I think when you come from a customer service background, you’re quicker to spot customer service booboos and shortcomings. I’m a firm believer that the way customers are treated make the restaurant. It’s mostly the staff and how the staff treat their patrons that tips the balance. I have places that I love that may not necessarily be the best places to eat, but because the service is amazing and, when I go there, I feel important and valued (no matter how much my tab is and no matter how much of a tip I leave), it’s on my list of great places to have a meal at. During my recent London sojourn I ate at 2 different Chinese restaurants and let me just say that one restaurant offered stellar service while the other one has been tossed into my “do not visit ever again” pile.
A Tale of Two Restaurants
HK Diner, Chinatown, London
After I’d done my whistle stop pilgrimage to the Methodist Museum (it was after 5pm, so naturally, the museum was closed and all I had was a measly 7 snapshots!) it was decided that we’d go to Chinatown for dinner. I’d been looking forward to dinner for a long time because it had been decided AGES ago that dinner would be at Tai Ka Lok.
Having dinner at Tai Ka Lok is like having dinner at your Chinese aunt’s place (I’m not Chinese, but in my head having a meal at Tai Ka Lok would be like having a meal at one’s Chinese aunt–stereotyping, I know! Tres guilty!). It’s very pared down and very simple. You get the menu, you get the free soup as an appetiser, they bring you your food, you eat (of course after you finish eating, you pay!). The roasted meats are amazing (my absolute favourite is the crispy pork but their version of the pork mapo tofu is amazing too!) and you can see that a lot of people like eating at Tai Ka Lok because the table turnover is hard and fast (mind you, even though the table turnover is quick, you never really feel that you’re being rushed through your meal and I feel that’s a sign of great customer service!).
But, I digress! Anyway, there we were walking towards Tai Ka Lok when we noticed the front window was different and the name was different. Apparently, the restaurant had changed owners and changed names too! So off we went to HK Diner.
I’d pooh-poohed HK Diner for such a long time because I didn’t really think it was going to be as good as my Chinatown favourites Tai Ka Lok and New World (dimsum on trolleys! YUM!). But as we were hungry and the other option wasn’t something we wanted to try (and it was very forgettable as I can’t remember the name now!), we decided to risk HK Diner. If it was a bad experience, we’d just never come back. But surprise, surprise! The place was light, airy and somehow comforting. We were shown into a huge booth and were handed menus. The chinese tea came right away, steaming hot, and after we’d placed our orders, the food came shortly after! The service was quick and the staff were very friendly and helpful. I loved the fact that they asked us if everything was okay and if we needed anything else (mind you, in hindsight, it might’ve been their way of hurrying us along, but at the time we were none the wiser and it didn’t feel like we were being prodded along).
Also, and this was my favourite bit, when we asked for the leftover food to be wrapped up they gave us chopsticks! They gave us the generic packet that has a plastic soup spoon, chopsticks and a paper napkin. Mind you, it doesn’t take a long time to plonk that into a bag, but the thought process behind that take home packet of utensils was what I admired. Now that is service!
Hung Tao, Queensway, London
I had high hopes for this place. It looked clean, and airy and the food hanging by the window looked well-cooked (I’m a sucker for crispy duck!).
It was clean and airy. But that’s where my commendations stop. We were greeted in a hurried fashion and led to a table, with menus placed on the table unceremoniously. I wasn’t alarmed then because, really, you were in, you were made to sit, and you were given a menu to peruse, you were given food, you ate, you paid, you were out. That was fine. Nothing unusual.
I made a point of asking for a pot of Chinese tea as I was removing my coat. I was thirsty and it was a bit chilly outside as it was just starting to rain. It was a good thing I ordered the tea because it took them ages to take our order.
After looking at the menu, we’d decided to each get a rice plate with our choice of meats. After ages trying to catch the eye of waitstaff (after seeing people who arrived after we did get served first!), they finally deigned to come and take our orders. I still wasn’t disappointed at this point. But the seeds of doubt about the service came when the girl, with pen poised over pad, took note of our choices.
I chose the roasted two combination with rice, which was a plate of rice (it was a huge plate of rice that my brother would’ve devoured I think!) and your choice of roasted meat (I think you can choose from crispy duck, soy chicken, char siu pork and crispy pork). I was waiting for her to ask me which roasted meats I wanted but she didn’t. So I had to ask her to make sure I had crispy duck and soy chicken. She looked at me with this little frown on her face. I guess she expected me to get crispy pork and duck—or whatever was the popular choice. The frown was still there as she wrote down my choice. To go with our rice plates, we asked to have stirfried vegetables.
And then the waiting continued. It took them about 25 minutes to get our orders and it took them nearly twice as long to bring our food. It wasn’t until I noticed that people who had arrived after we did were served first and were given their orders first that I started feeling little niggles of irritation. What was up with that?!? After waiting for agest for our orders, the meats arrived cold, my duck had bones with tiny little shards of shattered duck bone everywhere. I thought the duck was deboned before you got served it?
There was a couple who were seated beside us who looked at the food we got when it arrived. They asked us what we ordered and we described it. When a member of staff came to take their orders it was so painful to hear and watch. There was a language barrier, definitely. But with the customer pointing to what they wanted and the member of staff insisting they wanted something else, it was all I could do to stop myself from getting involved. They finally got their orders, but I don’t know if they really got what they ordered because by the time we’d finished and paid our tab, their food hadn’t arrived yet.
The food was good, albeit being cold (I guess they expected the rice to warm it up. Didn’t happen, buddy!) and I was happy with the flavours. But it really was the service that ruined the experience for me. The waitstaff seemed to have a system of prioritising customers which I couldn’t understand. I’m not asking to be waited on hand and foot. But nearly and hour of waiting to be fed is not funny.
HK Diner – RateMyArea.com
Hung Tao – The London Evening Standard