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Slow service at cafes – wait or walk?

By Alexandra Craig - 28 October 2014 16

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There seems to be a few unwritten rules about wait time etiquette in cafes and restaurants, rules for both the customers and the staff.

Over the weekend I went to a café for brunch with my partner. We ordered a drink each and a meal each. The staff member didn’t give any inclination there would be an increased wait on the meals, and they weren’t overly busy so the thought didn’t really cross our minds.

Our drinks were on our table within about 3 minutes, but our meals came out about 50 minutes later. We waited until the 45 minute mark until we said anything, but I wonder if we should have asked sooner. When we enquired as to what was happening we were met with profuse apologies by a very nice staff member but she also said “this happens on the weekend”. If 45 minute waits on fairly basic dishes is the norm, I don’t think I’m being unfair in thinking perhaps they need to add another staff member or three. I also think the staff member probably should have told us when we ordered that we would be waiting quite some time for our meals to come out.

Based on my experience at this café, I wouldn’t go back or recommend it to anyone. They get points for polite and genuinely apologetic staff but 50 minutes for a basic brunch meal is just way too long to wait.

I’m interested to know what people think is an acceptable time to be waiting for a meal and at what point you ask a staff member how things are travelling. I would have said that waiting 12-15 minutes for breakfast and lunch at a café is pretty much the average time, and about 17-20 minutes for dinner at a restaurant. Maybe a bit longer if you’ve ordered a dish that will obviously take a little longer to cook. I’m not a coffee drinker but what about coffees? Would anyone wait longer than 5 minutes for their coffee to come out? Has anyone ever just walked out of a restaurant because their service was too slow?

What’s Your opinion?


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16 Responses to
Slow service at cafes – wait or walk?
Masquara 8:10 pm 29 Oct 14

pierce said :

There was an interesting article online a few months ago where a NY restaurant compared security video from 10 years ago and now (yes a small sample) and found that customers frigging around on their phones now means that they tend to stay at their tables up to 50 mins longer on average. (Takes them longer to look at the menu and order etc)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2690490/Service-time-restaurants-doubled-past-ten-years-customers-cell-phones-blame-claims-busy-NYC-restaurant.html

Small sample indeed. 45 customers. Not 45 tables – 45 customers. I don’t think a sample of around 10 tables’ worth can be cited in any useful way.

pierce 11:36 am 29 Oct 14

There was an interesting article online a few months ago where a NY restaurant compared security video from 10 years ago and now (yes a small sample) and found that customers frigging around on their phones now means that they tend to stay at their tables up to 50 mins longer on average. (Takes them longer to look at the menu and order etc)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2690490/Service-time-restaurants-doubled-past-ten-years-customers-cell-phones-blame-claims-busy-NYC-restaurant.html

Ryoma 10:28 am 29 Oct 14

It’s an interesting topic, but I wonder if a larger one is just that there are in fact too many cafes and restaurants?

As a result, very few of them run to “full capacity” every day of the week, and plenty must struggle all year around, where the frantically busy sessions on Friday nights and weekends are outweighed by the tumbleweeds blowing throughtheir premises for the rest of the time. Add to this the current uncertainty facing the city, and maybe even the busy times are not as reliable as they were a year ago..

I don’t think there’s anything easy at all about running any hospitality business, nor about working in one; although I do grant you that basic customer service is not rocket science. But trying to balance the numbers of staff with expected demand is no doubt a stressful experience. And I have to say that the majoirty of people I know in the industry DO work hard, and try to serve customers well.

I’m not suggesting any form of regulation around this, just making an observation. Perhaps many of these places get started up by people based upon the following assumptions;

(a) it’s preparing food; “I cook for my family at home, and the other stuff I can learn as I go. How hard can it be?”
(b) “There’s not much study required to start a cafe, and I don’t have time for it anyway, because I need a business which generates cash on a regular basis – quickly. I have bills to pay”
(c) “I just want to be my own boss. There’s (relatively) low barriers to entry here, and no-one to tell me what to do. That’ll do me.”

Hospitality does not appear to me to be a lucrative business to get into for many people (and I have no doubt the Pareto principle applies, where the best 20% of the establishments make 80% of the profit).

My other concern around this is that if the industry has such a scattered overall return on equity, we essentially have a lot of people who are wasting time being in hospitality. Not only are they not getting anywhere themselves, but there is a broader opportunity cost to the economy in not having people start up different types of businesses in other fields.

Thoughts?

Kalliste 9:46 am 29 Oct 14

If I know the food is good, I don’t really care about having to wait a while for it. Especially if it’s a weekend and I’m not in any hurry to eat. Sometimes my stomach might argue with me though.

For me, I care more about how long it takes to get served rather than how long it takes to get the food to me. If I have to wait in line or at a table for more than 5 mins before I can even give someone my order I’ll probably leave.

Queen_of_the_Bun 9:16 pm 28 Oct 14

There’s a great place with waterfront views and a kitchen way too small for the number of tables. I won’t name it but anyone who’s tried to eat there on a sunny day will know it.
Maybe their mistake was opening during autumn when everyone wanted to huddle inside around their cosy fire. But warmer weather is really testing them – and I’ve got to say, the nachos are not worth the hour+ wait.
Having said that, I will keep going back for the beer, the music, the location, the views and the sunshine. A great Sunday session venue but no good for brunch or lunch.

farnarkler 8:31 pm 28 Oct 14

I had a nice experience at a place in Wodonga not long ago. We ordered just on shift change so our order got lost. After about 30 mins we asked about our order and as well as an apology, we were offered a free drink for our next visit. Does that ever happen in Canberra; the free item as an incentive to come back after a bad experience?

farnarkler 8:29 pm 28 Oct 14

Surely in the cut and thrust world of cafe ownership an operator would try and set up a Maccas style approach to fast service. Feed the punters as soon as possible and get the next lot in.

