Service without a smile: the verdict on London restaurants

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Indy Lifestyle Online

London may be the gourmet capital of the world but when it comes to service it frequently comes without a smile.

Some of the country's most famous restaurants, such as Cipriani, The Wolseley and Yauatcha, have received a resounding drubbing from their customers, who have complained en masse of arrogant, surly and slow service.

In a year when Britain's finer establishments have been able to puff their chests out with pride at repeated accolades from international critics, their own diners have decided a bit more humble pie would be in order.

"I have learnt to be happy with inefficient staff as long as they are charming, and [with] charmless staff as long as they are efficient," said one contributor to the annual Square Meal restaurant guide survey.

Of the 8,000 people who replied to the guide's poll, almost half (45 per cent) complained about shoddy service for the third year running.

"Our restaurants are absolutely fabulous, but one aspect lets them down. If you go to Paris, it is a very rare day that you don't get very good service in an A-class restaurant.

"Similarly, a New Yorker would be gobsmacked if you weren't served with a smile," said the guide's editor, Gaby Huddart.

Among those named and shamed was Cipriani. It was criticised for its management, with one person describing his visit as a "horrible experience". Its manager, Pierre Baldelli, would only say yesterday that his staff thanked all their regular, faithful customers.

The Wolseley in Piccadilly was lambasted by one contributor as "snobby and unfriendly". Another added: "Just the most unhelpful and incredibly arrogant and rude receptionists that can be found ...

"When will restaurants in London finally wake up to the fact that they are there to serve the customer and not act as if they are doing us a favour by giving us a table?"

One diner was left ruminating on the quality of the dining experience at Inn the Park. "We do wonder whether the service staff are ex-convicts on a scheme from Westminster, but dismissed this as we believe that convicts may have been more astute to the requirements of the customer," they said.

Its manager Nicholas Levantis insisted that his staff, while taking time to adjust to the new business last year, were now an extremely professional team, providing a fast, efficient service.

Le Palais du Jardin, meanwhile, attracted the following critique: "If you want to experience the worst service in London, this is the place for you. Terribly incompetent service is backed up with unbelievably rude staff."

Atula Karunayake, one of the managers, said yesterday: "We have been in business nearly 14 years, and have many regular clients. How could we exist for 14 years if the service was bad?"

But other restaurants saved the day, praised for their efficiency and charm.

Among them were Maze - the latest opening of Gordon Ramsay Holdings, which launched just seven months ago. It was named the overall "restaurant of the year" in the survey.

"Despite its youthful status, this restaurant has shot to the top of the league table of London dining thanks partly to its glamorous and modern setting, outstanding service, exciting and intelligent wine list and, above all, ground-breaking food," said the guide.

Its chef, proprietor Jason Atherton, was praised as a rare and gifted talent.

Yesterday Ramsay, a celebrity chef who is better known for his own brusque manner, said that he believed the restaurant could be turned into a worldwide chain.

Asked whether he would consider floating Gordon Ramsay Holdings on the stock exchange, he said: "Yes, we'd be very stupid not to think about it."