CHEWED OUT BY HARRY'S
There's been a lot about the importance of good service on
the television recently. Gordon Ramsay,
Ruth Watson, Alex Polizzi, and Mary Portas amongst others have all raised
expectations about what we should expect and made this a central issue in today's
This last couple of weeks we've also enjoyed watching Michel
Roux's Service programme about training a group of youngsters to work as
waiting staff in restaurants. Fascinating
for us, with dining out at restaurants being one of the main things we do -
especially with the 2011 - 2012 Social Group Awards being finalised at the
Since we first had the idea for The Social Group, we have
done our best to raise standards in our region. I have to say, on the
whole, standards of food and service in South West England have improved
enormously since we first started social networking in 1997.
Over 14 years of us running social events, as many as five per day, that's a
lot of dining out at restaurants. We feel we really do know this industry
inside out, with Cathy and myself being experts in the field. Prior
to running The Social Group I had two decades of helping out in my father's
business, Stocktaking & Business Services, dealing with the licensed trade,
restaurants, shops, working men's clubs, golf clubs, and so on. Plus, on
occasion, I represented clients at business functions. And since 1997,
Cathy and I have hosted more social events than we can remember. With Cathy being a really good cook in her own
right and having a long-standing interest in food, the two of us really do know
what we are talking about.
So when things are not as they should be, no-one spots what's wrong any clearer
than we do. Mostly, these days, we have
to say, when we go out to dine, it's either okay, good, or very good. It's rare the dining out experience turns out
as badly as yesterday evening at Harry's Grillbar in Exeter,
Harry's Grillbar is an off-shoot of the original Harry's
Restaurant. We'd been to the original
Harry's years back, but this was our first visit to Harry's Grillbar, which
opened as a speciality steakhouse in 2009.
Cathy dropped me at the door while she went to park the
car. I walked in with our friend David. With no-one there to greet us inside and it
not being clear where we had to go, we ventured to the bar on the right. The barmaid just pointed her arm to direct me
back where I had come from. I wasn't
sure if she meant I was to sit in the lounge area or was supposed to head
upstairs into the restaurant.
While David ordered a drink, I decided to head upstairs to check
out the seating arrangements and to make sure no other Social Group members had
already arrived and were waiting for us there.
I was taking my time up the stairs, looking at the display of bottles of
wine when a voice from about 4 steps back ordered me to move aside with a loud,
"Excuse me!" I was shocked at
being spoken to like this, and turned to find a waitress plus a group of customers
heading straight at me. The waitress
pushed by me as if in an enormous hurry, with the others following like they
dare not walk at a normal speed in case they lost her!
I saw there was an obvious table for the ten of us upstairs,
in a good location in a very nice dining room, with smart decor and a good
ambience. Seeing this was all okay, I
relaxed, expecting a very nice evening ahead.
Even being ordered back downstairs until "they were ready for
us" in a pretty abrupt manner, did not spoil my anticipation. We had a really nice group of people from The
Social Group with us, many who were long-standing friends, and it was all set
to be a most enjoyable evening of socialising, good food, and good company.
The staff left the group of us alone in the lounge after
that. No-one checked we were all there
or if we needed anything. I was
surprised they were not more on the ball.
There had been no welcome and no clear direction as to where we were
supposed to be. We had arrived at 7.35pm. It was now 8.10pm. So I was pleased when someone appeared and
took the group of us upstairs to our table.
As I say, a very nice dining room, with open beams,
fashionable decor, and a cosy ambience. I
think everyone felt at ease with it and we all settled down to chat and enjoy a
nice evening together, catching up on each other's lives and discussing cinema
films we had been to see in Plymouth a few nights previous and what has been on
television this week.
Bottles of water appeared at our end of the table that we
had not ordered and the bread rolls were stale, and all had to be sent
back. As a group used to dining out
regularly, we decided together not to bother with starters - I think, these
days, everyone is looking to keep costs down where they can. Some of us may have regretted that, as it was
after 9.30pm before there was a sign of any main courses. Going on for two hours with just bread and
water was a bit much. In my opinion, a
good restaurant would have brought out some complimentary nibbles or canapés.
The real fiasco started when the waiters brought out the
main courses. After 14 years of hosting 'dining
out' social events, it's not often I am surprised by the service in
restaurants, and usually think I have seen it all. Mostly when things are just a bit wrong, we
try not to say anything. We know serving
a lot of people at once can be very complicated.
