Today’s Straits Times carried a really interesting and pretty lengthy story on hygiene in Singapore’s restaurants (and other food establishments). Given this large feature in the nation’s official paper of record, you’d think that the country’s restaurateurs would be more vigilant than ever before.
Now, before I continue, let me say that I try as much as possible to refrain from writing negatively about any restaurant, chef or restaurateur on this blog. I’ve said publically that I’ve always felt that a blog like mine should provide a service and “dissing” an establishment doesn’t help anyone. However, there are some occasions when a little public “discussion” may actually be useful and sometimes even necessary.
Today, four close friends, my wife S and I had lunch at Cherry Garden, the chic Chinese Restaurant in The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Singapore. Since the restaurant’s revamp sometime last year, we’ve been a few times, and have always enjoyed the food. Through some other friends, we had learned that the restaurant offers an a la carte buffet Sunday brunch. We had barely begun our meal (we were in fact on our very first course) when I noticed something moving on the wall behind one of our friends (an expectant mother I might add). Upon closer inspection, the unwanted guest was a shockingly large cockroach. We very quickly called over a waitress, pointing out the cockroach. Her immediate reaction was to turn away and try to find a bus boy to help her, which I have to say, took her a tad longer than we would have liked given that the roach wasn’t exactly going to stop in its tracks and wait to be caught. By the time she returned with her male colleague in tow, our little friend had traversed a good portion of the wall.
The busboy’s first attempt to capture the offending bug failed. And soon it was scurrying away from the wall, our table, and towards the middle of the restaurant. A second attempt was successful. The bug was captured, killed (I presume), and whisked away in a large paper napkin. The waitress and the busboy both mumbled apologies. But that was all. For the rest of our meal, we expected the restaurant’s manager to come over and acknowledge the problem and also apologize. After all, discovering a large cockroach crawling right by your table in a rather expensive restaurant in the middle of a 5-star hotel is, to me (and hopefully to the hotel’s management), a pretty big thing. One of our friends was very turned off and kept muttering about calling the Ministry of Environment. When our bill came, we were still expecting some sort of apology. It was not offered. Not wanting to make a fuss, we paid our bill without saying a word, but as we were leaving, one of my friends decided that he wanted to speak with the manager. I didn’t catch most of their conversation, but from what my friend reported, the manager first said that he had not been informed about the cockroach sighting (which since my wife had screamed, “cockroach!” quite loudly, I find hard to believe) and offered only the weakest of apologies.
Now, there are two issues here. The first and obvious problem is hygiene. The second problem is service. To me, it’s excusable for an F&B establishment to have the occasional and unpredictable problems with bugs. But when these problems are in fact detected and the management plainly does nothing to try and either correct them or apologize to its patrons, well, that to me is even more unforgivable. Are we to take that finding roaches in a dining establishment is perfectly acceptable? The staff at Cherry Garden certainly behaved like it was a rather ordinary or common occurrence that did not warrant any sense of urgency.
One of my colleagues had a drink just this past Friday evening at one of the trendier new bars in the Dempsey Road area. When she was served her lychee martini, to her horror, she found both an eyelash and a fly in her drink. Of course, she returned the drink, asking for a new one, which was promptly delivered. Her friend, however, had been at the bar when the drink had been sent back. Instead of actually making a new drink, the bartender simply flicked out the fly and eyelash and sent the drink back out. When my colleague complained to the manager, she eventually got a new drink – mind you, it was a martini, but not a lychee one as ordered, and the bar still made her pay for it.
I guess the main issue is what we expect from restaurateurs. What level of hygiene and service should we expect? And when we catch mistakes or discover problems, what kind of response should we expect from a restaurateur? Furthermore, what are our rights as consumers?
I guess I have high expectations. But there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?