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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Things customers do that drive me mad.

This is a list of customer behavior that really drives me mad. These things drive me mad when I am working, and when I am a customer myself. This list is not conclusive. This list is in no particular order. These are only my opinions – which have been influenced from my personal experience, and nothing more. Please excuse my usage of the word "you". It is for simplification reasons only. I do not mean "you", personally.

Coming soon: a list of hospitality staff behaviors that really drive me mad. Just so you don't think I am being unjust.

1. Customers who move furniture around without first seeking assistance/ permission. There is a good reason why that table is where it is. And if you move it into the middle of a pathway you are being very inconsiderate. Please, just ask.
2. Prams. Almost enough said really. What is with the growing trend of big ass prams that take up half the room? Leave the pram in the car people.
3. While we are on the subject of children (and I quite like children so don’t get the wrong idea here) waiters are not substitute baby-sitters. You may not leave your children unattended in a restaurant. I am not responsible for their behavior/ mess/ breakages. Letting your child smear peanut butter all over the windows will not make you my favorite customer.
4. Customers who click/ wave at you to get your attention. Repeatedly. Eye contact works., try that.
5. Customers who are clearly lying about food allergies just to be fussy. This usually comes out in the wash when told they can't have a certain dish on the menu as it contains nuts/sugar/gluten or whatever, then they order it anyway. Please, spare me, why even go out?
6. Changing your order more than once. Once is okay. People change their minds, I understand that. It's hard to choose from a large selection of really great dishes at your favourite restaurant. More than once, and that's just a pain in the arse. Changing your mind 20 minutes after you order in not a great idea either.
7. BYO. Under no circumstances is it okay to bring your own food into my establishment. My restaurant is not a food court. The one exception to this rule is baby food, obviously. I could be swayed on the subject matter for a serious illness, maybe.
8. Scenario: I am delivering three plates to a table. I can only carry three plates at once, and I think that is a fair effort. Then I hear "excuse me I am waiting for my blah blah blah," hello yes of course your blah blah blah is just here IN MY POCKET because I obviously have my hands full, you idiot.
9. On the subject of full hands, if I only had a dollar for every time I have walked past a table with arms full of plates to hear "excuse me can we order?". I don't know about you but I'd rather not have my order taken by a waiter who is holding someone else's dirty plates.
10. Splitting the bill. On a basic level, I'm fine with bill splitting, but I am not interested in waiting around while six people argue about who had more pieces of bread and therefore owes two dollars more than everyone else. I am too busy for this kind of behaviour.
11. Also, on a similar not to bill splitting, meal splitting. One meal between four people is not good for overheads. It's like bringing your own teabag and asking for a cup of hot water, cheap.
12. If you order something that is supposed to be served hot, and it is not served hot, please notify me as soon as possible and I will happily fix this problem for you. If your order something that is supposed to be hot, then go outside to talk on the phone/ have a cigarette for 10 minutes after the meal arrives please don't complain that your meal is not longer hot.
13. Coffee temperature. A good quality cup of coffee made by a good barista should not be the temperature of an instant coffee, made with boiling hot water. It should not be so hot that you burn your tongue on the first sip, and need a napkin to pick up the cup. If you like your coffee "hot hot hot" please ask before it is made. Milk is expensive and not an endless resource.
14. Changing tables. Obviously, the most appealing table in the restaurant is the once vacated only two seconds ago, covered in dirty plates with wine spilled on the tablecloth. Unless your current table is really bad (like next to the toilet/ screaming child bad) leave it alone. If you must move, please ask. I will help you move tables, and pretend that I am not annoyed.
15. The following is my all time pet hate. Another scenario: A large group of people are all having dinner together. At the end of the meal, the bill arrives, and everyone puts in his or her share as cash, allocating a small proportion of this money as a tip. Then one arsehole pays the whole bill on his credit card, pocketing everyone else's cash. This person does not leave a tip. This is rude not only to the waiter you have just robbed of a hard earned gratuity, but also rude to your friends, who have just unknowingly subsidised your meal. I think we all know someone who has done this one.

I would just like to say, writing this list was tremendous fun.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gourmet cheap.

Excellent, it's that time of the year again! The Age Cheap Eats guide 2009 was released today. Anyone who spends regular time in Melbourne should be well advised to purchase a copy of this little gem.

There is an article in today's Epicure about the new issue, but if you missed it the link to the website is

As you will see I have nicked the photo straight from the website, so I'm very sorry, but it's all in the name of advertising. Thank you Marina...

$22.95 well spent. I wish we had a Tasmanian version of this caliber every year. But we won't start on the wish list now shall we?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What are we complaining about?

As the financial crisis finally seeps into Tasmania, I've been thinking about how it might change our hospitality industry.

An excellent newspaper article in the Sydney based Daily Telegraph last Thursday illustrated the struggle Sydney's top restaurants are now having just to cover their overheads. This time last year, waiting lists at restaurants like Tetsuya's Kent St restaurant were three months or more, now you can get a table at 24 hours notice.