However, this was a different matter altogether. When the food finally arrived, the waiting
staff at Harry's Grillbar had no idea who had ordered what and, to be honest,
it was an absolute shambles!
One waiter didn't even know what sort of steak he was
carrying - when he was asked what sort of steak it was, he replied it was 10
ounce! For a restaurant specialising in a
range of speciality steaks, this was just shockingly bad!
I immediately thought about the television programme we have
been following. The amateur trainees on
Michel Roux's Service could not have made a bigger mess of taking the right
plates to the right person!
We all waited patiently for the waiters to call out what we
had ordered. As they didn't call out
what matched with our orders, it got very confused. It appeared to me that when the waiters
couldn't find the right person, they just gave the food to anyone, seemingly at
random. One steak was passed back and
forth several times, as customers handed it back as not being what they had
asked for. Another steak was put in
front of me, even though it was nothing like what was on Cathy's plate beside
me. As Cathy and myself had both ordered
exactly the same, I knew that was not right and moved my plate aside until I
could politely inform the waiter it was not the right steak. Even when they brought me what they thought I
had ordered, it looked nothing like Cathy's which was supposed to be the same,
with hers being a lot bigger than mine.
This farce was acted out for some time, maybe as long as 10
- 15 minutes, with waiters going back and forth to the kitchens and trying to
sort out the utter shambles they had made of the service.
Eventually, everyone had a main course in front of them,
except Linda at the end of the table, who was very upset that after such a long
wait she had apparently been forgotten about.
I saw that it was left to her to point out to the staff that she still had
no food. The staff then went away to
check and came back to tell her it would be another "5 minutes" while
they cooked her a steak. Linda was so
upset that she told the staff that after waiting so long, she did not want it. The staff did not act like they were at all
concerned about this and we all thought they were rather rude to her, not
trying to make the situation right.
Concerned for Linda, as host of the evening, I asked to see
the manager. Instead of him apologising
for a shambolic service and incompetent and surly staff, he tried to blame me
for "chewing off the end of a
steak", telling me it was my fault that Linda did not get a steak,
saying the steak that had been placed in front of me was Linda's, but could not
be given to Linda because I had chewed the end of it and ruined it. It was incredible! They were trying to use me as a scapegoat for
their terrible service and total incompetence!
Suffice to say, that was too much. I couldn't believe this insult! I am sure no-one expects to go out to be
insulted and have someone lying that they had chewed on a steak which was not
I was utterly aghast at being singled out to be blamed for
the staff's mess. I had only spoken up at
all because I felt Linda had not been dealt with fairly or properly, and
because I could see how upset she was. For
that, they tried to blame me! Outrageous!
The staff at Harry's Grillbar spoiled the whole evening for
everyone and this is one venue we would certainly not be able to recommend. The bad attitudes and chaotic service would
have not been out of place in an episode of Fawlty
I don't think anyone really enjoyed the evening. Several other people didn't want to cause any
more of a scene. Ian at the end, said
the piece of steak in his mixed grill was miniscule. While Carol opposite me had the most
appalling overcooked bit of shoe leather on her plate and told me it was most
certainly not what she had asked for.
She said, "At least the chips
were nice", and commented it was a lot of money to pay for a few
chips. I could see she was clearly very unhappy
about it, but after all the other upset, she said nothing. As there had been so many things wrong, it
was beginning to look like we were fussing.
While that was most definitely not the case.
Even though the waiters and manager handled it all really
badly, to their credit, they did knock something off the bill. That did at least count for something.
Cathy's view is that it was a shame for the owners of
Harry's Grillbar to have obviously gone to so much trouble to get so much
right, with the design, decor, ambience, and locally-sourced menu, only for
them to be totally let down by their staff offering such dreadful service.
Harry's Grillbar was not the best "dining out"
experience in recent years. We shudder
to think what the passionate Michel Roux and his supreme termin-waiter Fred Sirieix would have made of it. It was far from the perfection they demand.
Still, you can't win
them all - and we have many more restaurants to go out to instead.
Michel Roux's Service - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xk47x
Mary Portas Secret Shopper - http://www.channel4.com/programmes/mary-portas-secret-shopper