January 9, 2016 by Emma Bentley
New Italian restaurant? In my neighbourhood? Proper pizza oven in back? Yes please… And then we ate there. A case study in bad restaurateuring, from the frigid hospital waiting room LED lighting, to the prosecco that wasn't prosecco, to having to clear our own plates from our table (with at best three covers at any moment). Even the lovely pizza became forgettable by the time we were done. Good for a laugh though. My heartiest apologies @burntcream_hq, but so glad in the end to have shared it with you. A memory for the future to be sure.
Normally, if I have a bad experience in a restaurant, I’ll chalk it down to bad luck and keep schtum. However, trying a new Italian restaurant last night turned into such a comedy of errors that it is too good not to be shared.
We arrive shortly after 8pm. My two friends live on the street and they texted me on Tuesday to tell me about the recent sighting of an amazing pizza oven.
It’s a Friday night – their first Friday night – and the restaurant is about a quarter full.
The waitress – for the purpose of distinguising her from the others, we’ll give her the very unimaginative name “Waitress in Black” – gestures to a two tables of two, asks if, once she has put the tables together, if that would suit us. “Yes, yes, fine,” we murmur. Coats off, we sit down and settle in, but then Waitress in Black realises that the two tables don’t meet completely straight. It’s a centimetre off. We try to tell her that it’s fine but she insists that we get up. There’s a third small table on the other side and she wants to change the tables around and for us to sit on tables 1 and 3 instead of 1 and 2.
Have you ever seen street game where there are three upturned cups and a coin underneath? You have to keep track of where the coin is as the cups are moved around. That’s basically what happened with our seats. Awkward.
There are large pieces of broken glass on the floor.
I point this out to her, mainly so that she doesn’t tread on it in her black ballerines. With a shrug, she indicates that we are to sit on the tables furthest away from the broken glass so this becomes a moot point.
We are given the menus and are left to peruse. Starters (bruschetta, burrata and salumi) range between 8 and 10€, mains (pizza or pasta) between 13-14€ and desserts (tiramisu, pannacotta) 8-9€. There is a three course menu, priced at 35€.
It’s an old restaurant-industry reflex of mine – and I’m aware that there are many moments in this story where I’m going to come across as a Basic Bitch – but the menu doesn’t add up.
Even if you had the most expensive starter, main and dessert, it would come to a maximum of 33 euros… and quite likely even less. The fixed price of 35 euros had clearly been completely plucked out of the air… probably because other Paris restaurants set their dinner menu at that price. Yet, if you had gone for this option, you would surely have been out of pocket.
As a sidenote, just the day before, my friends had seen them offering a week-long promotional menu (even at dinner) at 20€, which we considered a steal. I inquire politely, but learn that that was yesterday and today is today.
Anyway, we were happily seated at 8.20pm. A few moments later, we are offered a glass of Prosecco on the house… of course, we happily accept. I take one sip and realise that what we’ve been served can in no way be a Prosecco; it’s actually a Moscato d’Asti, a much sweeter sparkling wine. Still, it’s a free drink. I’m not complaining. It is 8.25pm.
Let me take a moment to describe the restaurant for you. It’s a decent sized space with 30-35 covers. An open kitchen at the back with two seasoned pizzaioli and two chefs plating pasta. There are touches of aesthetic brillances (the beautiful tiling on the bar) but the effect is ruined by the overhead fluorescent lighting. It is so bright in fact that you wonder whether you have walked into a hospital by mistake. To add salt to the wound, just at eye-height from where we are sitting, there is a string of bright green LED lights piercing our pupils.
At 8.40pm, Waitress in Black comes over and we finally place our food and wine order. Two other tables have since arrived and the table to my left has even managed to order before us. The table to my right are trying to get the waitress’ attention but it’s to no avail. “Si, si, arrivo subito!” she calls across the room.
There is another waitress – let’s call her Waitress in White – but let’s also give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she’s never waited tables before in her life. Nor has she ever even been to a restaurant before. Her tasks seem to include passing off Moscato d’Asti for Prosecco, ferrying food from the kitchen and ambling around the restaurant empty-handed.
A table of two ask her for something. She looks at them vacantly then goes to find Waitress in Black. A glass of water is subsequently produced.
Other times, Waitress in White is walking around the restaurant holding plates of hot food but visibly has absolutely no idea for whom they are destined.
Anyway, our food arrives at 8.48. Very quick for two pizze and a pasta dish…. but then it’s become clear to us in the forty minutes that it’s taken to get to that point that the four chefs are bored stiff, waiting for orders from the one competent waitress.
Again, there’s a problem. We still haven’t got our wine.
We had also asked for some water, but that hasn’t come either. We’re dry.
To be fair, poor Waitress in Black had tried to open the bottle a few minutes before but the corkscrew had broken in two, leaving the screw part firmly buried in the cork. A new bottle had to be retrieved.
By the time the wine is served, I had already finished my pizza. My friend is only a slice behind. It left us in the rather humorous situation of having nothing left to eat but a full bottle of wine to be drunk.
