Today we enjoyed some orienteering (I last did so when I was a teenager) and had decided to go to Polly's Tea Rooms in Marlborough for one of their famous cream teas. The orienteering took less time than we had anticipated, so we chose lunch instead. Polly's Tea Rooms have a great reputation, so we were looking forward to this with some anticipation.
When we arrived we were met by a sign which said, “Wait here to be seated.” A family of three were ahead of us in the queue and we wondered how long we would wait. Nobody attended to us to welcome us or give us an idea of how long the wait might be. Nobody seemed to have that role or to feel that such an action was important. Meanwhile we watched the bustle of waitresses clearing tables, and a queue of people alongside us waiting to pay for their table gradually reducing.
After what seemed like half an hour, but was probably five to ten minutes, and by which time there was a significant queue behind us, the waiter finished collecting money and told us we would have to wait a few minutes.
I suggested to him, probably more aggressively than I should have done, that it would have been nice to have been greeted earlier. When we were politely pointed towards a table a little later I wondered why we had all been queuing as there seemed to be quite a few empty tables around.
I found it interesting how this experience diminished our enjoyment of the restaurant. Does it take a lot to say “hello” to people rather than line them up like cattle? Perhaps what felt like a poor welcome was not intentional – maybe half the staff had phoned in sick, and the difficulty for service industries is that people rate them on the whole experience and not just on what they think their core product is.
Perhaps as I get older I become less tolerant, or perhaps I am just more aware of what good service can look like. I also find myself surprised at the number of businesses who do not seem to have a way of encouraging feedback from their customers. Good feedback provides testimonials that help with marketing. On the other hand complaints are a gift to draw attention to the way things can be improved, and to prevent the diminution of reputation and sales that can be caused by disatisfied customers.
When the meal came it was good – scampi and chips cooked to perfection – however next time I'm in Marlborough Polly's Tea Rooms will not be the place I have been looking forward to going, rather it will be one of a number of possibilites alongside the other pubs, hotels, and restaurants.