What do you do when your favourite restaurant takes you for granted once too often?
It mightn’t be the “best” restaurant you frequent. But it is the one that’s a convenient walk from where you live or where you go with your friends when you want a fun time out. It’s the one that makes you feel like you belong there. You feel part of the family, the tribe. The one place you keep returning to year after year.
You love the recognition you receive when you when you walk through the door. The waiters call you by your name and the chef gives you a respectful nod: you are a special customer. And you know you deserve that recognition because you’ve shown them incredible loyalty for many years.
But you resent it when that loyalty is not reciprocated
I’m talking about a restaurant that I have been going to for 26 years. In fact, some of my friends have been going there even longer, when it was nothing more than a cheap café. It used to have a dirt area out the back but now there is a lovely shaded outside eating area – an oasis in inner city Sydney.
We’d go on Friday nights, arriving with the mania that attends the end of the working week. There seemed a magical thread connecting us to the management, staff and other patrons. It was as though we innately knew our proper places in a thrilling epicurean production and we all played our roles superbly. Such nights of culinary theatre were played to a full house and we left sated and content.
But we also went on the quiet nights when there might be only half a dozen people eating in the restaurant. And Saturday afternoons when there was no one else in the joint at all.
We supported them because they were local. Because they were generous people serving inviting food at a fair price. The food quality fluctuated and occasionally we were disappointed with the service but we invariably had good fun and the owners appreciated us coming. We were so popular that the restaurant even named a dish after us.
Over the years the quality and consistency of food has continued to improve. The owners have worked hard and now the restaurant is packed every night and you have to book even on a bleak Monday. They’ve successfully expanded into the space next door where a series of other eating houses have failed.
But times change; we change the restaurant changes and the relationship between us changes. Even the value of the most loyal and longest serving patrons is questioned. Maybe we can’t get a reservation, or get bumped for a new name. We seem to wait an inordinate time for our meal to arrive. Others get served before us. It’s just doesn’t wash with our sense of fairness.
For each of us there’s something that really grates on us. The simple thing that enrages you.
And yes my favourite restaurant has done it again. They’ve committed the ultimate sin – relegated us to the toilet seat again. You know, the worst table in the place – the one next to the toilet door. Now it’s not the first time it’s happened. In fact it’s happened so frequently recently that it’s become a running joke, and you never know whether they are doing it on purpose. I guess they think we are such loyal customers that we will put up with it forever.
Of course I should mention that the toilet seat comes with other benefits. It’s in a corner where the reflected noise echoes around you making conversation problematic. And also there’s an incessant hum from a refrigeration or air-conditioning compressor that reverberates through your whole body. Oh, and before you ask, there is little airflow there either; so it’s pretty stuffy.
Can it get much worse than this? You know it does or I wouldn’t have posed the question would I. We find out from the guy at the next table as he is leaving that we have been shafted. He asked us if he had left his umbrella at our table. We ask how that could be. Because his party had originally been sat at our table but they had asked to be moved because they were next to the toilet.
Even though I had conscientiously booked and been specifically told that, no, you won’t be at the toilet table, again, we had mysteriously ended up there. A group on their first visit trumps the regulars! Instead of looking after us the newbies avoid the booby prize.
I suppose if I didn’t care I wouldn’t get upset, but when you have supported a place so loyally, you expect something back, reciprocation. You have a sense of ownership; not in a physical sense but possession of a degree of goodwill that you feel deserves acknowledgment.
I wondered how many people I’ve brought to this restaurant over the years – without a doubt hundreds. So I ranted a bit to the waiter that night and I had tried to find the manager to express my disbelief at the show of disrespect. Mysteriously she had disappeared.
So there’s my problem, but what do you do about it? What do I do about being down grounded to crap status.
I bit my tongue and swallowed my pride, not for the first time. Perhaps we all needed time to consider the implications.
We went back to the restaurant a few days later. And we got a great table and had a wonderful meal. It seemed order had been restored to the culinary cosmos.