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Disservice December 20, 2007

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.

I’m in Bombay these days. It is so nice to be back in Bombay – more than eleven months after I left. For the record, I’m here on work. Off the record, however, I’m just soaking it all back in. I’m put up with friends. So you can guess exactly how much work I’m getting done.

We go out a fair bit. In the sense it rains in Cherrapunji a fair bit. The other day Ravi suggested we try this Indian restaurant that everyone was talking about. Ravi is about as “in” as you can get so his recommendation counts for something with us, country bumpkins. Plus, I was tired of my daily diet of pizzas so I readily agreed. “Caravan Serai” is on Waterfield Road, Bandra, right above Red Box Cafe. It is beautifully done up and its patron-list boasts the Who’s-Who of Bombay.

We were lucky with our timing because we found seating as soon as we walked in. Our server turned out to be a weird mixture of indifference, baritone and laryngitis and the impression I got was that he enjoyed making us strain to hear him. We decided to skip the starters and proceed directly to the main course. Ravi ordered buttermilk to go with the food. Sidin ordered one too but when it was pointed out to him that he had a bad throat he asked the server to get him one at room temperature. The server shook his head. It took us a minute to understand that he meant that buttermilk could not be served “hot”. Cancel our order, we said. He pottered off only to come back with two buttermilks: both cold.

When we told him we had ordered only one he begged to differ. We asked him to take it back at which point he shrugged his shoulders and just stood there. It cheeses me off no end when a service establishment does not heed the customer. We weren’t about to make a scene, however, so we took the buttermilk. If that had been it, however, I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Our food arrived in a while. The meat was soft but drowned in seasoning. Not great, but edible. The breads were nice and soft. But it was the Dal that took the cake. Without going too much into the recipe let me just say that a nice Dal Bukhara uses a fair amount of tomato gravy. However, when tomato is all you can taste, Houston, we have a problem. We had already been rather accommodating on the buttermilk issue. The meat had further brought out our stoic side. The Dal, then, was the last straw. We called back the server and told him that the Dal was, well, tomato puree and little else. He shuffled off and returned with his manager.

We repeated our complaint.

But, sir, our Dal Bukhara is world-famous.

So is Dharavi, monsieur. But you wouldn’t want to live there, would you?

It took him forever to understand that this group was not going to put up with their Dal Bukhara.

I’ll have it made again, sir.

Yeah, right.

The next instalment, when it arrived, tasted exactly the same – hot tomato puree. It was at that point that we decided to retaliate.

There are several issues at stake here. There is, of course, the issue of a bad product in a restaurant. No one should have to put up with that. Especially when the restaurant operates on a plank of “good food”. There is the issue of a restaurant with potential being let down by apathetic staff. Servers, and managers, who drag their feet will drag any restaurant down with them, no matter how world-class the food and ambience. There is the issue of empowerment. The more the authority to make decisions at a lower level within the hierarchy the more responsive the service and this translates, directly, to customer satisfaction. The server should have been authorised to take back a below-par dish without consulting his superior. But what irks us the most is the fact that customer feedback, which is the driving principle of Kaizen (continuous improvement) within the service industry, is met with defensiveness and diffidence. If we had come in asking for their world-famous Dal we’d only have gotten what we deserved with that swill. However, when we asked for just the Dal – no titles attached – we expected a level of quality that, if not present, we had every right to reject. I haven’t even started my restaurant but I already know not to act in this disastrous manner.

Fortunately, there is a fair bit that the customer can do. We could have made a scene within the restaurant. We could have fought tooth-and-nail to have the offending items struck from the bill. We could have whispered to other patrons that they were being short-changed. But we didn’t do any of that. What we did was to pay exactly the bill amount – no tip. I have actually heard of someone who deducted the standard tip amount from the bill. Her explanation was that a Zero bill amount doesn’t punish bad service. It is like saying that while you will be rewarded for good behaviour there is no punishment for bad behaviour. I completely endorse her view. I guess I just don’t have the cojones to do what she did. Luckily, we had the exact change needed to make the amount. I just hope it was a statement that they didn’t miss.

My writing this blog entry is part of that retaliation too. There is no excuse for apathy at a restaurant. None, whatsoever. A product that is not up to expectations may yet go unnoticed. It is a documented fact that service complaints far outweigh food complaints across all types of eating establishments. Also, service dissatisfaction is more likely to make customers vow to never return than complaints with the food. It isn’t very difficult to understand these concepts. But, at the very least, you need staff and management who care about the restaurant and, consequently, the customer. Without that the road ahead is a dark, downward spiral.

Ruchika, Sidin and I headed to the nearest coffee shop to help get rid of the bad taste of tomato-Dal from our mouths. Ravi came to get rid of the vile taste of the complimentary Paan at “Caravan Serrai” which he had picked up to get rid of the taste of the tomato-Dal. Poor fellow! We tried to not ruin the night any more for him by pointing out that going there had been his idea in the first place. Oh, I just pointed it out, didn’t I? Oops. Sorry, Ravi.



1. Mags - February 11, 2008

heartbreak, IMS, restaurant, gooner, and of course “the MBA”. It takes all kinds to make this world.

2. XYZ - February 23, 2008

Caravansarai’s tomato-ey dal has done it again! Most restaurants in Mumbai anyway can’t get their lentil right. Whoever sang paeans of that place has to be fed on momos from Golden Orchid, Caravanserai’s Chinese cousin (dude, they are so hard, you feel they are filing your teeth). Moti Mahal, btw, is just at the next chauraha and it has some great dal, and even better palak dal. And this is just in case you come visiting Bandra again.

3. volubly - June 4, 2008

Volubly says : I absolutely agree with this !

4. Kamal - April 4, 2009

I agree with your friend… have always wanted a concept, accepted as part of dining culture, that if the service SUCKS, you are allowed to pay LESS than the bill!

However, not for lack of cojones, but for lack of patience to argue or piss off the environment further, I have restrained from paying anything less than the exact bill amount.

5. yellbos - May 25, 2009


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