Whatever happened to fast food?
Ever had to wait in vain for an hour or more for the food you ordered and then made to feel that you are to blame when you complain? Don't worry, you're not alone.
The "tosti incident"
The first of these events I refer to as the "tosti incident". My wife Pep and I were out walking one sunny day in Amstelveen before the turn of the millennium. Feeling a bit hungry we sat down on a half-empty cafe terrace and ordered two cups of tea and toasted cheese sandwiches.
Within a short space of time we received our tea and we assumed our tostis would arrive shortly afterwards. Ten minutes went by and nothing came, then twenty.
The woman running the cafe made occasional appearances to serve other patrons soup, club sandwiches and if I am not mistaken one customer got a tosti. Still there was no sign of our tostis and she appeared to be avoiding making eye contact with us as she passed by.
After 30 minutes, I wondered if she had forgotten our order and I decided to remind her. “Of course I remember,” she snapped. “Your tostis are on their way.” I sat back down and waited.
Ten minutes later and still nothing. I raised the subject again with our hostess and again she replied curtly that they were on their way and that we would have them in two to three minutes. I expressed my doubts. My lack of faith seemed to wind her up, but she confirmed our food would be with us shortly.
Another ten minutes went by and we were still twiddling our thumbs waiting. By this stage the hostess had retreated back indoors and clearly had no intention of coming out to explain herself. Taking the hint, we left, and no, we did not leave a tip or pay for our tea.
The second traumatic catering episode was the "Ponte Arcari incident".
Pep and I discovered Ponte Arcari, a tiny and charming restaurant on the Herengracht in Amsterdam some years ago. The first time we had a lovely meal in the open air on the terrace next to the canal.
Two guys who owned the place obviously enjoyed cooking (in a miniscule kitchen) and everything else associated with running an eatery.
We were slightly taken aback, therefore, when we returned a few months later to find the place under new ownership. No matter, we thought, it is still a great little place.
First we ordered bruschetta, followed by a spaghetti main course — so simple you can’t go wrong.
We sat at the same terrace table as before, which is just outside the kitchen. We were served wine and waited for our garlic bread with herbs and tomatoes.
About ten minutes later, we smelled something burning and joked among ourselves that it was our bruschetta. Sure enough, within a few minutes the waiter arrived to express his regrets that our starters had got burned. We all laughed about this and he said replacement bruschetta were in the make.
Some thirty to forty minutes after sitting down our starters arrived and I must say that they were very tasty.
Then, the waiter started avoiding us. He took orders from other customers, brought out plates of food to the tables around us, but he would not, for love or money, look in our direction. After 25 minutes, I decided to seek confirmation our meal was on track.
“Of course”, he said brusquely as if I had suggested he was an idiot. The reply was the same on the 45-minute mark and again an hour after we had received our starters. It was a nice evening so we were not in a huge rush. We were not even too alarmed when we again smelled something burning in the kitchen.
The final straw was when our waiter disappeared inside the building and new waiters appeared to serve the other tables on the terrace, but not ours. I marched to the front door of the restaurant and on seeing our man demanded to know in a loud voice whether there was any chance of ever getting our spaghetti.
The waiter turned on me and started to tell me I was picking on him because he was North African and that we were all the same. For the second time since moving to Amsterdam, I left an eatery without paying.
This incident occurred in June 2003. I was among a group of friends going to see a play in a theatre on the Nes in Amsterdam. We met at 6pm on the terrace of the Brakke Grond restaurant, which is next to the Flemish cultural centre.
The show was not starting until 8.15pm so we decided to eat first. The menu had a fancy air about it. Conscious of two previous incidents, we asked the waiter if the food could be ready in time to allow us to get to the play. We were assured it would and as there were only about two other tables eating meals I decided to risk it.
I ordered a main course of roast bass, vegetables and safron butter sauce.
The waiter came over once more after that to take orders for more drinks and then, alarmingly, decided that our side of the terrace needed to be shunned at all costs. By 7pm we were getting a little anxious, but decided it would not be long before our food arrived.
By 7.15pm, we were still waiting and the waiter was still avoiding us. One of my party walked over to the guy to check. Yes, he was told, the food was coming.
Twenty minutes later and surprise, surprise, still nothing. I went to speak to the waiter, who promptly disappeared into a back office of the restaurant.
By 7.55pm our commendable patience was exhausted and we decided to leave to grab a pizza slice before the play. We went to the cashier and told her we wanted a discount on the drinks because they had kept us waiting.
But no, she didn’t have the authority to do that. As time was running out, we paid for the drinks in full. But what had delayed our food for so long? “Can’t you see how busy we are?” she asked, gesturing towards the two couples eating a meal.
I pointed out that four patrons did not constitute as being busy, but she countered: “We make our sauces fresh every day!”.
And now I really wish that I got my food there as it sounded very nice, but I also wonder whether they should have learned something from the fast-food culture.
Anyway, we really enjoyed the play that evening. It was about three crazy guys opening a new restaurant who managed to kill their first bunch of patrons. At least they were served some food first.
Cormac Mac Ruairi / Expatica
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.