Monday, 30 July 2012

I’ve become something of a specialist: Fullers Tenants Extra June 2012

I’ve become something of a specialist in the pre-theatre dinner market over the past few months. Not, I hasten to add, because I’m an especially cultured individual, but more because, with a couple of our many offspring away at Uni, and the others of an age where they can safely be left for a few hours without succumbing to arson or cannibalism, Mrs P and I thought we should get out a bit more.

Many restaurants in the West End offer a theatre package, promising to get you fed, watered and back out onto the street in time for curtain-up at the theatre of your choice. Theatreland’s pubs, it has to be said, are a bit more hit and miss. 

Very few of them ask if you’re on a timetable, which you might think would be a basic question for West end pub when customers arrive to eat at around 6.30, an hour before the 7.30 start time of most venues in the area. If, as I always do, you say “we need to be about by 7.20 at the latest,” the response also varies. 

“Yes, no problem,” is fine, and so is “sorry, we’re very busy so it could be a problem” – either way, you know where you stand. Unfortunately, vague responses seem all too common. “We’ll do our best” or “hopefully” aren’t much help, because the only certainty is that the cast of the show won’t 10 minutes while you desperately wave at a busy waitress is a bid to pay for a half-eaten meal. 

It seems that pubs sometimes confuse casual dining with a casual attitude to customer service. For example, the Vegetarian Society recently published a survey that showed that while only 3 per cent of self-declared vegetarians eat fish, 85 per cent have been offered fish as a vegetarian choice when eating out.

No doubt the serving staff were trying to be helpful – but the best response to “what are the vegetarian choices?” is probably ‘do you eat seafood?” rather than “I can recommend the fish pie”. 

In the same way, a customer on a deadline needs certainty rather than an optimistic best guess, however well meant the intention. It doesn’t seem much to ask.

This 'Kitchen Porter' column first appeared in Fullers Tenants Extra, June 2012

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