19 November 2010

French ‘Customer Service’ – Version 295 and counting ….

La Gaude
Sarah and David have only been in Tourettes for about a year, arriving fromJuan Les Pins last December. It was Wednesday so lunch was called for and I decided to show them La Guardiole, a small restaurant in La Gaude, a village about 20 minutes away.

You wouldn’t find La Guardiole unless you knew it was there, located as it is down a tiny lane in a tiny village which has a bypass to keep the traffic well away. I’d been going there for years with some people from IBM who have a large lab in the area but it had been about a year since my last visit so another trip was overdue.

I’d told Sarah and David that La Guardiole’s speciality was Sanglier (wild boar) stew and as they’d never tried it, they were looking forward to a plateful however on the day we went, there was no Sanglier to be seen but that was the least of our problems.

I’d phoned in the morning to make sure it was open (you’re never sure in France !) and when the patron/owner said it was, I said, ‘can I book a table?’. ‘Yes’, was the reply and the phone was put down. No request for how many diners and what time – the phone was just replaced! I thought maybe I should have said ‘I want to book a table for four people at 1pm’, but it’s normal for a restaurant to be polite and ask, but then I remembered that La Guardiole wasn’t the friendliest place – great food – crap service.

The dingy, rustic interior of La Guardiole
Anyway, we arrived at about 12.45 and le patron seemed to know I was the earlier caller. There was a table for four on their small terrace and it was in full sun but J was cold so we were informed (by J) we’d be dining inside. Once inside, J decided that she’d like to dine outside so I was dispatched to get the table.

‘Can we eat at that table’, I asked le patron. ‘Non’, and then as a very late afterthought, he added that it was reserved. We ordered our food and wine inside; David and Sarah had hunter shot rabbit, J had a seafood tagliatelle, whilst I had the lamb. It was all delicious, but the waitress walking about with a face which could have stopped a Nice tram in its tracks, did not add to the ambience – what ambience!

David and I popped outside for a cigarette. ‘You want a table over there’, the waitress suggested with a tone in her voice which meant it was a command. ‘Nope, we’re fine here’, I said and off she stomped with a face like thunder.

Back inside we ordered desserts. I ordered the chocolate fondant with a boule of vanilla ice cream. No ice cream appeared and when I reminded our dear waitress a few minutes later, it was like reminding J she’s on a diet – there’s a flicker of recognition of what you’ve said but the brain refuses to process the information! I never did get my ice cream.

Then it was coffee time. I ordered three white coffees and a mint tea (for J). The waitress huffed at the thought of actually filling a teapot with hot water whilst David and I went to get a table outside. J and Sarah had just joined us when the waitress in a supreme act of sarcasm said, “don’t you want to sit at that table in the sun?” ‘No thanks – we’re happy here’, was the reply.

Something made me go back inside to check what the waitress was doing and sure enough she was preparing three small, French coffees. “We’d like Café Cremes”, I reminded her. Well, it was if I'd asked her to run down the street naked shouting 'free cafe cremes'. The look would have killed a lesser man but I've been there before and even have the t-shirt so it didn't faze me at all.

The IBM Laboratory at La Guade
In the meantime, David had sneakily gone off to pay the bill but I knew the coffees were not on the final total so I went back in and offered some money. ‘On the house’, le patron said and with that he got on with pouring the remaining wine in used carafes into one which he would no doubt sell that evening.

In summary, if you want a really good, rustic meal at very low prices, La Guardiole is the place to go but don’t expect service with a smile.

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