I'm starting to wonder how our top establishments, like Smolt, Marque IV, Piccalilly, Piccolo et cetera will cope when Tasmania's wealthier customers opt for a few more home cooked meals, and a few less pricey nights out. I'm in favour of the "credit crunch lunch," a phrase coined by Sydney restaurateur Justin Hemmes, of Est. restaurant. Two or three set menu courses, for a set price, brings top scale restaurants into the realm of affordability. Well, the realm of my affordability anyhow.

The next few months will be very interesting for Hobart's top establishments, while we all stay home a little more, save a few more pennies, and lean towards, well, the leaner side of life. I will be interested to observe potential changes, a little bird tells of "talks" to restructure a Hobart favorite, in a manner that, in my opinion, is not befitting of its reputation. More on that at a later date.

Perhaps it would do us well to remember that waiters and waitresses that earn a living from taking our orders, clearing our plates and pouring our wines might be starting to feel the purse strings pinching as well. It is not just a few fat cat directors behind the scenes with a few thousand less a week in the bank that suffer here. I hope those directors make the right decisions to secure the future of our hospitality industry. If we have only just started to struggle, there could be a long road ahead.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I've read somewhere recently that French women love to eat macaroons because the French macaroon is so small and elegant, it is possible to eat as many as they like without looking piggish.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of tasting my first (and second) French macaroon. Some argue (mostly French patisserie chefs who are to be trusted with this kind of information) that it is not a macaroon at all, but the haughty more sophisticated cousin of the macaroon, the macaron.

My authentic French macaron experience came at a semi-authentic French patisserie near the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney's Rocks area. The name escapes me now, although I did intend to write down the name before departing. I may have to go back (all in the name of research of course). The waitresses were very rude, adding to the French experience. I took great joy in being equally as rude in return, but I don't think she noticed.

Apparently, the macaron (said best with a terrible French accent) is experiencing a resurgance in popularity. I suspect that the article I read about them recently was in one of those glossy magazines that come with the newspaper one Friday a month, but I recall the article only mentioning the best place to buy them in France.

Now I have finally experienced their true delight, I want to eat them constantly. I'd also like to learn how to make them, and give them to friends as birthday gifts. I want to know everything about them. I may have developed an obsession that will be terrible for my waistline. They may look tiny, but these delicate little morsels are very sweet, and very satisfying, I think I know what these French women are on about.

Would anyone like to comment on where I can buy French macaro(0)ns in Hobart?

Post Script: Wednesday 18 February. I returned to this patisserie today, after finding myself in the area. It is La Renaissance Patisserie, on Argyle st, near the corner of Argyle and George, Sydney. Branched out a little, the rosewater and strawberry macaron was not to my taste, but the passionfruit with chocolate genache was excellent. A pity that I bought them take-away, and promptly squished them in my handbag.

I have eaten so much in the last three days; which is what a holiday is supposed to be about. I swear I am on a diet as of this weekend. I may even join the gym. No, I will join the gym.

La Renaissance Cafe Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Corntos? What the bloody hell are Corntos?

Yesterday my housemate Lucy and I were off to the movies, and thought a little movie watching snack was in order. I think that movie food is outrageously overpriced. I know post-mix costs about 12 cents a litre, I refuse to pay $6 for a cup that contains 45 per cent ice and 55 per cent watery syrup. Don't even get me started on popcorn.

I really feel that there is no shame in bringing your own food into a movie theatre. A victimless crime as far as I am concerned. The majority of the "food" on offer at the movies is not even food. As long as you show a little courtesy to the people around you (sitting down to a two hour flick with a whole roast chicken is not polite) the cinema should comply with a don't ask, don't tell policy. If you want to eat something healthy at the cinema, it's strictly BYO.

I wasn't looking for a healthy snack however, I was just being stingy. A side trip en-route to the cinema saw us at Chickenfeed, with a little too much time to kill. Chickenfeed, for those non-Tasmanian readers, is the cheapest place to buy just about anything, from a chocolate bar (probably out of date) to an outdoor setting (probably not in compliance to any Australian safety standards).

I love Chickenfeed. Hours of entertainment can be had here. I'm not surprised at anything they stock. It is also the best place to buy secret Santa presents. There are 29 Chickenfeed stores in Tasmania, check out one near you.

My latest discovery is CORNTOS! Yes that's right, CORNTOS. With capital letters. Before you jump to conclusions, I didn't buy these (see picture top left), but curiosity is getting the better of me, I might just have to pick some up tomorrow.

According the the CORNTOS packaging, CORNTOS are tasty little corn chip/ twisty like things that look like little fried orange turds. And the most frightening aspect of this product, (not the ingredients list, with no discernable food like ingredients), is the little blue box on the left which says "HEALTHY SCHOOL STRATEGY APPROVED." What the? I could not imagine a child on earth with the ability to digest this snack, let alone draw nutritional value from it.

