Tuesday, 9 August 2011

This is why I don’t like eating out

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the nice things about growing older is staying in. This makes me a curmudgeonly going-out-to-eat person, because when a well-meaning friend suggests a get-together for dinner at a restaurant, it’s just boring to go through all the reasons I don’t want to go. So instead I say, ‘Sorry, I’m busy that night,’ and when I say it enough, nobody ever invites me anywhere. Which I suppose is a bit sad but does serve the purpose of freeing me from the awfulness of ever eating at a restaurant (with the recent exception of Bar Bar Black Sheep).

But today was National Women’s Day, so I drove through to Stellenbosch to take my daughter out for lunch. Neither of us knows much about Stellenbosch restaurants (me because I don’t live there; she because she lives there on about R10 a day), so we opted for safety and went to the Cape Town Fish Market.

It was full and there was a new manager on duty (I know this because he mentioned it a bit later – I’ll come to that) but we found a nice outside table in a patch of sun. Our waiter, Arno, practically skidded to our side, delivered our menus, and came back lickety-split to take our orders. I began relaxing into what turned out to be an utterly false sense of security.

Starters were chicken spring rolls (definitely bought in, a shame when you consider CTFM has sushi chefs on call, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to serve home-made ones) and ‘vegetable’ (um, green and red pepper) tempura with bottled sweet-chilli sauce and not a drop of soya in sight.

Mains were hake and salad for me – the hake looked yummily golden-brown on the outside but proved to be horribly mushy within, and the salad smelled like wet dog but was, paradoxically, as dried-out as a wino’s tongue; and calamari and chips for my daughter – and the nicest thing I can say about that was that it was unmemorable.

Desert was chocolate brownies (I think they were nice but by then I’d had half a bottle of wine and my standards had dropped precipitously) and a chocolate-fudge cake that looked and tasted like the plastic equivalent you might get in a little girl’s Christmas tea set. (Here’s the proof of the pudding: I took the plastic cake home to my son, who will usually eat anything that hasn’t actually been taken out of the dustbin and had the coffee grounds brushed off it, and he had a look and said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’)

And then the fun started.

We’d got there at 1pm and finished our meal around 2.30pm. All that remained was for us to have some coffee and get the bill.

At 2.55pm (by now I was timing it), I went inside for the third time to find our waiter, both to order coffee and to ask him to clear the table of the desert plates. Somebody else came out and picked up the dishes and took our order for coffee (‘and the bill, please’). The coffee arrived, cold, at 3.15pm, but not the bill. I tossed back the coffee, waited another 5 minutes, then went inside again.

While I was asking around for someone who could possibly please please organise our bill (for which we’d by then been waiting for 45 minutes), a woman came storming in from outside. My Afrikaans isn’t great, but the gist of her shouting, frothing and arm-waving was that she’d ordered sushi for 8 people at 2pm and nothing had yet arrived. This beat my problem hands-down, so I stood back and gave her some airtime.

Just then, another customer came out of the women’s loos with an expression of Apocalypse Now-type horror in her eyes. ‘There’s something wrong with those toilets,’ she said, pointing at the door. A passing waiter asked, ‘Which one?’ and she whispered, ‘All of them.’ So that put the kibosh on having a wee to pass the time (and of course just then I realised that I really did need to wee).

I finally found a ‘manager’ (it said so on his name tag) and practically rugby-tackled him and dragged him to the computer. ‘I need our bill,’ I said. Wiping sweat from his brow, he asked me my table number. ‘I don’t know,’ I said (do you memorise your table number when you sit down?). I pointed out the window at where we were sitting, and the manager poked a few buttons and a bill came up that looked like ours (I scanned the screen and saw it had hake, calamari and a bottle of white wine on it). ‘That’s ours!’ I shrieked, over-excitedly, ‘print it out!’ He did, and presented me with a bill that staggered me a bit, but eating out is expensive, and anyway I was now really desperate for the loo, so I threw my card at him and told him to do the necessary.

But while he was fiddling with the card machine, I looked at the bill again and said, ‘Oh, sorry, no, this isn’t ours, it’s got a whole lot of stuff on it we didn’t have.’

This was clearly a nasty curve-ball because the manager let out a groan and I thought I may have to catch him under the armpits to stop him slumping to the floor. ‘I’m new here,’ he gasped, ‘today is my first day.’

‘Where’s our waiter, Arno?’ I asked, because for goodness sake someone had to take charge of the situation, but the manager just looked embarrassed (and faint) – I looked for Arno, he shouted for Arno, and several waiters went searching for Arno, but it appeared that Arno had absconded in the middle of service. We never did see him again.

Another ‘manager’ (it said so in his name tag, too) came over, and we went to a different computer, and between the three of us, we managed to remove the 4 items that weren’t ours, and add the 2 that were but hadn’t appeared on the bill (the cold coffees), and finally I was able to pay. And by then I was in such a state of cross-leggedness that when manager #1 asked, ‘Should I add 10 percent for the tip?’ I just gritted my teeth and nodded – I was afraid the outrage any other response would elicit might cause my bladder to betray me.

And we finally got out of there at close to 4pm.

It’s just as well I was with my daughter, who has a bizarre sense of humour, so the whole afternoon was actually rather funny, but for R320 plus change and almost 3 hours of my life that I’ll never get back, our restaurant experience was exactly what I’ve come to expect from eating out.

Which is why one of the nice things about growing older is staying in.

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1 comment:

Dorothy said...

Oh, you do make me laugh! Thanks. I've yet to have a good experience at CTFM