The Sweet Service Award goes to Barry Lewis from Hermanus, a former Manager of Whale Cottage Hermanus, who came to the rescue when I had forgotten to bring my laptop charger back to Cape Town with me earlier this week. Barry was coming through to Somerset West the following day, his sister Carole told me, so I arranged for it to be collected from Somerset Mall, spending the rest of the day catching up on e-mails and Social Media postings.
The Sour Service Award goes to Duchess of Wisbeach in Sea Point, and is nominated by Emily Tyler: ‘I’d like to nominate the restaurant the Duchess of Wisbeach (http://www.duchessofwisbeach.co.za) for the sour service award of the week (year?!). A friend and I went to the restaurant for dinner on Thursday night (9th Jan 2014). We booked for and arrived at 20:30, and were promptly seated… and then just as promptly re-seated at an unset table because as a waiter remarked against his colleague ‘clearly there is no communication in this restaurant’. Our order was taken within a reasonable time – we ordered drinks, starters and mains at the same time as we didn’t want a late evening and we were aware that the restaurant was busy. At the time of ordering I noticed a claim in large font at the bottom of their menu that ‘our meat is organic’. Having fairly recently committed to only eating free range meat, and trying to buy organic food whenever possible, I was surprised at the claim. My experience is that obtaining organic meat in South Africa is nearly impossible, it is too expensive for farmers to get certified as organic, and so they are rather using descriptors like free-range, hormone-free, grass fed, happy meat to describe a commitment to the environment and treating their animals well. This seems a sensible approach to me, and I strongly support everyone who is trying to improve the quality and sustainability of our food. As a case in point, Woolworths, one of the leading retailers in sustainable food, does not describe their meat as organic. They understand that this would be misrepresentation.
So back to our night at Duchess: I asked our waiter what certification system their organic meat was certified against. He said he didn’t know, but would ask a colleague to come to our table. 40 minutes later, our starters arrived, with no sight of our drinks. After two requests to our waiter we secured drinks, a good hour after being seated. I had finished my main course (not meat) when a chef came to the table. She stated assertively that we had asked about certification and went on to say that their meat came from a farm in the Karoo where it was farmed free-range, hormone free etc. I said that I accepted that but that this did not necessarily mean it was organic. At this point she became aggressive, saying that she had been in the food industry for 25 years, she knew what she was talking about. I again asked politely what the certification system was. She said in a raised voice ‘who the f*ck cares’ and walked back to the kitchen. My friend and I were left quite stunned, as were the couple at the table next to us! When our waiter asked whether someone had come to explain to us we said that they had, and that she had sworn at us. He was very apologetic, but didn’t take further action.
As we left, we asked to speak to the manager. We had to go outside as the music by this stage was too loud to hold a conversation. Once we got outside, the chef came up alongside us (I had seen her in the open-plan kitchen on our way out, I’m not sure whether her simultaneous exit was intentional or not). I explained to the manager that she had sworn at us when I asked what certification system was used to ensure the meat was organic. She then entered the conversation uninvited, saying that yes, she had sworn, because ‘this conversation is boring’, we should ‘get a life’ and the manager ‘should not be wasting his time talking to us’. She then said she hoped we would not return! The manager did not respond and made no attempt to continue the discussion. Nor did we!
The following day I called the restaurant and spoke to the owner’s mother, Val, who said she could represent the owner in her absence. She was aware of the incident when I referred to it, and was also highly defensive initially, saying that it was ‘unacceptable to ask to see a certificate in the middle of the evening’. I explained that I hadn’t asked to see the certificate, I had just asked what it was because I am not aware of organic meat being available in SA. Only once I had relayed the Woolworths branding of their free-range range did she understand what I had been trying to communicate both to her and the previous evening. Her attitude changed immediately and she both thanked me for raising it and apologised for my experience the night before. She took my number and said she would get back to me on Monday.
Whilst I’m interest as to whether the Duchess’ change their claims regarding their meat, and am considering how else to take this important issue forward (especially for a tourist destination that relies on the EU market which is highly literate in issues of food labelling and sustainability), the issue of a truly appalling service experience remains. I have never been sworn at by someone in the service industry, and it astounds me that in this age of connectivity and social media action wasn’t taken immediately to contain the damage in the form of an immediate apology by the manager. The restaurant’s defence (by Val) was that they were absolutely run off their feet and had been for the past month. This was clearly evident from our wait for our drinks and the chaos in the seating. However it certainly does not excuse the behaviour we were subjected to’.
The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog. Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at firstname.lastname@example.org. Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.
Chris von Ulmenstein. Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
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