Saturday, 23 October 2010

Cote Restaurant - How did you annoy me? Let me count the ways...

UPDATE JULY 2012.  We did give Cote another go for a pre-theatre meal and it was much better.
Food and service good in a bistro style way.   My (and many others) irritations with those restaurants that still train their staff to ask annoying questions by rote still remains but I believe the backlash has started!!

The Socks are always pleased when a new recommended restaurant opens in Brighton and so it was when Côte opened in the summer serving 'good value' French Bistro style food.

So lunching there today we had expectations of a reasonable meal but whilst the food wasn't bad, there were so many little things that were wrong that it drained any pleasure out of the experience.  Individually each thing would have been only a slight irritant but cumulatively they contributed to an almighty annoyance.

1.  Attempting to fob you off with the worst tables.

2/10 on the irritation scale. The place was two-thirds empty but they tried to place us on the smallest two person tables and we had to insist on one of the better placed ones.

2. Within seconds of being seated a waitress was asking us what drinks we wanted and what water we wanted.

5/10 on the irritation scale. This is a slightly tricky one.  If we were dining out somewhere posh then we might want to order an aperitif to drink whilst perusing the menu but chances are, that in places like this at lunch time, we will want to see the menu and drink list first and not be hassled before we can even get our coats off.

3. Having been told we didn't want water the waitress for some reason put a water glass on the table which we didn't need and was in any case not washed properly.  My sleeve stuck to some dried pool of sticky stuff on the table.  When called over and asked to clean the table the waitress asked again if we wanted water  - we hadn't changed our minds on this issue during the 3 minutes since she last asked.

7/10 on the irritation scale.

4. Whilst perusing the menu we noticed that "a discretionary gratuity of 12.5%" would be added to our bill.

8/10 on the irritation scale - whilst we are happy to reward decent service that is definitely at our discretion and we find it extremely annoying  that we would have to be proactive in getting it deducted from the bill in the event the service is not up to scatch.

5.  Food was ordered and starters of moules mariniere and smoked salmon arrived quickly.  Actually these were OKish but given we were already a bit annoyed it was easy enough to feel that the smoked salmon was a bit tasteless and the moules came in a small bowl with no bread.  We were rather taken aback at this as we just cannot believe that anywhere in France (and the restaurant does have pretensions to being Bistro French) would serve moules (or indeed a meal) without bread. We had to pay £1.50 extra for it.  The moules were a bit gritty. The wine glass was a bit dirty.

8/10 on the irritation scale

6. So we've got the wine, we've got the food, we've got the bread. We've got our first mouthful of food and the waitress turns up and says "Is the food OK for you guys!"

10/10 IRRITATION! I ABSOLUTELY FREAKIN HATE IT WHEN THEY INTERRUPT ME CHEWING OR TALKING TO MY PARTNER OR READING THE PAPER OR WHATEVER TO ASK A BY ROTE QUESTION FOR THE SAKE OF IT!!! Also I don't particularly like being addressed as 'you guys' but I can get over that one.  Once in a really quite decent and well-known restaurant in Brighton I was chewing on a mouthful of food when the waitress asked this question and stood there and sighed impatiently when I didn't give her an immediate response!  Nevertheless on this occasion we masticate our mouthfuls and nod politely at her.

Two minutes later someone else asks us the same question.  At this point I avoid looking at them and resolutely carry on with the meal I am trying to enjoy.

7.  The main course of coq-au-vin is less than lukewarm.  We don't wait for the waitress to come and ask us if "the food is OK for you guys!" we use our initiative and call her over.  I tell her I don't want it microwaved I want a properly cooked meal that hasn't been hanging around cooling. In the meantime the Bedsock's sirloin steak frites with a bearnaise sauce has arrived.  The steak is good and cooked medium rare as requested.  The frites are in a little paper cone with emphasis on the 'little'.  The bearnaise sauce cost extra.

5/10 on the irritation scale. Actually, the reason why this isn't higher on the scale is because they recoup the situation by immediately bringing a new warm coq-au-vin to the table.  BUT during this time was have been asked twice more "if everything is OK with you guys!".  This pushes the irritation factor over the 10 and the Bedsock sternly tells the last person to ask it that it is really too much.  This happens to be a poor waiter who says he has been told to check if we are alright given the food mishaps.  I feel sorry for him - it is not his fault. It is not our fault.  It is the fault of whoever is running the place to get his staff to work as a team and know what each other is doing so that the customer is not continuously harassed throughout the meal by staff asking the same needless question.  In fact, much as I hate the way Waggamama mark on your placemat the fact that you have been asked and answered this question, at least this ensures it only gets asked the once and if anyone by some mistake asks it again you can just point at the mark on the placemat without having to gulp down your mouthful of unmasticated food in order to give them an answer!!!!!!

8. By this time we had taken deep breaths and prepared ourselves for the ultimate annoyance of being charged 12.5 percent service for this debacle and having to ask for it to be taken off the bill.  Amazingly someone was clued up enough to have taken it off.  Nevertheless our lunch at Côte costs us £57.00 for a two course lunch with 3 of the cheaper glasses of wine so I wouldn't say it was good value.

We won't be going back.


Victoria said...

