This is a column for my Thai readers only. That's because I want to teach them a lesson about their service staff. I want to make a complaint and I want Thais to sit up and take notice. Simply put ... what on earth has happened to good ol' service these days? I'm talking about restaurants.
You'll never guess what happened to me last week smack bang in the middle of the city at two well-known eating establishments whose names shall remain nameless, for the sole reason I have forgotten how to spell one of them.
But it brought home to me the level of ineptitude we mortals have to put up with when we come face to face with the waiters and waitresses of today. Did I just sound like my parents? It happened on Jan 1, 2009, a day traditionally reserved for staying in, nursing headaches and trying to ignore undercurrent desires to break those New Year's resolutions which sounded so right, so appropriate after a few screwdrivers the night before.
I went against the flow and ventured outside because I had to meet two Australian friends and so there I was, walking the streets with two Thai friends and the two Aussies when we decided to go get something to eat. We weren't the only ones out.
There were lots of people at the first restaurant we chose, and as we sat ourselves at a table we glanced at the menu and mulled over our order. It became clear that there was a severe shortage of waiters, a massive oversupply of customers, and what little staff they had were running around like proverbial chooks (chickens) with their heads cut off.
They picked up plates and doled them out with an urgency not usually seen by the service industry of today. There are only so many times one can peruse a menu before thoughts turn to other things, such as the length of one's fingernails or the rumblings in one's stomach. It took 10 minutes before an older lady flew past at breakneck speed administering plates to another table when I took the unusual stance of positive action and tripped her up as she wended her way back to the kitchen.
"Can we order?" I asked. She looked up and said to me, in excellent English: "We don't have many staff today and there are dozens of orders still not cooked, and we're way behind so if you order anything it's going to take ages."
I opened my mouth to reply - alas, she was gone. Of all the nerve! There was a general consensus about the validity of a restaurant asking patrons not to order, and it was decided our hard-earned cash could be handed over somewhere else. So, gathering our belongings and cloaking ourselves in the biggest huff we could possibly muster, we flounced out of that restaurant and down the street.
"Whatever happened to good service?" my Aussie friend clucked. "Remember the days when waiters and waitresses were good here?"
I am loathe to enter such discussions for fear of glancing into a mirror and seeing the reflection of my elderly mother or father or, worse, a combination of both. Before I could offer an opinion we were at a new restaurant.
A young man with an unfortunate crooked smile found us a table and handed out some menus. Again, his English was excellent. I detected a New Zealand accent - always disappointing, but not completely debilitating - as he said: "What can I get for you?" Before we could answer he continued: "By the way, our breakfast menu finished at 11.30, and the lunch menu begins at midday."
He continued to smile like the Leaning Tower of Pisa as I looked at my watch. It was 11.46am.
"So ... what does that make us in now?" I asked, and his brow creased. I had used a question form far too complicated for a man educated in New Zealand to comprehend, where they spend too much time in the curriculum on "How much" and "May I have the bill, please?"
"What I mean is, what can I order now?" I asked. He shook his head. "Nothing," he said with his rollercoaster smile. "Now let's get this straight. I'm in a restaurant ... that's open ... but I can't get anything to eat."
I had fallen into a culinary Twilight Zone. Was Rod Serling lurking near the men's toilet ready to jump out? Was there a sign post up ahead?
I was momentarily confused, despite my long tenure in Bangkok, which often throws up scenarios straight out of any 1960s sci-fi series, but this one was definitely the very limit of the Outer Limits. The waiter just nodded.
Then, as if it would make everything okay, he said: "But you can order drinks!"
I turned to my Thai and Aussie friends and said, in both languages: "This has to be some kind of reality TV show. Let's get out of here." As we donned our huff and marched down Injustice Road once more, we lamented the decline of days when restaurants offered food when they were open, and of days when friendly waiters and waitresses made you feel special rather than imposing by daring to visit their establishment during a rush.
Was this endemic of the world, or just here? We finally found a nice place for lunch (it was midday) and ordered our food and looked around us.
"What's happened to this city? It never used to be like this," I said to nobody in particular, sounding like an actor out of the Bold And The Beautiful. "I know," said one of my friends. "It makes you realise how lucky we are in Bangkok."
Yes, we are, and - oh but didn't I mention that, dear reader? This isn't Bangkok. I'm in my hometown of Brisbane, Australia. I'm sitting in the Queen Street Mall, and that's where all this took place.
Surely ... surely you didn't think this was Bangkok?! That's why I want this column to be a lesson to all my Thai readers. Don't think things are better overseas. Be proud of yourselves.
Service on the whole is excellent here and I thank my lucky stars I'm not a slave to Australian restaurant service staff. Hooray for Thailand!