I truly hope that no parent purchases a packet of CORNTOS, ever.

Now, to be a total hipocrite, I did purchase an out of date chocolate bar for 75 cents, and I ate it. It was delicious. But I am a grown adult, who can make informed decisions about the crap that I do (or don't, more often than not) eat. But even I draw the line at the Corntos.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Breakfast at the Smith Street Store.

This morning brought about a pleasant visit to an old local, the Smith St Store (SSS). I have neglected this venue lately, as I have been cooking breakfast at home in an effort to save a few extra dollars.The SSS is not a store, but a delightful little cafe on the corner of Smith and Argyle streets in North Hobart. With an all day breakfast menu, it has long been a favorite since I moved into the area six months ago.

Seating can be limited, so get in early. Anywhere between nine and 10 am is a good time to beat the weekend rush of families, flatmates and couples all vying for a seat on the comfortable black leather sofa, the big wooden table, or the little bench seats that line both front windows. Outdoor seating is also available, but Argyle street can be a touch windy, and the tables are small and cramped together.

The breakfast menu is fairly well rounded, with the usual selection of basic items, like basic toast ($5) or fruit and cinnamon toast ($5.50). The menu leans toward sweet breakfast options, such as a decadent french toast with vanilla poached pears, mascarpone and quince syrup ($14.50). A lot of the breakfast items read more like deserts, which seems heavy for breakfast. I would like to see a few healthier selections. I had a little smirk over the type error on the trio of sorbet's ($9).

There is the usual option of basic egg dishes, starting at $8.50 for two eggs - poached fried or scrambled - on organic white sourdough from Jackman and McRoss bakery. It seems that almost every cafe in the greater Hobart area sources their bread from Jackman, and I whole heartedly approve. A great array of extras are all $3 each, and the SSS big breakfast is only $17, which is excellent value these days.

This morning I was determined to order something other than my favorite dish here - eggs florentine ($13.00). Eggs benedict is also offered at the same price. I ordered the florentine, surprise surprise, I just can't go past the delicious combination of poached eggs, spinach and hollandaise. The eggs were poached to perfection, and the hollandaise was superb. Sourdough toast is used for the florentine/benedict in place of the traditional english muffin, which I prefer.

There are also a couple of interpretive egg dishes on offer, try the poached eggs with crispy pancetta, spinach and Ashgrove fetta ($13.50). The specials board inside offers additional options which change daily.

The girls at SSS work hard and play hard, mostly giving excellent service although often hungover. This is fine by me, they always have smiles on their faces no matter how busy they are. The staff seem to be an all female front of house, perhaps accidental, perhaps a reflection of the lack of male waitstaff in Hobart. The SSS runs with a skeleton staff, the waitresses almost run from table to table, yet seem to remain on top of things.

On the downside, there are never enough newspapers to go around, I'd advise bringing your own on the weekends. And please do not bring a pram. Prams big, cafe is little.

The coffee is usually quite good, although the coffee machine itself is a little archaic, and the barista's technique questionable. There are also freshly squeezed juices and a small soft drink selection. Take-aways are also an option, especially for the locals, when things are getting a little hectic after 11 am.

I would personally consider making a reservation if you have your heart set on those spectacular eggs florentine, you won't find a better cooked breakfast in North Hobart.

325 Argyle St North Hobart
(03) 62319955
7.30 - 5 Weekdays
8.30 - 4 Weekends
Open 7 days, most public holidays.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Customer evasion.

A trip to a popular North Hobart cafe this morning reminded me of a very useful skill for wait-staff to have - the art of customer evasion. 

Our not particularly cheerful waitress did the most brilliant job of pretending my flat-mate and I did not exist. Excellence in evasion is a great tool for a waitress/ waiter, but it's not so pleasant to be on the receiving end.

From a waitressing perspective, there are a few (legitimate) reasons to ignore particular clientel. I could divulge a few of these, but I'd feel far too guilty. Trade secrets, you'll just have to trust me on this one. 

However, as far as I was aware, there was no legitimate reason for the waitress to ignore us, or any of the other tables around us. We had been polite, and patient. We didn't do anything "bad",  like sitting on an uncleared table, or moving the furniture around. I am a master of customer evasion, and our waitress this morning could have given me a decent run for my money, and probably taught me a thing or two in the process. 

The cafe wasn't busy, even for 10 am on a sunday. I see no reason that our sulky waitress need have been so useless. Unless she really hates her job, and then my advice would be "get another job." It's waitressing, not a mortgage for crying out loud.  

I don't require my server to be cheerful, or friendly, merely efficient. Someone was paying her to take my coffee order, then to deliver my coffee. That minimum requirement is all I want on a Sunday morning. 

Coffee. Do I have to go and make it myself?