LTDLOWRIDER 3:26 pm 28 Oct 14

El Dorados Dickson – we ordered 2 steaks and after an hour waiting I asked a staff member where our meals were. I was told in a very rude manner that ‘it had only been 45 minutes’

Mysteryman 2:08 pm 28 Oct 14

dkNigs said :

The worst I’ve had was from café Garema, took us nearly an hour and a half to get our food, and CLEARLY half of it had been ready for a while as the toast was chewy and cold. They tried pulling the “we’re so busy” defence, but since half their tables were empty I didn’t really think that flew, as they obviously had room for more.

Arguing didn’t even get us that great of a discount, also due to the fact that half our group were so fed up they just wanted to pay and leave.

Will never go back there again.
(The juice was good, and quick though)

THAT is the worst you’ve had? I take it you don’t eat out in Canberra all that much. I’ve experienced worse numerous times from other places – especially Gus’. They are repeat offenders and if it’s up to me, I don’t eat or drink there.

I’ve only had one experience with Cafe Garema where the food took longer than 20mins to arrive at my table. They warned me when I ordered that there would be a delay, and the food still arrived faster than they warned me it would. I regularly go back there because the food is good and affordable, and it’s a rare day that I don’t get it within 15 minutes of ordering. They also do consistently good coffee.

Genie 12:58 pm 28 Oct 14

Rollersk8r said :

It’s no secret that many cafes barely break even during the week – and rely on weekend trade to make money, while also trying to minimise the number of staff on weekend penalties… If they don’t get that balance right then they’ll suffer.

And I know it’s a massive first word problem – but few things are as infuriating as long waits for a takeaway coffee, at a dead quiet cafe, with the staff chatting, showing each other pics on their phones, talking about weekend plans etc.. Xpresso under the escalators in the Canberra Centre food court – this is you!

I once got 2 “sandwich artists” fired on the spot for chatting and ignoring customers. No one in the store, and we’d been waiting about 5 mins. We did get the “be with you in a minute” when we walked in, however when I realised they were just out the back chatting about their previous nights clubbing endeavours ( and who they went home with) I piped up an asked if we were the inconvenience that got them their paycheck each week. Right at that moment another lady entered the store and asked if there was a problem, little did I know my response of “we’ve been waiting about 5-10mins while they chat out the back” was to the actual manager of the store.

Soon enough the 2 young girls came out and served us. As we paid for our food the Manager turned around to them and went “Great, now you’re done serving. You’re both fired. Go home now”

Fun times.

Genie 12:50 pm 28 Oct 14

I’m impatient. Even worse when I’m hungry.

I would have waited all of 20 minutes after ordering breakfast food to ask where it was, not 45 mins.
Secondly I think it’s reasonable for staff to advise customers that there is roughly a 30/60/90min wait on food.

I’ve been to extremely busy restaurants for a Sunday brunch, ordered and received meals within 15-20 mins of sitting down. They clearly have mastered the art of turnover, get meals out quickly so they can turn the tables over. Seating and serving more people equals more profit. On the other hand I’ve been to cafes for Sunday brunch where they have barely 1/3 of the table seated and waited more than 30 mins for food… poor form !!

Alexandra Craig 12:15 pm 28 Oct 14

Rollersk8r said :

It’s no secret that many cafes barely break even during the week – and rely on weekend trade to make money, while also trying to minimise the number of staff on weekend penalties… If they don’t get that balance right then they’ll suffer.

And I know it’s a massive first word problem – but few things are as infuriating as long waits for a takeaway coffee, at a dead quiet cafe, with the staff chatting, showing each other pics on their phones, talking about weekend plans etc.. Xpresso under the escalators in the Canberra Centre food court – this is you!

You make a really good point re establishments not breaking even on the weekend. However, if cafes are desperate to make up money on weekends, don’t put sufficient staff on etc, surely they’ll gain a reputation for being the place that takes 50 minutes for brunch, and eventually have to close down from lack of business? Does anyone know of any Canberra examples where this has happened?

Rollersk8r 10:41 am 28 Oct 14

It’s no secret that many cafes barely break even during the week – and rely on weekend trade to make money, while also trying to minimise the number of staff on weekend penalties… If they don’t get that balance right then they’ll suffer.

And I know it’s a massive first word problem – but few things are as infuriating as long waits for a takeaway coffee, at a dead quiet cafe, with the staff chatting, showing each other pics on their phones, talking about weekend plans etc.. Xpresso under the escalators in the Canberra Centre food court – this is you!

Felix the Cat 9:46 am 28 Oct 14

I’ve never experienced this in Canberra but have interstate a couple of times. Time for the OP to change cafes. I can recommend Sfoglia and also Good Brother, both in Dickson. Always fast service even when busy, and pleasant and competent staff. Food and beverages taste good too.

dkNigs 9:20 am 28 Oct 14

The worst I’ve had was from café Garema, took us nearly an hour and a half to get our food, and CLEARLY half of it had been ready for a while as the toast was chewy and cold. They tried pulling the “we’re so busy” defence, but since half their tables were empty I didn’t really think that flew, as they obviously had room for more.

Arguing didn’t even get us that great of a discount, also due to the fact that half our group were so fed up they just wanted to pay and leave.

Will never go back there again.
(The juice was good, and quick though)

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