Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Okanagan Disease at the Capped Quacker

This is related to wine in the fact that often wine is part of the product being sold in the transaction.
Since we arrived in this valley almost 10 years ago, my wife and I have noticed something peculiar that seems to be getting worse. It's what we call the Okanagan Disease.
We both came out of a food & beverage background with some hospitality thrown in for good measure. So we know our way around a hotel, a dining establishment, a bar and a commercial kitchen - more or less.
To this day it seems almost impossible to get consistent, professional service at almost any level from food and beverage outlets in the Okanagan. Primarily I'm directing this at the front of the house.
We can count on a couple hands the number of times we've received top shelf service from any number of restaurants, bars and various mixtures of both.
I can only guess at the reasons for this lack of talent. Probably it's a combination of factors.
Poor training.
No incentive (Okanagan residents are notorious undertippers and 8 months of the year there is a shortage of generous tourists).
In any case, there seems to be a race for the bottom. Anyplace that's merely mediocre has an advantage over the competition so why strive beyond that?
The solution is difficult. A restaurant or other establishment that wants to improve the front of the house has to attract professional staff and hold them. Frankly, that's expensive in a business that almost always starts cost cutting strategies by trimming the labour. Even if you can get and hold good people there's no guarantee the market in this valley will twig to the change and respond with the kind of return and referral business an F&B joint salivates over.
A perfect example of what I'm talking about was an after-shopping meal at the Hooded Merganser just before Christmas this year.
First of all, the room is worth a visit. It's a beautifully designed and decorated space; safe and tested details with nothing that will disturb or provoke controversy. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's dated but it's not pushing the envelope either. As such, it was a very soothing room with lighting that was both efficient and stylish.
There was about 5 tables in progress when we rolled in at about 8:45.
Our server was quickly at our table, explained a few options coherently and left us to make our choices.
So we waited. After awhile we flagged down another server to ask if ours was ever coming back.
When she did return she admitted that she had "completely forgotten about us".
Points not awarded for honesty.
We made our food choices and selected our wine from the balanced and fairly extensive list. As with 90% of the wine lists in this province, the mark-ups were obscene.
Off she went, our requests committed to memory.
She should have used a pencil and paper. Really, kids, it's no big deal to jot down a few clues for yourself. No shame at all.
My wife's wine was as orderedand delivered correctly. She loped back to our table with two bottles of wine for me to look at as she had argued with the bartender about what I wanted. I know, I know - I couldn't figure out what she meant either.
After that was straightened out we waited a short time for our meals. My wife's two appetizers arrived as her meal - just as she ordered them and I received a nice barbecued half chicken. It looked delicious. However, I'd asked for the Lamb Sirloin. Which I eventually got and thoroughly enjoyed. It had a great walnut stuffing. In the meantime we shared my wife's food (a super spinach-based salad and delicious sub-continent inspired buttered chicken) and then shared mine when it arrived.
The rest of the meal continued without any other faux pas. We did have a short and confusing discussion about why the curry flavoured butter chicken was served with sliced French bread instead of na'an or papadum. She noted the kitchen had given up trying to get papadum that would hold together. I didn't say that it was supposed to be brittle when served. She hadn't heard of papadum.
While our server acknowledged the mistakes it was as if she had no control over her own flakiness. It's as if it had started to rain at a tennis match; sorry, but, beyond my control, man!
We tipped her a minimum; about 10%. Why? Part of me felt sympathy for her and part of me thought she might get better. Forgive me if she doesn't and she works your table and fucks things up again should you ever accept an invitation to dine at the Duck in a Hat. Or the Capped Quacker. As for me I think I'll take a seat at the bar next time and enjoy the floorshow.
Think I'm a lone nutbar howling in the wilderness? Click this.

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