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a blog by Chris Barrow

Service with a smile?

Annie has the rather dubious annual pleasure of celebrating her birthday on 31st December.

Never short of a party of course, but Auld Lang Syne can be frustrating when, in reality, its all about you!

In recent years we have taken to a quiet celebration – just the two of us – a really nice meal, good chats and then back home to watch Jools Holland.

Last year, we walked down to Hale Grill, enjoyed their exceptional steak, excellent wine, a piano-playing crooner and good conversation.

Such a good time that I signed up for their membership card and the decision to repeat this year was a no-brainer.

So I dutifully called about 8 weeks ago and secured a nicely situated table with a £20 deposit.

On Monday this week – a voice mail from Kerry at Hale Grill:

“Mr Barrow could you call us in connection with you New Year’s Eve booking?”

Oh, oh – better reply quickly….

I call said Kerry and she explained:

“I’m calling to collect payment to secure your booking.”

I remind her that my deposit was already paid.

“No Mr Barrow – I’m calling to collect the bill for 2 people at the full set-menu price.”

I’m travelling and, frankly, too busy to respond – so simply react and give her my debit card details.

Its only afterwards that I have chance to reflect.

Earlier this year I took Annie to see Barbra Streisand at The O2 – and had to pay for my tickets in advance.

I get that – they are not going to let us sit and listen to her all night and then work their way around the place with bills and card machines.

But have I missed a sea-change in restaurant policy?

Do we now have to pay for our meals when we book the table?

Last year and I didn’t notice any FTA tables – or, for that matter, any of the Hale glitterati doing a runner after their panna cotta.

So what’s going on here?

1. are they suffering from cash flow problems?

2. will they go bust on Boxing Day and trouser my cash?

3. is there a new Finance Director who wants to make a name for herself?

4. are they a small company becoming a big company – and losing the human touch along the way?

5. have they heard about my tough year and want to make sure I’m good for my money?

I’m over it – in fact getting the food paid for paradoxically means I will probably spend more on drinks on the night (is that another reason?).

But what disappoints me is that, at no stage during the phone call did Kerry say anything along the lines of:

“Thank you so much Mr Barrow, its so nice to see that you are returning for a second year and we are really looking forward to greeting you and your partner on the night. We hope you will have a lovely evening with us.”

Not so much as a kiss my arse – just “give me your card details”.

I was very obviously under B for Barrow on her list.

I wonder what she would have said had I refused?

Moments of truth (MOT’s).

Last year Hale Grill delivered an MOT (an unexpected moment of delight) when they told me that they were providing complimentary taxi rides home for all NYE diners – how cool was that? We live a few minutes walk away and politely declined – but the thought counted.

This year they delivered an MOT (an unexpected moment of disappointment) when they asked me to pay up front with all the charismatic attention to relationship management of a passport control officer.

Such a shame when the food, the wine, the environment and the waiters are so good.

Its the little things make a difference.

“Happy birthday darling – shall get a kitty going for this evening’s drinks and go Dutch?”

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