So with the verbose, preachy context established, I shall now tell you what I think of a new venue in Toronto and that enigma known as “service”.
I won’t bother with the name, but I will say it’s brand new and named after a woman who got on the wrong side of her old man and had her head separated from the rest of her. The room is quite big and is said to be modelled after Berner’s Tavern - a highly regarded elegant restaurant in London. To me it looks more like somebody’s idea of what a posh turn-of-the-century sports bar would look like if there was ever such a thing. The walls are equal parts faux British Empire memorabilia and big-ass TVs. Portraits of important men from the past, like great great uncle Bartholomew, whose turnip plantation in the Gobi Desert bankrupted the family for generations share the walls will sports tv pundits talking passionately about some athlete’s groin injury. Seriously, if you are going to have an Imax-level TV experience in a bar, at least pick a channel where there is something worth watching. Two dorks in polyester talking bollocks does not cut it.
We didn’t have a reservation, so our options were limited. We opted to sit at the bar instead of next to the server’s station or over in the purgatory of “The Library”. After the bartender working our patch walked by us a dozen or so times, he was prompted by another staff member to perhaps consider serving us. When he did deem us worthy of serving he was pleasant but a bit checked out all at the same time. We ordered a couple of drinks and some food. A good acid test of a pub is a scotch egg, so we ordered one of those and a couple of mains. The other thing about a scotch egg is that it’s meant to be a quick nibble as it has to be made beforehand and ready to roll so to speak.
A half hour later and with our menus still sitting there (even though we ordered) our little deep-fried litmus test had failed to materialize. At this point I said “they are going to serve it all at once”. All the while our bartender and his colleges appeared to be doing calculus homework behind the bar. Upon further investigation it turned out to be stock taking as every bottle of hooch was eyeballed and it’s contents estimated and documented. Given the effort that was being expended on toting up the booze, it was clear this was a high-priority job that had to be done at the expense of everything else. I know this to be true because we became invisible to all the staff and our MIA scotch egg was long forgotten.
Finally we were approached by a new server who asked us how we were doing. As we still had the menus, she did not know that we had ordered. “I don’t know” I replied, “you tell me, we ordered some food a while ago.” That seemed spark something and she went off to check on things. When she returned she told us the food was coming shortly. As this point I knew my hunch about ganging up the courses was coming true. When I asked if it was all coming at once, she said yes, without clocking the fact that the egg should have come and gone a while ago. Some awkwardness ensued and we cancelled the egg. The rest of the food came and it was ok, but as an experience, it was already broken by the vacuum of service we endured for most of our visit.
So what went wrong? In a nutshell, it was poor training of the staff - the kind of training that is obviously needed to turn self-centred millennials into people capable of working in service-oriented vocations. Taking care of the punters is not ‘part of the job’ - it’s what the bloody gig is. You are not meant to wait for a drink in a pub unless it’s packed and the bar staff are getting slammed. Otherwise it is supposed to be friendly, unfussy, prompt service always. Punters shouldn’t play second fiddle to stupid stuff like stock taking. Why is that even happening during service hours? Staff should understand or be trained on the offering. A scotch egg is not a side dish, but rather a snack to be washed down with your first pint. If you take your craft seriously you would be able to explain what a Scotch egg is. If you take your take your craft really seriously (and have the parle of a seasoned professional) you might even be able to deftly insert a bit of history and explain that the Scotch egg was originally created in the 18th century by the Fortnum and Mason Department Store as a self-contained savoury meal for affluent customers to eat as they rode in their horse carriages travelling west out of London via Piccadilly… OK, clearly I’m dreaming, that’s not going to happen. All I’m really saying is be present and give half a shit already.
Was this a terrible train wreck of an experience? No, of course not. The thing is that most service fails are not dramatic like spilling food or being downright rude to customers. They just happen when the staff are just not in the game mentally. It’s too bad, as the city could alway use another new good pub. A proper pub does not need try to be a high-end dining experience, it just needs to get the basics right - good friendly service, good food and drink, and perhaps turn off the dozen monster TVs, unless there is a match on. The bottom line is that they probably spent at least half a million getting the doors open and yet apparently didn’t instill any service values in their staff. Well done! Still, I’m sure they will be fine as long as the man-bun sporting punters continue to nurse their pints of chia and avocado seasonal IPA while they Snapchat the afternoon away.
And the Scotch egg? Maybe the last one was eaten by a some modern-day affluent customer as he rode in his leased Tesla west out of Toronto via Queen Street.
July 2018 - Update
Well that didn’t last long. As it’s been deep-sixed, I guess it’s fair play to state that the venue above was called The Ann Boleyn. Didn’t even last a year. Can’t say I’m suprised. Looking at the post-mortem pictures of it on the web now, I will revise my initial estimate of the cost to create it at being closer to a solid seven figures. It’s amazing that much effort and cash could be thrown at a venture dedicated to hospitality and then to properly fuck up the hospitality part of it. Was there something akin to nominative determinism at play here? It’s one thing to name your pub after a beguiling, headstrong woman. It’s something else to choose a woman who’s husband saw fit to have her head chopped off.