That's such a shame. I eat at the Cote in Kensington (round the corner from the office) quite a lot and it's always very good. They're also completely unfazed by drunken journalists turning up at 10pm and demanding champagne and chips and a cup of tea.
Whereas I had dinner with some girlfriends in an EMPTY Cafe Rouge in Clapham last night and had to ask three times for the bill. 30/10 on the irritation scale!

HappyMouffetard said...

You were very restrained on the "you guys" bit. I'd give just that 11/10 for annoyance.

James A-S said...

Note to self:
Do not open a restaurant in Brighton (or anywhere near Arabella's other stamping grounds)

Plant Mad Nige said...

The whole culture of 'tipping' and 'gratuities' makes my blood boil. Front of house staff get paid an absolute pittance, I presume, and hope to pep up the income by relying on the generosity or otherwise of the customers. And quite often, I gather, the owners or big cheeses in these establishment pinch the money anyway.

And the worst of all, are places like the Four Seasons Hotel in Doha, where there's a whacking great 'service charge' but they then expect a gratuity on top of that! A head waiter there nearly hit me, until I knuckled under and dashed him a stash. (I bet they still spat in the soup, when I wasn't looking.)

Tipping is a horrible, unfair practice which fosters greed and, in the long run, makes everyone miserable. One of the delights of living in the Antipodes for a while,which we did many years ago, was that tipping was very much frowned upon, as the taxi driver from the airport quite crossly told me on the day we arrived.

I blame the Americans!

Oooh sorry! What an awful rant!

Plant Mad Nige said...

Me again.

Please forgive - but I meant to ask: has anyone noticed that since the eco-crisis, restaurants in general and London ones in particular, have rather gone down hill? I've had several disappointing meals in the past 12 months, at places I've previously enjoyed.

Perhaps a resolution for 2011 might be not to eat at any restaurant where one has eaten before. (Apart from our local Tandoori place where they're absolutely sweet, and their food's fine.)

Oh and Victoria - I thought drunks in Derry Street were absolutely a thing of the past. I'm shocked!

Arabella Sock said...

Victoria, I suspect the problem is that this particular branch hasn't got its act together in co-ordinating the staff. Its a shame as the food isn't bad really.

HappyM, almost everywhere in Brighton says "you guys". I think its a way of asserting the fact that as restaurant staff they are not subservient to you - they are in fact your new best friend! I don't want a subservient waiter I want them to do a professional job which done properly involves rather more skills than just taking your order and bringing the food to table.

James, I'm sure that if you were running front of house it would be done with such charm and wit that the customers would quite literally be eating out of the palm of your hand! In fact it could be the perfect job for you should you ever get bored with running trainclub!

Nigel - I just knew we would be on the same wavelength!! Apparently a lot of places (even well known respectable ones) don't pass tips onto the staff, or divvy them up between the entire management.
As you say quite often they add the service charge into the bill and then expect extra on top!
I'll bet people do gob in the soup if you annoy them in restaurants. My gran used to be a waitress and she said that her friend was annoyed by a customer and rinsed her false teeth in his mint sauce!!

You wouldn't know we were in a period of 'financial austerity' in Brighton. The pavement cafes (of which there are now many) are heaving at weekends and restaurants and shops are busy. In the 90s recession the place was like a ghost town with loads of small shops closing down. I don't know whether we are all fiddling whilst Rome burns.

There are loads of restaurants in Brighton but a surprisingly small number of good ones. We tend to stick with the ones that are tried and trusted. Often when a new one opens it is good for a while and then standards slip.

Ooooh.. much to a long a comment. THis is what happens when ranting starts..

James said...

It's such a shame that you had an irritable experience at Cote Brighton. I love the restaurant, the food, the service and the decor. I have been a few times and everytime I have been it was amazing. I think it might just not have been your lucky day.

Claire D said...

I do believe you are slightly exagerating! Although I completely understand how all these little things can accumulate to become extremely annoying, let me beforehand try and explain why certain things were done.

1. the water: it is filtered water, free of all charge, and in most cases when not put down on a table, a manager will come and see the waiter and ask why and then usually says something along the lines of "its complimentary anyway so it can't hurt to put it on the table"

2. the discretionary 12.5% service charge: legally, any restaurant applying service charge is required to take it off if the customer, being a waitress in a Cotes branch, and receiving less than 1% of the service charge, I can confirm that we would much rather ask for it to be removed and leave(or not) your own cash tip.

3. In our contract it does state we MUST respect what we call "service steps" creating consistence and regularity therefore providing the same level of service for everyone, and we are therefore obliged to ask how your meals (starters and mains) are going within 2/3mins of you receiving them...although your waitress shouldn't have asked you a closed question(i.e. is it ok?). Icompletely agree with you on the whole interruption part as it REALLY annoys me when I am the customer, but there you go, stated in a contract that is signed!

About the portions, sometimes are a bit small, and I don't know about cost in Brighton, but when you compare to London, Cotes is incredibly good value and at least the food is actually prepared in the restaurant, unlike Café Rouge (I have worked there as well and so many things are just microwaved, it's unbelievable)
Also, if you do have any complaints, you should email the company as they actually do take it into account and read emails back to their staff during staff meetings, also it does help them to change things that are wrong!!