I wouldn't normally write a post like this but my mum is keen for me to do so..... mum, this is for you.
My parents visit once a week. Usually, they alternate between spending one week with my sister and the next with me. When it isn't my week, they pop in for a coffee before going on to my sister's house. As I am going to be moving away this summer, they have broken the long established routine and have decided to make every week a bit special by taking my sister and I both out for lunch.
This week, we chose a local pub restaurant of the Fayre & Square franchise - The Gingerbread Man, Market Drayton.
We were quite surprised when we arrived to see that the normal 'order at the bar' service had been replaced by a more formal 'wait to be seated' and waitress service. There was also a brand new menu.
We perused the menu and my sister and I both decided on the vegetarian sausage and mash option. Dad stayed true to form and ordered his usual - fish and chips. The waitress was friendly and took our orders.
This is where it started to wrong.
Dad is firmly stuck in ways (not just in his choice of lunch). He likes his food served at a certain time and gets a bit agitated if he is kept waiting longer than necessary. I'm sure he will deny it when mum reads this post out to him but sorry dad, it is true.
We were kept waiting.
Mum made assurances that it was taking as long as it was because they would be cooking it all from fresh. It would be worth waiting for.
The food arrived about half an hour later. It wasn't much of a big deal for me to wait half an hour but dad is in his eighties. If he sits in one place for too long, things start to seize up and that would spoil his enjoyment. We are all very aware of this and can start to feel on edge if we think he is struggling. If he was struggling, his mind was taken off arthritic joints and worn out knees when he laid eyes on his piece of fish. The dish named The Codfather certainly delivered on the size of the battered fillet. It was enormous and dad tucked into it with wide eyes and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the chip component of the fish and chips was far less satisfactory. The chips were actually cold.
Dad's cold chips were less of a concern than the plates my sister and I were served. I say 'plate' , they were actually large bowls which did not lend themselves well to good presentation which consisted of a dollop of mash with some peas thrown on, drowning in a sea of watery gravy with three mediocre looking veggie sausages plonked on top.
We all know that the first bite is with the eye but I have always been more interested in the second bite.
Sadly, things only got worse.
I am of the firm opinion that if the menu states 'mashed potato' you should be served with potato that is mashed. This may have been a potato once but processing and reconstituting had rendered it quite unrecognisable from the original tuber. Not only that, it had not been reconstituted adequately. I had lumps of almost rubbery goo in my serving that I had to actually spit out for fear of it making me sick. However discreetly I tried to remove the nauseating mass from my mouth, my weak stomached sister did heave and could barely look at her own food, let alone try to extract something vaguely edible from the mess.
Disappointing for us as it was to be served such rubbish, the worse thing was that my mum felt guilty that our meals were not an acceptable standard and started to apologise to us. Her disappointment and feeling that she had somehow let us down was really heartbreaking. This was probably a good time for the waitress to appear and cheerily ask us if everything was OK with our meals.
I am not a complainer - I always just try to make the best of any situation - but with my mum blaming herself for the disaster I had to say something. The waitress did offer to replace my dad's chips but whether the attitude deeply ingrained from wartime shortages meant that he could not bring himself to waste even cold chips or whether he just wanted the meal to be over as quick as possible so he could get up from he chair to relieve his pains, he refused. There was not much she could do about our dinners other than apologise. I asked for a reduction in the bill and we were offered a deduction to the value of one of our meals.
We really should have refused to pay for the two unsatisfactory meals but maybe the fact that we were brought up by someone so apposed to wasting food that he won't even swap his cold chips or maybe just to try and absolve our mum from her misplaced guilt, we had eaten the sausages (which were as mediocre as they first appeared)
Mum wanted to buy us all dessert to make up for the bad food but I felt disinclined to put any more business their way. We accepted the offer of the deduction and asked for the bill.
Dad (who was paying) was quite satisfied with the outcome but the free meal wasn't as good a deal as it seemed. Their pricing system has 'meal deals' so you can buy two meals for a tenner offering a reduction on the price of individual meals. Our bill was reduced by the cost of one meal which automatically meant we were charged more for the other. The compensation for two inedible dinners and a ruined lunchtime treat turned out to be about three pounds. Pathetic.
We have all had bad experiences with retailers and service providers. How those companies choose to deal with the customer can make a huge difference to whether you do business with them again.
An apology from somebody with more authority than a poorly paid waitress, a complaint taken seriously by the kitchen, a sweetener in the form of free drinks or desserts, a fair reduction in the bill .... any one of those would have satisfied us and we would have returned for future lunches (although possibly always steered clear of the mash).
It was not an expensive meal even if we were charged more than it was worth. We are not interested in making a fuss even if the whole experience left a bad taste in our mouths both figuratively and literally. I think my mum's keenness for me to write this post is her way of putting it all in order and moving on. (I hope I have done that for you mum).
My dad is a very generous tipper. I think I mentioned a couple of times in this post that he is a creature of habit. When I thought for one second that he was considering leaving a tip, I told him very firmly to put his money away.