Are we being served?

LEGEND tells of a time when things were not as they now are. A time beyond imagination. A time before… self-service (you really have to imagine that being said by a bloke with a deep, gravelly, American voice for that to work).

Carolyn dreads family days out which involve visits to any tearoom or restaurant attached to a popular tourist attraction. Because that’s when I take the opportunity to have a grouch about service, or more specifically, self-service. Just about wherever you go these days, it’s self-service. I’m writing this in a Starbucks in Glasgow. The coffee’s fine and the music is… esoteric. But why did I have to stand in a queue, holding my heavier-than-you-might-expect Macbook to make my order, and then stand around waiting for my coffee to be poured before finding a seat? Why don’t we have waiters any more?

Similarly this afternoon at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It’s now become such an accepted part of life that I suspect no-one even registers the fact any more. But I’m sure there used to be places where, when you arrived, all you had to do was find a table, look at the menu, then give your order to the waiter, who would (gasp!) bring your order to your table when it was ready.

Or am I just imagining it?

And what’s so wrong with self-service, anyway? Well, from my own perspective, it just adds to the stress, especially when it’s busy or where you are accompanied by small children. Or both.

If coffee culture in this country was sparked by the sitcom Friends and Central Perk, the coffee shop where the gang all met, then we’re being a bit short-changed, aren’t we? Because Central Perk had waiting staff, and we don’t.

There’s an opening here, I would have thought, for any coffee entrepreneur hoping to provide something new, something popular, something not already provided for elsewhere.

And you know what really annoys me? What puts the icing on the cake that I’ve personally had to shovel off the shelf onto my polystyrene plate sitting on my tray? The tip jar.

Now, I know that many service sector workers are not highly paid, and I like to think I’m a fairly generous tipper. But at the risk of sounding like Mr Pink, I tip those who serve me, not the ones who stand behind the counter and add up the cost of my purchases. If it’s self-service, then by definition, I’m the one serving, so I’m the one who deserves the tip.

There. My holiday from blogging didn’t last long, did it?

(A brief note to my small band of loyal readers and commenters: This post is intended as whimsical thinking out loud, okay? The proliferation of self-service restaurants has not occurred because of the Labour government, the prospect of ID cards, the smoking ban or the failure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I will not approve comments which suggest otherwise. Thank you for your attention.)

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20 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Family life, Hinterland, TV, Whimsy

20 responses to “Are we being served?

  1. James

    Are you doing a busman’s holiday this year Tom?

  2. Stu

    It’s the EU’s fault, of course.

    First of all, just because a tip jar is there doesn’t mean you have to use it. I never leave tips in a tips jar – apart from anything else how do you know your tip will go to the person that sold you your coffee?

    Second of all, there are plenty of cafes out there that will do table service, they just tend to be the old fashioned tea rooms and such that you find in the side streets. Don’t bother looking in Glasgow, of course – I spent a good hour in Glasgow last time I was there trying to find a coffee shop that wasn’t Starbucks!

    Edinburgh’s got some nice ‘just sit down and we’ll bring you a coffee and a scone’-type places, of course… Oooh, did I type that out loud?

  3. Johnny Norfolk

    On the continent there is much more waiter service, and it makes for a far more pleasant experience. I just rember pubs when you rang a bell on the wall and a waiter came in to take your order.Now that we are in resession maybe firms will have to try harder for our custom. I hate self service.

  4. Paul

    Hello Tom. I agree! I’ve really enjoyed reading the blog recently, too.

  5. Now, if we’d had a referendum on the Lisb….. damn – I forgot – we’re not doing that are we? But if Maggie was still PM do you think she’d be more popula….. no, we’re not doing that either?

    But we can talk about tipping, can’t we? Great news yesterday! Workers can keep their tips and it won’t count towards their minimum wage payments. One in the eye for those capitalist pigs, eh Tom? Long live the Glorious Leader, whoever she or he might be!

  6. On the continent waiting is treated as a professional job, one where you can actually get somewhere, with a career path. Here in the UK its either teenagers filling in time between school and uni or people from eastern Europe escaping from poverty.

  7. Absolutely brilliant. And while we’re on the subject why can’t we have civilised bars in the UK where you can get table service just like on the continent. It’s far more enjoyable an evening to be served by a friendly waiter that you can tip than fight your way to the bar to catch the eye of a barperson and then be jostled back to your seat desparate not to spill your drinks. It would also help to inhibit the binge drinking culture.

  8. Chris

    Try Betty’s Tea Room in Harrogate. Good service and they do lovely crumpets!

