I understand that from a superficial perspective, the economics of serving someone dining alone is worse than groups or even a couple. For the same service effort you only have one cover. For this reason many restaurants use the bar as an extension of the restaurant which relieves some service effort, and often enhances the dining experience for the customer with more interaction.
With the invention of smart phones, being offered a book seems to happen less often, but I still like what it represents. Even more care is sometimes shown by the waitperson having a bit more chatter than usual, or even suggesting whether they can speed up the kitchen if it is possible. Economically, if this is done well, like all other diners there will be recommendations as a result. This might be multiplied because someone dining alone might talk about their experience more because they didn’t have the opportunity at dinner.
Unfortunately, the reverse can apply. Less than satisfactory service, such as lack of attention, can cause more discomfort than normal. The lone diner might be ignored because they are not part of a larger group. This might be unintentional, or it might be a view that the tip is likely to be less, which in turn is probably self-fulfilling.
Tonight I am dining on my own at Gordon St Garage. I’ve previously been here for breakfast and had a good experience. The warehouse converted room maintains its industrial feel, but is cleverly appointed, and tonight on a Tuesday the dining room is tightened to a specific part of the restaurant which aids intimacy and comfort. There are around eight to ten tables eating at any one time.
Scanning the menu I decide that it makes best sense for me to order one of the larger dishes, but there are plenty of great sounding smaller dishes that would be good to share on another occasion. I order the lamb shank, with polenta, broccolini, and gremolata. It comes out with the polenta brightening up the plate, and the lamb looking substantial, but already off the bone. The lamb itself is tender, but is not as deep and rich in flavour that I would normally associate with this cut and how it is slow cooked. The polenta is actually the star. Perfectly seasoned, and with that balanced creamy texture that is so often missed.
The food is a tick but the service is a huge cross. I’ll give a few examples without trying to dwell on it. I ordered a glass of the Mazza Tempranillo and was really enjoying the abundant fruit on the nose, and deep flavour on the palate that is reasonably complex. The waitperson came up and asked “what do you think of the wine”. I told her I actually really like it. Before she asked why she told me that she and one of the bar staff didn’t and that the finish was “too acidic” as they had just tried some tonight. Before I could ask her whether the preparer of the wine list agreed with her (knowing they would not) she was off. Quite arrogant given this is a restaurant associated with Balthazar which has one of the best wine lists in Perth and I know at least one of the owners loves their wine and wouldn’t appreciate their waitperson disagreeing with a customer in this type of manner.
Having finished my glass of acidic wine, it took me quite some time to get some attention to order dessert and a coffee. I asked for the dessert menu and it is pretty weak on imagination for reasonably expensive desserts. Instead I asked whether there were any smaller sweets to try. My waitperson (a different one this time) indicated that I could go and check the cabinet for cakes and the like. I asked if she could just give me a run down (as the cabinet was at the other end of the restaurant) and she said “I don’t know; it changes regularly” so I insisted asking “can you just let me know what is generally in there; is there biscotti?” In the end after this unpleasant exchange I ordered the chocolate truffle which was quite nice, covered in white chocolate. But I really couldn’t understand how the waitperson on a quiet Tuesday night offered this lack of service.
My espresso, by “Mano a Mano” was superb, and is one of the better after dinner espressos I’ve had recently. Waiting for the bill I looked around several times and at one stage no one from the floor entered the main dining area for at least 5 minutes. One was filling up water jugs at the bar, the bar staff seemed tied to their area, and the other waitperson was out the back. Being alone I had nothing better to do than see if they ever put their head up to see if anyone was trying to get attention. Not once. Eventually I had waited so long my water glass was empty for another five minutes and I was waving my hands but they didn’t see as they were not interested in looking. This is Perth, but this is some of the poorer service I’ve experienced here (a local for 30 years, plus several years travelling here for work or family). Dining alone accentuates it.
You come to expect less than average service in Perth but that is a blight on the many professional waitstaff that are fantastic and trying to increase the levels of their vocation. The floor staff tonight at Gordon St Garage were not impolite or unfriendly, in some ways quite the contrary. But just walking around with a smile and chatting to the larger tables from time to time does not mean you can leave plates uncleared, not fill up the small water glasses, or swan around spending more time in the bar than doing your job. What is it going to take for the average standard to improve?