We finished eating by 9pm. At 9.20pm, the finished plates are still in front of us.
There are now six tables in the restaurant and Waitress in Black is running ragged between them.
A wicked idea has entered my head. I apologise in advance to my dining companions whilst letting them in on my plan… I give the wait staff a grace period of three minutes before I put the plan into action.
Needless to say, three minutes later, the plates are still there. I’ve seen from Table on the Right that calls for help are only answered by “si, si, sto arrivando…” They are also waiting for their table to be cleared. If we’re ever to leave the restaurant, something more dramatic needs to happen.
I’m not proud of it and I’m hoping that it never has to happen again…. but I get up from the table, stack our plates and take them myself towards the back.
Oh my gosh, I wish I could describe their faces! Words don’t do it justice.
Waitress in Black, Waitress in White and two other Women in Grey are all standing near the pass and they have frozen, their mouths wide open. A pizzaiolo slaps himself on the head out of frustration.
One of the pasta chefs steps forward and takes the plates from me. Let me just say at this point that I had no intention of actually going any further out the back nor making a big scene. It was intended to be a wake-up call for the whole team that more attention needed to be paid in front of house.
I explain in Italian that we’d been waiting with the plates in front of us for half an hour (ok, that was an exaggeration – it had been 20 minutes) and that we would like a dessert but that I needed to leave shortly.
The chef is very quick to say that I was completely right and that he personally will take our dessert order.
He’s good to his word and immediately comes to our table to ask what desserts we would like. “Well actually, what’s on offer? Could we maybe see a menu..?” we reply.
He again steps up to the mark, provides menus and we order immediately.
Very shortly afterwards, with the theatrical flourish of an Italian chef who takes pride in his food, our two tiramisu and a panna cotta arrive in front of us. He kindly wishes us a buon appetito and is just about to turn tail back to the safety of his kitchen when I ask, “scusa..?”
I pause just a second, because if you had been there, you would have appreciated the comic timing.
“Would it be possible to have some spoons?”
The poor guy.
He goes to the first waitress station but there are no spoons there. He goes to a second one and comes back with three huge spoons for us. I can only assume that there were no teaspoons in the second station and he was probably too embarassed to go looking any further.
“You know, you should be a waitress,” he says.
“I am one,” I reply.
Ahh! I could barely hold back what would have been fits of uncontrollable laughter.
That was 9.30pm. A shot of limoncello appears alongside the dessert.
Now, if you had any experience in service, at this point you would think: OK, the table is in a rush, we need to prioritise getting them out of here.
We ask for the bill at 9.50. Instead, we receive a shot of finocchietto.
Clearly Waitress in Black has resorted to “Restaurant Handbook 101 “- if all else fails, give the clients a free drink. You can’t make the problems go away, but you can try and get the guests so drunk that they may forget.
“So would you like the bill now?” Waitress in Black asks at 10.05. “Err yes, we did ask you for that…”
A few minutes later, she turns round to ask us what desserts we had. Evidently, Chef had got them from the kitchen and without writing it down.
However, let me just say, our dessert bowls were still in front of us. (Over half an hour from when they were served and fifteen minutes of sitting obsolete in front of us.) It wouldn’t not have taken Einstein to recognise which dishes they were and conclude that we’d had two tiramisu and a panna cotta.
I’ve done my time working front of house. I’ve had multiple moments which could be perceived as a baptism of fire. It’s for that reason that I became such a bitch last night. My tolerance for getting-the-simple-things-wrong is lower than your average punter.
Some things are more than understandable when you have just opened a restaurant: that there is no computer system for communicating between the salle and the kitchen; that credit cards are not accepted; that there are teething problems; that being from Naples, their levels of service do not meet my British expectations of efficiency.
- We shouldn’t have had to wait thirty minutes before placing our order.
- We should have had wine – or at least some water – in our glasses while we were eating.
- I shouldn’t have needed to clear our table.
- Even with the wake-up call, we were in that restaurant for over two hours. And do you know what, we would have enjoyed a lengthy meal…. if we had had some wine to drink! But empty glasses, a gormless waitress and such bright lighting makes for a frustrating experience, even though the pizza was actually very good.
Had we paid 35 euros (excluding drinks) for the evening menu, I would have been seriously pissed (in the American sense.)
There was also no management presence. Nobody overseeing.
The restaurant gave us the choice of a menu in English or in French. It’s a nice touch… but maybe the time taken on that bad translation should have been used to sweep up the broken glass, to print a wine list or even train Waitress in White?
As we’re paying, I tell Waitress in Black that I hoped she hadn’t taken offence by me taking the plates up. We told her how we understood that the service problems were not her fault and we’d seen her doing everything by herself with no support from the three other women. (We had falsely assumed that one of the Women in Grey was the boss.)
It turns out, however, that Waitress in Black actually was the boss there. She had been working as a waitress in France for a year and then was offered this job. I’m not identifying the restaurant because the food was great and it has potential… but let me just say as a word of warning if you recognise the photo at the top of the page, I won’t be hurrying back there any time soon.