  9. Peter

    What about the Willow Tea Room on Sauciehall Street? I am sure that when I went there a few years ago they served the tables.

  10. Mrs Blogs

    probably some percieved economic benefit to it. if you have to employ more people to wait on tables than just the one person on the till then your sticky bun would cost more and fewer people would be able to afford to eat in cafes thus denying the toiling classes a place at the table, so to speak, with the latte-drinking classes, when they’re not waiting on their tables that is.

    I have just spent a considerable amount of time pondering on the relative deployment of staff and whether they would be able to process more customers in the different scenarios -waiters vs checkout operators- but all this imagining tea/coffee shops has made me hungry…

    on a more serious note well done on the tips question, it may seem small change to some but it is an important issue when your the lowest paid. And while we’re at it lets raise our mugs and clink them together …its 10 years since the minimum wage was introduced. Labour should be proud that it sticks up for human beings to be treated as such and not as impersonal economic units.

  11. Johnny Norfolk

    Now Tom your party likes passing laws that change the way people live. So, when I was working in Canada some years ago I went to a pub with a mate and went to the bar to order drinks, The barman said please sit down a someone will come and serve you. It was explained to me that in the early days of the formation of Canada there were so many fights and trouble in bars that they passed a law so that everone had to be seated and no standing at the bar, so as to avoid conflicts and fights. Well many of our pubs are now like those of Canada 150 or so years ago and that is how they dealt with the problem so you could pass a similar law so you could reduce fights and restrict how much people drink. We would then all have service in pubs.

  12. Chris' Wills

    Perhaps you should take a look around your constituancy :o)

    There are a number of cafes that will bring your food and drink to your table, with a smile normally. They don’t charge as much as Starbucks and serve decent coffee, but the ambiance is worth the lose of the faux cache.

  13. Chris – you’re right, of course, and I would personally recommend Jamie T’s (formerly Elizabeth’s) in Muirend and Loafers in Mount Florida, where there is table service and excellent food. But sadly there’s just not enough such places.

  14. Auntie Flo'

    More fool you for going into Starbucks. You obviously have more money than sense. The first time I went in Starbucks was the last time – but one.

    I queued for 15 minutes for over priced, plastic tasting food and drink. My coffee was made over 10 minutes before my food and was stone cold once the food was ready.

    Did I complain? You betchya. Go and speak to customer services, said the assistant – this was in Sainbury’s. I had to wait another 10 minutes there. Although I was eventually given a voucher for another meal, that is not what I wanted.

    Starbucks? Never again.

  15. DMEA

    Just as bad as the service is the price. I went to the British museum a few weeks ago and they charged £2 for a small plastic bottle of Coke and £4.50 for a solidified, tiny ham sandwich. Trendy coffee shops like Starbucks are just as bad. If I wanted to spend £5+ on a small bite to eat I’d be better off going into a local pub and getting a meal there. Unfortunately these places only carry out business like that because people obviously enjoy spending their money there.

    I never understood the need to get a take out coffee from Starbucks anyway. Why spend £3 on a coffee when you can buy a jar of coffee for a third of the price and make as much of it as you want in your office.

    I blame NuLab.

    Speaking of eateries, is the Granary restaurant still open in Battlefield? I think that’s your patch. Shawwlands also has a lot of trendy (and affordable) cafes and restaurants, but I think that’s in Mohammad Sarwar’s constituency.

  16. The Granary’s still there, but it’s in Shawlands, not Battlefield. And both Shawlands and Battlefield are now in “my patch”.

  17. DMEA

    My Glasgow political geography’s not what it used to be…

  18. dreamingspire

    Tom, come out of the front door of DfT onto Horseferry Rd, turn left and go into the owner-managed coffee and food shop instead of the Starbucks. Yes, they do like you to carry your coffee from the counter but I’m sure they would bring it over for you once they see you burdened with the trappings of power. As for why people use Starbucks, its the same as why people use First Group buses: they are all over the place in many towns and cities but we still hate their poor service management – you can make a goodly profit out of high volume poor service.

  19. Alasdair

    Hi Tom,

    I think the tearoom that’s downstairs in the kelvingrove art galleries is sit down and be served, more than that, when I last by-past it a fewdays ago it was a ‘wait to be seated’ affair as well … just for future reference.

  20. John

    I see a “Minister loses laptop in Starbucks” scandal looming.

    The problem is the cost of the rent. If everyone stands and queues rather than sits its probably equvalent to 2 extra tables. The big brands want high street locations with high street rents. The old sit and be served is squeezed to a marginal existence of backstreets and customers on budgets. Many cafes were on low rent first floor premises but these lack disabled access…….I blame the government.

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