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23 August 2013

British Bars & Cafes: are you being served?

Considering that, for many years now, so many British holidaymakers have experienced and enjoyed what France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain (to name but a few) have to offer, it is somewhat surprising and disturbing that our own cafes and bars have not caught up with the kind of service we have come to expect on our visits to the rest of Europe.

In these more enlightened countries you can walk into a bar or café, sit down at a table, and expect to be approached by a waiter or waitress ready to take your order. Even more impressively, if the weather’s nice you might sit down at an outside table in the middle of a town square and as if by magic someone will appear out of a doorway somewhere and be ready to serve you.

Try that in Britain. You’ll have a long wait.

I often wonder how confused our Continental visitors to these shores must be when they sit at a table and nothing happens. With any luck they will have read some tourist guide book for visiting Britain where it might have been explained to them that in the majority of cases they need to walk up to a bar or counter (and perhaps join a queue) to place their order. Only then can they confidently sit at their table and wait for their order to arrive.

Isn't it about time we rose up as a nation and demanded something better? Why do we put up with it?

The other day, in my own village, I had a bit of time to kill and so decided to play the tourist for an hour, strolling around looking at the shops. I decided to go into one café for a cup of coffee. I’d not been in there before. On entering I said “Good Morning” to a young lady clearing a table, and she responded. I found myself a table adjacent to the one she was clearing and sat down. The place was not very busy at this time. She finished clearing the table and disappeared. I sat reading my newspaper for ten minutes and was totally ignored.

I looked towards the rear of the premises and there was a service counter, and I suspected that I should have gone up to this and place an order. I didn't even to bother to investigate. I got up and walked out. I'm suggesting that this is what we should all be doing: walking out.

I found a second café around the corner, sat down at a table and was immediately approached by the lady (who ran the place) to take my order. Guess which one of the two cafes I’ll be going to next time I want a cup of coffee in my own village.

A few years ago, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about introducing “Continental Café Culture” to our towns and cities. I suggest the first requirement is for café owners to provide something resembling Continental Café Service before we get anywhere near achieving a “Continental Café Culture”.  For the most part, it hasn't yet happened.