Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Diner, Soho

The customer service industry in the UK is much undervalued.  From the woman in the bank who talked to other customers whilst checking something on my account to the man in the local shop who, despite receiving my custom every day, still talks on his phone whilst serving me.  I was similarly underwhelmed by the shoddy and disinterested service at The Diner.

I booked for Wednesday night on Monday for five of us at 7.30pm.  We arrived at 6.30 and had a cocktail at the bar from a very nice and helpful bartender (good mojitos, and I hear very good spring flings).  At our allotted time we proceeded to the restaurant section.  For some reason they had our booking down for 2 people but said it wasn't a problem (so far so good, although if they couldn't have seated us I would have been cross).  In fact, they gave us the best table in the house, a large four sided booth in the window with a view of the long queue for Cha Cha Moon's opposite, snaking down the road.

We looked at the menus, we chatted, we waited.  At 8 o'clock our waiter wanders over to see if we would like to order.  Not even a drink offered before this point.  We request a bottle of house white and a jug of tap water: "We can only do tap water by the glass." he says, slightly apologetically. Ok fine, so five glasses please.  Foodwise, we select two Californian burgers (with Monterey Jack and guacamole), a BBQ chicken burger, a chicken burrito and chicken fajitas plus fries, cheesy fries and wet fries (with gravy).

The wine arrives (no ice bucket, not poured) and shortly afterwards, so does the food.  A waitress who did not take our order brings the order and therefore has no idea who chose what.  When informed she holds the plates out for us to take off her.  I know these may be small quibbles but they were building up a poor picture by now.  The food is good to be fair, in a homemade sort of way, which of course is miles better than a manufactured, factory sort of way.  The burrito and fajitas came with plenty of chicken, the burgers were cooked as requested etc but it really did feel like something I could easily make without much effort.  The fries were good too, if unremarkable.  My friend enjoyed her wet fries but another's cheesy fries only had a small sprinkling of cheese on the top layer - go deeper and they were just fries.  We enjoyed it though - the food was not the problem.

The plates were cleared and we sat for a while.  One of us had been to The Diner's sister restaurant in Shoreditch and said the desserts were good.   Unfortunately we weren't given the option of dessert.  We waited a while longer and wanted some more wine.  Attempting to attract the waiter's attention failed and so one of us got up and ordered from him. There are only about 10 tables in the whole place and at least three serving staff.  The wine was duly dumped on the table but still no menus or offers of coffee.  In truth, none of us were very inclined to spend more money with them at this point.  Once the wine had been finished a good while we decided we'd try and pay.  Our waiter was actually dancing with another waitress, spinning around the restaurant floor, not even glimpsing up at his tables (of which there were only two at this point).  We resorted to waving our arms in the air to attract attention, which was eventually noticed by the barman who alerted the waiter.  I almost felt I was putting him out when he made his way over and we requested our bill.  He brought it, with the 12.5% service added.  We added cash and cards to the mix and waited.  By this point I was pretty angry and I wish we had disputed the service charge, I don't know why we didn't actually.  More arm waving and he came over - "May we pay please?!".  "I'll just get the card machine".  For the love of God bring the thing over when people want to pay, just on the offchance that they might pay by card.

Finally we left.  None of the staff said goodbye or thank you as we made our way out although we, the dutiful diners, did - absurdly.  It took three hours to eat one course and drink two glasses of wine.  Next time I'll try my luck in the Cha Cha Moon queue.

Update: I wrote an email of complaint to the manager about the service to which he responded five days later.  He said he had discussed the issue with the staff and thought the bad service arose from a communication problem.  As recompense he offered me two free cocktails.  Unfortunately, as there were five of us dining, this wouldn't cover everyone affected and neither would it cover the original service charge paid.

One course, half a bottle of wine and a cocktail: £24 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 4/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 23/40

The Diner, 18 Ganton Street, London, W1F 7BU.  Tel: 020 72878962.

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