Last orders: Jago graahak jago!

When was the last time you went to a restaurant and returned impressed with the service? I can count a few times that’s happened — but a few times only. Not too long ago, it was mostly fine-dining eateries that marked a service charge on their bills; and with good reason. Now, with mid-level eateries having jumped onto the bandwagon, the incentive system has gone out the window. And with that, so has the only reason to put in any extra effort to serve their patrons well.

Take the Indian Railways for instance. We’ve all had our share of sweet and strict servers. Some give away an extra cup of that half-melted vanilla ice cream without a second’s thought; others won’t even refill a cup of tomato soup without frowning. But within reason, they get you what you need because towards the end of the journey, they sweep the bogies with a tray full of fennel savouries to collect rewards for their job which, no doubt, is tough.

Now, consider two examples at the other end of the spectrum. A friend of a friend recently brought a discrepancy on his bill to the manager’s attention at Masalazone in Bandra(W). The staff refused to accept his point. He was eventually forced to pay for drinks he didn’t order.

Then, last month, at a pub crawl, our group of 15-odd people entered Bora Bora (also in Bandra). After futile attempts at trying to get the bartender’s attention, we asked the manager whether they wanted to serve us at all. The shockingly honest man told us, “We don’t serve those who don’t have a table.” Then what’s the bar for? We asked if he would like us to leave in that case, and he said, “Yes”.

Last week, the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) launched the India Food Services Report 2013. It revealed that “manpower issues: shortage of quality staff and high attrition” is one of the NRAI’s main challenges. As per the report, “according to a study by the Ministry of Tourism, the current supply of skilled/professionally trained manpower is estimated to be 9 per cent of the total requirement.” The statistics prove what we already know — that quality service is mostly lacking.

Evidently, the norm of adding service charge (starting at 10 per cent and going up significantly) to the bill has done nothing for the average diner, who, these days, often leaves a restaurant with a gaping hole in his pocket. Yet, demanding good service is very much an option, and should become a norm for the consumer.

In a conversation with the NRAI president, Samir Kuckreja, I asked him why service was not an aspect ever duly addressed. He nodded in agreement, saying that the organisation does do its bit. But during the chat, he seemed distracted, as he glanced repeatedly at the many restaurateurs who had also attended the event. Explaining himself, he said, “I’m sorry, but I just have to take care of my restaurateur friends also.” Well, at least he seems to understand the importance of good service. And the day all consumers and restaurateurs — big and small — do too, we’ll perhaps truly arrive on the international food map.


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