Culture: An end to service with a sneer?

At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I can't help feeling some pleasure when thinking about the impact the credit crunch will have on Britain's most fashionable restaurants. I'm not hoping they go bust, only that they start treating their customers with a little more respect.

Too often, the experience of dining out at a high-end restaurant leaves you feeling about an inch tall. This begins when you call to make a reservation. First you get put on hold for 10 minutes, then you're tartly informed that the restaurant is fully booked for the next three months. Even if you can get a table, you're forced to hand over your credit-card details in case you cancel without giving them the appropriate notice. When you arrive on the day in question, you're nearly always told to wait at the bar because your table's not ready. You then have to stand there, cooling your heels, as a succession of D-list celebrities are immediately whisked into the dining-room.

This happened to me at Nobu Berkeley in London's West End. By the time my wife and I were finally shown to our table, it felt as though the entire cast of Soapstar Superstar had been seated before us.

Of course, at other high-end restaurants, it's only when you sit down that the real humiliation begins. First, your waiter informs you that you have only 90 minutes to get through your meal because the table's been re-booked for the "second sitting", then he makes you wait 45 minutes before taking your order. Starters will then appear five minutes later, but your main course won't arrive for another hour, forcing you to guzzle down several bottles of ludicrously over-priced wine while you wait.

Needless to say, when the same waiter presents you with your bill, he will have included a 12.5 per cent service charge. After you've forked over your credit card, he'll then include this charge in the "sub-total" box, giving you the option of adding an additional 12.5 per cent before filling in the final amount. Some smart restaurants add insult to injury by increasing the service charge to 15 per cent.

As I say, I hope that no restaurants go under in the next few months. But I am looking forward to being treated like a paying customer rather than a social leper.

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