I had a meal last night, with my wife and youngest son, in a gastropub near Stratford-upon-Avon. Nice meal, friendly staff, pleasant place, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth – in both the metaphorical and literal senses.
To finish, I asked if they could do me a decaff double espresso. I love the taste of strong coffee, but cut caffeine out a few years ago to help cure an insomnia problem, so decaff is my default mode nowadays.
The waitress took the order without remark and soon re-appeared with a demi-tasse cup containing a slightly sludgy-looking brown liquid. I took it outside to the garden to enjoy with the last dregs of the sunset.
One sip told me this coffee had never seen the inside of an espresso machine. They had just made a very strong decaff instant. That perfect end to the meal was snatched away in a moment. (I know I’m being precious here, and that there are far more important things in the world, but this was their business and they’d let a customer down).
I challenged them, and although a little evasive at first, they admitted what I knew already: “We were just trying to make you happy, sir.
I’d have been happy if they’d served what I’d asked for.
But given that they didn’t have decaff ground coffee, I’d have much preferred to be treated like a grown-up and told that. I’d rather have had no coffee than a poor substitute – I often do, as a lot of restaurants still don’t stock it. So I’d have been OK about it.
But they assumed I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between espresso and instant and thought they could get away with it. So now I feel insulted.
If they had a dish with Parma ham on the menu but had run out, would they have tried to get away with a bit of ordinary cooked ham instead? It doesn’t show much respect for the people who pay their wages.
And we all know how many places there are to eat in the world. I’m very unlikely ever to go back there now.
What a shame.