“I’d like to make a reservation for Friday at eight, please”, I chirped into the telephone, confident that my custom would not only be welcomed but would be treated with a certain degree of importance, considering that since I came home, and I suspect in my absence, every conversation, radio show and current affairs program, drone on at length about the effects of recession and the lack of disposable income. The receptionist seemed unaware of the seriousness of the downturn and the significance of my returning from the Middle East complete with an influx of new cash for the summer when she sharply replied, “we’re very busy, there’s only 6.30 or 9.30”. I opted for the 6.30 option, confident that if the past 6 months with a young baby had taught me anything, it was how to inhale my dinner in 90 seconds flat, leaving hours to dawdle over dessert and wine.
Thrilled with my evening out, a treat which is rare in Qatar owing to the lack of chardonnay on the menu and a granny to babysit, we drove to the restaurant, expecting to get a taxi home and worry about the car in the morning. Pulling up outside, fifteen minutes passed before I remembered there was no valet parking. Accustomed to the service at the Intercontinental Hotel in Doha, I was slightly appalled at the lack of attention to our arrival. Entering the restaurant, we approached the hostess and notified her of our arrival and our 6.30 reservation. “That’s fine” she replied, “We need the table back for 8?” she said rather than asked. She didn’t seem too impressed when I asked if it would be better if we just ate in the car altogether and give her a hundred quid for a take out, but she did say, “It is our policy to try to have the early bird customers out by 8, but see what you can do”, even more offended by this inference to my custom being somehow substandard, I was determined to prove that I wasn’t an “early bird” as I proceeded to order from the Á la Carte menu and chose the lobster.
The restaurant buzzed with hungry birds all scoffing happily. Starter, main course and desert were all of a great standard however there was little or no interference from the staff, which seemed a lot thinner on the ground than before. As the clock chimed 8 it was obvious that the staff were eager for their table back to make room for the top tier, non early birds. Living in the Middle East has educated me on two tier society, but I hadn’t expected it here in Ireland and didn’t like the shadow of the top tier casting over me. It was when the bill arrived that indigestion kicked in. Three digits, equivalent to 850 Qatari Riyals were displayed and itemized within the black leatherette A6 size folder. Diligently I scanned down through the bill looking for where the mis-calculation was, however there was none, each item featured accurately, expensively but accurately. It was the final line, service charge 12.5% incl. that pricked my antennae. What service!!?? Having pulled out my own chair, draped my own napkin across my lap and poured my own wine this was borderline abuse. An hour and a half of basic table service from a snotty nineteen year old, who almost flung the dinner at us from the kitchen door and had to be asked three times to refill the water jug. Noting her silk cut ultra bulging from the pocket of her baggy black bottom’s I decided to bring to her attention, the fact that I was once a regular grubber at this outlet but given the sustained prices and declined level of service I wouldn’t be returning. Shrugging disinterestedly, she commented, “that’s grand, I’ll take for it now so.”
It wasn’t the €27.50 charge, but it was the forty five minute wait for the taxi, which smelt of stale smoke that put the tin hat on the evening. Maybe it was always thus or maybe I’m too used to the Middle East where good service is a fact a not a line at the end of the bill.