Katy McGuinness: 'This week I encountered some of the worst service I've ever experienced in an Irish restaurant'
A few weeks ago, I encountered some of the worst service I'd ever experienced in an Irish restaurant. I'm no fan of grovelling, nor of excessive formality, but this particular individual took things to the opposite extreme, with a display of over-familiarity that made us think that they had trained at Butlin's.
Now, if we had been eating in a café, this might have been excusable, but this was a serious restaurant in one of Ireland's main cities. Each course was delivered to the table with an over-loud "Here you go!" followed by manic laughter. And when it came to ordering dessert, it was all "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" and enquiries as to whether we were feeling "naughty".
When asked to identify the cheeses on the cheeseboard, our server clearly didn't have the answers. Rather than head back to the kitchen to ask, they winged it, and made up the names instead. Truly, you couldn't make it up. Fawlty Towers was a bastion of impeccable table-waiting in comparison.
Hospitality is an art, and some people are naturals when it comes to getting it right on the floor of a restaurant, knowing instinctively when is the right moment to speak, and when to remain silent. But as much as the chefs who work in a restaurant kitchen need to be trained and mentored if they are to progress and become a truly useful part of the team, then so too do the front-of-house team. And that costs time and money.
There's been a lot of talk in recent months - ever since Danny Meyer made the decision to outlaw tipping at his New York restaurants and factor the cost of service into the pricing of the food and the drinks - about the economics of restaurants and how best a culture of excellence and pride in service can be developed.
The truth of the matter is, that without proper salaries, career structures, and the prospect of advancement, restaurants are not going to be able to attract the calibre of staff that they require to function at a professional level. Paying staff properly means that, whatever happens to food costs, restaurant prices are going to have to increase.
It seems clear that, with the proliferation of delivery services, such as Deliveroo, and of kitchens without restaurants that are geared towards delivery-only (Piply is Dublin's first), the middle ground of restaurants is becoming increasingly squeezed.
Before too long we'll have fast-food chains, and expensive restaurants staffed by proper professionals, and precious little in between.
IN A PICKLE
Sunil Ghai's Pickle restaurant on Camden Street in Dublin was one of the most exciting openings of 2016, with his kid goat mince dish a particular favourite. A new Bhopali ghee roast lamb dish, which Ghai introduced at a recent family style dinner for the Irish Food Writers' Guild, is another winner. picklerestaurant.com
COUPLES NEED NOT APPLY
Galway Food Tours is running a singles-only food tour of the city's west end on Sunday February 12 from 6-8.30pm, taking in a taste and a tipple at Kai (above), Dela, Rouge, Pearla Na Mara, The Universal, Deli La Tosca, Blue Note and Mitzi's Mezze. Booking: Sheena 086 7332885/ galwayfoodtours.com
BLIND DATE DINNER?
White Gables restaurant in Moycullen is running its own version of First Dates over the weekend of February 10-12. Singles in search of love can apply to be matched with prospective blind dates over dinner (€30pp) in the restaurant. See whitegables.com or phone 091-555744.