I wasn’t going to blog about this, but I saw Tuesday’s ST headline about bad service and realised that bad service was a national epidemic, and therefore had to be talked about, the same way we talked about SARS, and swine flu. Because talking about it spreads awareness, and when you’re aware, you’re less likely to suffer from it. Or something.
Last Saturday, because we had Kai in pram and we were stuck somewhere near Forum Galleria (as you would when you have a child in pram), and because we were hungry and didn’t want to eat at California Pizza Kitchen again, we decided to chance our arm at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus Steakhouse at Orchard Parade Hotel.
There, we were treated to the most bewildering display of the opposite extremes of service attitudes.
When we stepped onto the premises, we saw that staff members were dressed in different uniforms reflecting their vocations – much like how the sarong kebaya on SQ girls have different colours (my brother once said the green one was for the staff sergeant stewardess) – and there were these two men dressed in dark coloured shirts, carrying and talking to each other on their walkie-talkies, I swear, within sight and earshot of each other.
Like little boys play acting at emergency services, they continued their radio jargon-filled requests for chairs and tables while we waited to be seated. One of these fellows then asked if we wanted a table outside or inside, “but inside no more table already”. Naomi very kindly asked him why he would ask if we wanted a table inside if there were none inside already. He simply smiled wryly and then spoke into his walkie-talkie. His colleague, standing three metres behind him, responded with something equally unintelligible.
After we had been seated, Naomi’s mum then asked for another chair so that she could put our giant diaper bag and her handbag on it, and one of the dark shirts told her brusquely, “ok ma’am, give me a minute”. Naomi’s mum didn’t hear him clearly, and thought he hadn’t understood her request and so repeated it, to which he repeated “ma’am, give me a minute!”, but with raised voice and an expression which said “I just said I’ll get it for you, didn’t you hear me?”
Maybe it was the heat, maybe we had a long day, but we were seething by then. Waiters came and went, fulfilling our little requests – such as having one cutlery setting for every person seated at our table – they were harried because it was after all, a Saturday evening, and the restaurant was full of tourists and their companions from across the road at Orchard Towers.
We ordered our food and the real show started when Naomi’s mum’s rib-eye steak arrived, and to her dismay because she was famished, it was too tough for her to cut with her steak knives, and we asked for it to be sent back. The really nice waiter who attended to us listened to our complaint and told us he’d take it back and tell the chef and manager.
We thought all was settled, and that in a few minutes (how long does it take to make a rib-eye medium rare?) Mum would have her steak and all would be good in the world.
But no. The same Walkie Talkie Dark Shirted Guy (whom we asked for a chair), Assistant Manager Mr Peter Ang came and asked Mum, “What’s the problem Ma’am?”
“The rib-eye is too tough!” we cried.
“The cut has too many tendons, maybe?” we added, helpfully.
“We couldn’t even cut it without spraining our wrists”, I exaggerated, demonstrating on a slice Mum had cut out for me, as she always does out of habit.
“The rib-eye is a cut that has a lot of fat, so that is why it is tough”, explained Mr Ang The Assistant Manager.
“We’re not talking about fat. You can cut through fat, you can’t cut through tendon and vein”, we countered.
I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I lost it at that point, and became so incensed at the fella’s attitude that I felt the only way to counter an asshole was to be an asshole as well. I shouted at him, “Hallo, what’s your name?”
Walkie Talkie boy looked unperturbed and came back with a business card with his name and walked away while I was still talking to him. It was too noisy for anyone else to notice that I was shouting “You walk away when I’m talking to you? Hah?”
Except of course my family, and a smiling waiter who waited for me to finish my tirade, then said, “I’m so sorry about that. Maybe he’s under a lot of pressure from the manager also. But I am sorry this is a bad experience. Is there anything I can do for you to make it better?”
We swapped Mum’s order for another, more expensive cut of steak that was not likely to be as tough, so that she wouldn’t go hungry. But by then I was too angry to eat anything. Naomi of course, soothed my jangled nerves by asking me, “so, what are you gonna do about it now that you have his name card? Send him flowers?”
We got a free scoop of ice-cream later – probably the only thing the nice smiling waiter, an Indonesian named Yanwar, could do within his power.
The bill came, and as we expected, nothing had been taken off it. We sullenly settled it before giving Yanwar a big fat tip in person – because we found out that the tip jar is never distributed to the waiters.
As we left, two dark shirted staff members were still talking to each other into their walkie talkies, saying something like, “uhh…. table twenty two only got four chair, why only four chair, can put five chair there, over? yah, roger that, over”