Having taken five days off to visit Gerard’s family in France, we have returned home with a mixed view of a country that was once at the forefront of gastronomy and service. For a number of years I have personally felt that there has been a decline in the standards of customer service that you experience in France… I have a saying that in many shops and restaurants they are more pleased to bid you “Goodbye” than greet you with a “Hello”….. in other words they cannot wait to see the back of their customers. Of course this is not the case everywhere, (as this week away has proved), but in the majority and it doesn’t matter at what level, be it a shop, a café, a brasserie or a deluxe restaurant, in many instances the French staff do not seem to be proud of their profession, nor do they seem as though they want to work and they have an arrogance and a negative attitude towards offering service.
As I say, this is not the case everywhere, for example we were travelling from Reims to Lyon by TGV and the young chap who organized the travel arrangements and booked the tickets for us at the SNCF train station in Reims was so helpful, pleasant and polite; nothing was too much trouble and he went out of his way to accommodate our plans. Likewise, whilst in Reims, we found a superb, family owned and managed café, Café du Palais, which was exemplorary in terms of their friendliness and professionalism of service. So too was the maitre d’ and his team at Brasserie Flo and Boulingrin in Reims and the chap in the pizza restaurant in the centre of town couldn’t have been more pleasant …… BUT, unfortunately it was a different story in a small pizza restaurant in Lyon, the train station café in Reims and the nicest patisserie shop in town, (best for pastries, worst for service). I feel like an avenger of poor service standards, but really is it too much to ask that when a pastry and drink are ordered in a café they arrive with a smile, a napkin and milk and sugar included in the price? Or is it asking too much that a party of five people are all served together and not that only four of them receive their pizzas and one is not served for ten minutes with NO explanation and when the waiter is asked politely if the 5th pizza is arriving, the waiter is surly and rude and continues to be so throughout the rest of the meal? And as for the patisserie shop, is it too much to ask to be acknowledged when entering and served instead of being made to wait expectantly for at least 3 minutes before the waitress deems to say “Qui?”…. or proceed to be antagonistic at each further request…. And then there were the three employees of a very well known book and music store (a country wide chain) who looked up, acknowledged our presence and continued to chat with each other before eventually (five minutes or more) sighing, (presumably because I was still standing there) and asking what I wanted…… how have standards of service and customer care slipped so low? Are we all becoming so complacent and accepting that no matter what level of quality of establishment we expect low standards and so are not surprised when we get exactly that.
It is not of course just in France that there is such a sorry state of affairs… on arriving back across the Channel we were greeted by unfriendly passport control officials, useless staff in a roadside restaurant (a well known chain that has never been reputed as being great, but still the shockingly shoddy standards of their staff were a revelation), unhelpful and uncommunicative service station staff and so the list goes on. Being in a service industry ourselves we are perhaps more aware of service standards and we notice tiny details. We make no apology for having high standards- we are not by any means perfect at TerraVina and we know that we make mistakes, but I would hope that our friendliness, our quality, standards and professionalism are miles better than most of what we experienced during this trip away- even if the tiny details are missing in some places, surely the basics should be in place? Do I have pride in being a hospitality professional, not very if this past week is anything to go by and it makes me frustrated and sad to think that we have allowed standards to slip so low, it is a poor reflection on our industry and on nations as a whole.
On a more positive note, a friend who visits TerraVina often, read this in the Sunday Mail and forwarded it onto me……
I have just read the following in Daily Mail Weekend – and immediately thought of you:
Already a hit with the most stylish celebs, orange – or more specifically a new shade called Tangerine Tango – is set to be the colour of 2012, say fashion experts.
You and TerraVina are in the vanguard!
Well, I am of course thrilled that my choice of orange as TerraVina’s signature colour has now become so trendy and so many celebs and fashionistas are following our lead… remember you saw it first on TerraVina’s front door!
Till next week