Friday, November 12, 2010

When you start to lose customers one by one

The slow bleed of a poorly run business

It's rather sad to walk past a dining establishment that has their lights switched on, service staff ready, and no customers to serve, night after night. Customers don't avoid restaurants unless there's something wrong.

Just like the shocking Noodle House restaurant at Top Ryde. During the peak hours of dining, the ravenous hordes were nowhere to be found and the tables were all sadly vacant and sorry looking. We gave it a try. We really did. But when you're the only ones at the table and the service is still poor
you just know what went wrong (maybe the waitress is the owner's daughter - goes to show that nepotism can really be a backlash). The food was very bad. The service was even worse. So bad that I felt sorry that we had not patronised our own local Chinese restaurant since their food is significantly tastier and they make an effort to provide service.

Last night we dined at Red Spoon, Top Ryde. It's a new Thai restaurant. Maybe they've become a franchise? Or maybe the Red Spoon at Gladesville is the owner of both? If the owner of Red Spoon Gladesville also owns the Top Ryde one, they should probably rush over to start looking after the new start up. If Red Spoon @ Top Ryde maintains their poor service, they will end up with no customers just like Noodle House.

A friend was celebrating her birthday with a dinner. Red Spoon @ Top Ryde was the designated choice out of the 15 to 16,000 restaurants in our fabulous Sydney city of culinary delights. The restaurant business is highly competitive. Not only does your food have to taste good, service must also be good as well. Unlike the US, waiters and waitressing staff over here earn an average of $15-$17/hour and that's not counting the tips and overtime loading. If they had to rely on tips for a living, I'm sure service would improve vastly. Service staff don't have to rely on their fantastic service in order to earn their bread and butter, so at some food establishments, you can get the crappiest service. So crappy that you wished you stayed home and cooked a meal instead.

How good was the dining experience last night? Considering it's almost dawn, and I've spent the entire night tossing and turning, unable to sleep with the food churning around in my stomach, I won't be heading back there. We decided to go for the $45pp tasting menu. The five on our end decided to choose this option and did not prepare ourselves for the next 4 hours of relatively disappointing food.

When things start to go downhill

They had some decent dishes - an exquisitely tender scallop entree, the soft shell crab and green mango salad was deliciously tangy and as for the other ones...nothing special. The pork belly was chewy, the pork hock was all bones and the vermicelli chips were soggy. The serving time between dishes meant that we had to wait for what felt like hours. It probably was, considering we got there at 7.45pm and left by 12pm. Should have known that something was wrong when they came over and said they had run out of the rainbow trout and will substitute with soft shell crab.

Should have known something was going astray yet again, when our entrees arrived, with minute servings and we sat there hungry while our fellow friends who had not selected the tasting menu, received an array of entrees and main dishes. Practically finishing their mains before any of our mains arrived. The chefs have a time management problem.

Should have known that something was wrong yet again, when they brought out two mains when there was suppose to be three. A friend followed up with the waitress about the missing dish. Apparently, the chefs had forgotten to cook that dish. Considering we had finished our mains 30 minutes prior to realising they had forgotten a dish, we didn't want to wait another 30 minutes for them to bring that dish out.

Ok, so they forgot a dish. No problem. However, when they brought out the dessert, it was crazy. We love our desserts. Imagine a glass of sago pearls with mango sorbet and passionfruit swirl on top, a scoop of icecream on top of black sticky rice and small slivers of mango on sticky rice. Now imagine that each of those three fit into the palms of your cupped hand. Now imagine having to split that portion between five.

So there we were looking at the dessert and doing rough visual calculations, better not take more than three teaspoons each or else there won't be enough for everyone to share... ridiculous and quite funny if it wasn't so crazy. We've never had something so crazy before. Particularly when it works out to be about $60 per person at the end of the night. We all love our ice cream so sharing a scoop of ice cream between five people is just unfathomable.

Our friend brought her cake along. The staff lit the candles and all was going well until it came time to divide and conquer the cake. We were given about 10 to 15 plates when there were 24 people. At least the poor chefs didn't have to take responsibility for that stuff up.

Most restaurants in Sydney are fantastic. Usually, for $30 to $50 per person, you can get the most amazing assortment of dishes, great serving sizes and the most amazing cusines on offer. Fusion or authentic, food from around the world - Thai, Japanese, Greek, Spanish, Modern Australian, Korean, Chinese (northern and southern specialties), Italian, Singaporean, Malasian, Bavarian cusines etc ...the list is endless and it's a great city to live in. Thanks to Australia's migrant intakes from all over the world, we have so many restaurants offering food from their culture and whenever we go travelling, it's the one thing that I miss when I'm away from home.

The comparison. When you don't live up to expectations.

Red Spoon @ Gladesville is almost authentic in their flavours. Considering most of the clientele are westerners/Aussies, most don't offer the truly gastro palate challenging dishes that involve pickled fish and too much shrimp paste (that stuff may taste great, but it really stinks and is not for the faint hearted). They had great service, great food timing and the serving sizes were decent.

Don't expect Red Spoon @ Top Ryde to be anywhere near the same in terms of service, food quality and serving size. What went wrong with this second restaurant?! Maybe some restaurants just weren't meant to expand their food empire.

Only time will tell whether they will survive the cutt-throat restaurant business world. Customers are pretty quick to realise when they're getting the short end of the stick. If you want to charge a decent or hefty price for your food, you must offer quality, taste and service. If you don't want customers to return, give them poor service or crap food. To be a bit more generous, they've just newly opened a few weeks ago so maybe they're having teething problems.

I can understand that running out of rainbow trout is a teething problem, but forgetting to serve a dish on your set menu is a management problem and tiny serving sizes won't change with time. Most of us won't be going back. I'll visit them again if I feel like I'm in need of a sleepless night and an upset stomach. Particularly when the Japanese restaurant right beside them has the most delicious food!

If anyone is thinking of going there, try and give them a few more weeks or months to sort out their inventory, management and service problems before going.

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