'v' word loud and clear.

Upon (late) arrival, a little pot of mayo nestled in my plate. It was served by Ms Capable Waiter again so I asked her what the sitch with the rest of my meal was. She went and checked with Scatty, who I clearly heard say "But she only said she wanted it cooked in oil!". This resulted in an outpouring of semi-whispered vitriol to our table from me. Scatty came over, said "my apologies!", took my plate away, and returned it less than a minute later without mayo, but with a piece of olive toast that had the lacy bit of fried egg white on it. Once I realised a few minutes later I tore it off, wrapped it in a napkin, handed it back to him and said why - he looked confused, smiled, walked off and did nothing more to work out why his customers were returning food into his hand.

A little later, he came over and asked if I wanted some mushrooms now - as it had been almost 15 minutes since my new meal came, and I already had mushrooms on my plate, this only served to raise the spectre of butter once again.

After a fair degree of intra-table sniping, I decided to ditch the passive-aggressivity and say something. On the way out I spoke to the owner, noting that we came here especially for the vegan menu and that this had happened on a number of occasions. He said he's speak to "him" about it, meaning either the chef or Scatty I suppose, but as he didn't spend that much time talking to me (or offering me a free meal or a discount or an apology or anything like that that I might do if I ran a restaurant that had a special vegan menu and I heard that a regular customer was frequently getting her meal un-veganized by my scatty staff).

If this was a restaurant that didn't especially advertise that it had a vegan menu, vegan cookies and was, quote, "vegan-friendly', I guess I would expect to have to fully explain how I needed my meal cooked each and every time, and I'd be prepared for some mistakes. But not here. Not more than half the time. Not any more.

It's a shame, because the chili beans really are fabulous.

Edit: It's a little later now, and although I intend to maintain the rage, there are a few things I'd like to clarify. Mr Scatty, I'm sure you're a lovely person although you'd probably agree that you do space out a little. Your service is always very smiley and friendly; it's just that I think you don't really pay much attention and that's why incidents like today's really get my goat (is that vegan or not?). I think you could be a lot better with a little application. Perhaps you should watch Ms Capable Waiter more and see how she is efficient, engaged and alert to her work. I would love to enthuse endlessly about Gluttony: it's got great food, coffee and juices; is not stingy on the cooked stuff; I really like the lino tables; there are always current newspapers lying around; and it's very puppy-friendly. But I don't want to have to be both alert and alarmed about my breakfast.

Thank you for your prompt attention,

Yours faithfully &tc,

Miss T

Nudel Bar: 76 Bourke Street, Melbourne. Ph 9662 9100
Gluttony It's A Sin: 278 Smith Street. Ph
9416 0336

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