Seaside Cafe Hell - by Duncan Harley

The steep stairs to the coastal café would put off the unwary and the signage is at best confusing. Indeed, even finding this hidden gem would put the most determined macaroni and cheese aficionado to the test. From the outside, it looked inviting. From the inside, it was less so.
Mind you, this was some months ago and things may have improved.  After all that much maligned 'Hook Line and Sinker' chipper @ Portsoy is now ranked better than it was.

It's all to do with customer care really and Chef Ramsay would probably agree that an entrance sign advising that there is “Room for only 60 patrons at a time” and “Please wait here to be seated” might be a scare-away issue.

Waiting is usually not an issue – in a 5-star restaurant- but this Banff place is not, by any stretch of the imagination even 2 star.

Not that the food is sub-standard. The place serves up good and hearty beach-side-café favourites. Macaroni-and-fries and Big Breakfasts sit solidly within a menu boasting Cullen Skink and chicken and more macaroni.
On arrival, a cramped waiting area greets the diner. The queuing space is, by necessity, interrupted by the need to stand in the open doorway as fellow diners are interrogated by a fake maître di who, armed with a clipboard and some hard-attitude verbally beats the unwary into believing that eating here is some sort of privilege.

“How many? There are people in front of you, take a seat and when the pager flashes your table will be ready. The reason you need to take a seat is that there are other people in front of you!”
After a long few minutes, during which the seated discus the oddity of the welcome process the digital pager flashes to tell you that you have been selected to be seated, this time at a table.
The man with the clip-board then pounces. He points to a vacant table and returns to his list without making eye-contact. Summoned, if that is the correct word, the hopeful diner heads towards the vacant table and is self-seated.

A few more minutes go past, during which a feeling of dread sweeps over the now seated diners.  Would a maddened chef leap from the shadows, would bloodstained waitresses lie beneath the foundations, is it all just a very bad dream? There is a Tesco just down the road and they have sandwiches.
No-one attends the table for a bit and when they do they brandish, not an order pad or a welcome-smile, but an I-Pad and a far-off distant look. Here there be dragons and scary stares. The waitress was unable to remember the order. Two teas, a scone and a plate of soup became a challenge. The focus was on the technology not on the customer. Pressing buttons on a tablet superseded customer experience. Eye-contact was out of the question. We had arrived in seaside-café hell.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the food, when it came, was good. OK, the ‘breakfast tea’ was somewhat hellish – but hey, this is Banff and not Paris. For Eiffel-Tower read dolphins, gannets, porpoises and a wee harbour with a few splendidly dirty pleasure-craft. For River Seine read Deveron. For Hotel Petit Moulin’ read Banff Springs Motel. What could possibly be wrong apart from the under-foot spilled chips and those trampted-on broadly spread bits of other-peoples-food. A waitress when asked, said that it was the children who were responsible and who could disagree. 

Amazingly, the maître-guy with the clip-board verbally abused an elderly customer who had dared to comment on the unusual customer service. Loud and clear, he told his customer not to speak to his staff like that. Like what, we all wondered. Probably, we imagined, the poor man had simply commented on the bizarre nature of the Spotty-Bag experience.

Probably, he was also fed up with the attitude of the staff and probably he would not be back again. After all, who pays good money to be insulted, threatened or made a fool of in public.

I may go back to see if things have improved. But, then again, I may not bother. Once bitten etc.


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