Service in restaurants: a small note

A lot of people like to complain about the service standards here in Singapore: waitresses are rude, restaurants don’t give two hoots about how they treat their guests, etc. As someone who loves eating out (who doesn’t) I can say that bad service is a definite turn-off no matter how good the food is (unless its a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, in which you view it all as a cultural experience and laugh it off).

And so I wanted to highlight two recent experiences I had eating out, one in London, the other in Singapore.

The first was The Wapping Project in London.

The following series of emails will explain everything.

Email from my sister to the manager of The Wapping Project.

Dear Marta,
I celebrated my first Mother’s Day as a new mum this year and had a really lovely time. My newborn son and I were made to feel welcome, the food was delicious, the service was friendly and warm.
Unfortunately, my most recent visit was disappointing and frankly, embarrassing.
My sister is visiting from out of town and she asked to have lunch at the Wapping Project after hearing about my experience there. We arrived (2 pm on 9 Aug 2011) and ordered the Sicilian Gnocchi and the Sole as our mains. When the gnocchi arrived, we were surprised to see each parcel was wrapped in aubergine, an ingredient not mentioned on the menu we ordered from.
We asked our waitress if we had missed this in the menu, and she said no, the menu does not mention aubergines. My sister is mildly allergic to aubergines and we had to send the dish back. We politely mentioned to the waitress that such a major ingredient should have been listed to which she replied, “Well, you should have asked.” and “Everyone knows Sicilian Gnocchi has aubergine.”
Aside from the fact that her responses struck us as very defensive, and a little rude, we weren’t convinced that Sicilian Gnocchi necessarily involves aubergines.
We were later charged in full for the dish (even though we returned it virtually untouched), despite some protest from us. The waitress again insisted everyone knows Sicilian Gnocchi has aubergine. When we said we can’t be expected to know this, and that a good restaurant menu should list major ingredients, she argued that she ‘can’t be expected to know that we wouldn’t know.”
In the end, I told her to charge me for the full bill if she really felt she had dealt this in the best possible way and with the best customer service possible. She came back with a revised bill with the service charge removed, which did little to resolve the issue for me.
I’m writing this complaint because the whole experience has left a bitter taste in my mouth. For such a beautiful, elegant restaurant, the service we received was frankly, awful.
1. I came home and searched for ‘Sicilian Gnocchi’ online and true to my gut instinct, it does not involve aubergines. What our server tried to pass off as fact, is simply inaccurate. I urge you to look through the pages and pages of google results for that phrase.
2. The service this afternoon was generally poor. Our waitress was awkward from the moment we walked in. When we asked if she had butter to go with the bread, she said ‘Yes’ and stared blankly at us. Even though the restaurant was virtually empty, it took her three visits to our table to bring the butter to us (by which time our bread was almost finished). The waitress who bought us our mains kind of dropped the plates on our table, creating a fairly loud noise. 
It was all really unusual to me as someone who eats out alot, appreciates good customer service and tips heavily as routine!
I really feel it was important for me to write this email because with such a poor experience, I feel I cannot bring myself to visit your restaurant again, and I’m sure the manager might appreciate being informed of the reasons why.
I look forward to hearing back from you, as I’m still keen to be convinced what we experienced today was an anomaly.
Best regards,



This is the pathetic response we received from the restaurant manager.

Dear Fareena,
We do keep descriptions on our menu concise and all the staff are knowledgeable to answer questions about the menu. For example, we often use only names of the breads of the beef and pork that we serve and customers do ask for clarification if they are unfamiliar with anything on the menu. Sicilian gnocchi is a classic dish. It’s important for a customer with any food allergies to inform us and we would be happy to advise to make sure that the food they order is safe for them to eat.
I’m shocked to hear that Jurate could be rude to any customer. She has been working with us for a long time now and I only ever received praise.
I’ll have to speak to her about the situation and hear her side.
I’m sorry to hear that you felt let down and had a bad experience.
Kind regards,
The manager never got back to us. So we wrote back to them:
Hi Marta,
I was expecting to hear from you again after speaking to Jurate, as you’ve suggested.
Sadly, it appears your email takes the same ‘customer must be in the wrong’ approach as the service we received that day.
I just don’t see how your explanation of ‘classic dish’ explains the presence of aubergine. Which part of Sicily is gnocchi invariably served with aubergine, that you’re describing it as classic? I have found no references to it online.
I’m sure Jurate is generally an acceptable waitress but I just cannot believe I’m the only one to receive service like this. Perhaps I’m the only one who bothered to write in. When we sent our bill back asking for it to be reconsidered, she came back with ‘What’s the problem?’ – a rude thing to do under any circumstances!
I’ve been reading online on restaurant review websites that I’m not the only one unhappy about the service at your restaurant. I’ll be adding my review to these.
Read more reviews here and you will see that we weren’t the only ones experiencing such abysmal service:
Our other experience was recently in Graze @Martin No. 38.
I also visited this restaurant with my sister and nephew. We asked for a high-chair for the baby and they provided us with one. We placed it on the outer end of the table, as you do, in the corridor space between the two rows of tables, there wasn’t any space on the other side. Unfortunately, on 2-3 occasions, the waiters and waitresses kept knocking into the high chair, and on one occasion almost TOPPLING my nephew over in his chair. If he has fallen from such a height, he would’ve been hurt quite badly. We didn’t receive a single apology, the waiters a little flustered, just bustled off.
So I tweeted about this.
“At Graze martin no. 38 – and so far service has been appalling. Twice 2 waiters have knocked past my nephews high chair..”
And: once almost knocking him over. Plates came dirty, with no apology when we returned them. Disappointing much.”
I am actually a big fan of the Graze in Rochester Park. I’ve always enjoyed the food there, I went there for my birthday brunch this year and I was pretty excited about trying out the new Graze with my family. So this experience wasn’t pleasant nor expected.
The next day, I received an email from the manager. They had picked up my tweet (I hadn’t even tagged them as you can see) and were contacting me to apologise and make reparations.
1. This shows they are monitoring feedback, even feedback not necessarily brought directly to their attention.
2. They were pro-active about apologising to me nevertheless and making significant reparations to show they meant it.
I was really, really impressed. Yes, I had a bad experience this one time, but because they showed that they actually CARE, I am going to return to Graze again. And I did, quite soon after.
I think it is important to name and shame restaurants that provide apalling service, but equally important to celebrate the ones who are clearly trying. So good job Graze, its not all true that Singaporean restaurants don’t know good service.
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1 Response to Service in restaurants: a small note

  1. zinaalam says:

    Ps. I have no idea why my paragraphs are bunched up like this. Can’t seem to fix this! 😦

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