Marco Pierre White's Swan Inn snatches defeat from the jaws of victory

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Reposted from The Red Rag

Far from politics but I wanted to share my experience of how the behaviour of a single poor staff member can completely change one's attitude towards a business.

Last night Mrs C and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary. In recent years we have flown to Paris and Madrid for our anniversary but due to business commitments we were unable to get away this year. So we decided we would stay in the UK and have a nice meal and overnight stay. Mrs C booked a room at Marco Pierre Whites Swan Inn Restaurant in Aughton, Lancashire.

Despite the relative prosperity of our home county of Cheshire there is a dearth of decent restaurants. So we were looking forward to travelling a little further from home for a great dining experience at what their website describes as the perfect venue for any occasion.

We had booked a table for seven o’clock, we thought we would arrive early and relax in our room for a while prior to heading downstairs for aperitifs about 6:30. We arrived about 5:00pm and were given room one.

The room was cold so we turned the radiator up, it didn’t take long for us to find out why it had been turned down. A noise like a pneumatic drill filled the room. We turned it back down but within minutes the banging started again, this time coming from the room next door. It was no big deal at this point but it was obvious we would be unable to sleep unless it was sorted out. I called down to reception and within minutes the noise had stopped and a lady knocked on our door to tell us she had turned the radiator off in the room next door. She explained they had recently had some plumbing work done and there was air trapped in the system.

I assumed the room next door must be empty so we were quite happy with the solution, as it was minus seven degrees last night we turned our heating back on whilst we went for our meal, the plan was it would heat the room while we were out and we could then turn it off overnight so as not to be disturbed by the banging.

I had a gin and tonic and Mrs C enjoyed a Bacardi and diet Coke whilst we perused the menu. The wine list wasn’t great, I was surprised how limited it was, but there were a couple of good reds on there and I picked a reliable old favourite. A rich full bodied Pommard, I felt it would benefit from being decanted so I requested this and ordered it early. I also ordered a bottle of 2000 vintage Dom Perignon to start with.

Mrs C ordered pottage of mussel s followed by a pork loin, I ordered panache of sea scallops and a main of halibut with a side of creamed potatoes. The wine waiter brought the champagne and he was friendly and knowledgeable, he had recently been to a tasting where he had tried the 2002 Dom Perignon which he was looking forward to stocking soon. He also delivered the red to give it time to breath, he apologised that he could not decant it as they only had two decanters and they were both in use.

So we did not start off with quite the standard I had expected, but that was quickly forgotten as hors d’ouvres arrived. My sea scallops were beautifully seasoned and cooked to perfection. Mrs C’s pottage of mussels was absolutely delicious, and I didn’t just take her word for it I tried a spoonful myself in return for half a scallop. She did feel the pottage would have benefited from having more than three mussels but concurred with me about the quality of my scallops.

The atmosphere was very pleasant and it was clear all of the diners were having a great night. Our mains were absolutely delicious, a genuine first class dining experience that was enhanced by the friendliness and professionalism of the waiting staff. We were completely unhurried and took our time before ordering desert. The waitress recommended the chocolate and pistachio marquis, Mrs C and I are both fans of pistachio so we ordered one, I had also noticed that they did a chocolate fondant with pistachio so I ordered that as well and we planned to share washed down with a bottle of Hungarian desert wine. The fondant was superb but we were a little disappointed with the marquis which was a touch too dry. Our waitress asked how our deserts were and when I mentioned that the marquis was a little dry she immediately apologised and said she would deduct it from the bill. I told her there was really no need but she insisted. A true example of outstanding customer service.

We finished with a cheese plate which again did not disappoint. We asked for a liqueurs list but it never arrived. In all honesty we both forgot we had asked and a little while later we asked a different waitress for our bill. Then the waitress we had asked for the liqueurs list came back and advised they did not have a list but asked us what we wanted. We said we had asked for our bill now so would leave it. It really didn’t matter at all and probably protected us from a hangover.

All in all I would rate this restaurant as outstanding whilst still having room for improvement, a more comprehensive wine list, a couple of extra decanters, and a list of available liqueurs would help the overall experience match the outstanding quality of the food and service.

So to bed, the room was lovely and warm so we immediately turned the knocking radiator off. A quick flick through the TV confirmed my fears that we were limited to Freeview and would not be able to look in on the Ashes where apparently we were trouncing Australia. They did have wireless broadband though so we were able to watch on Sky Player.

We had a wonderful night but were in for a rude awakening. That infernal plumbing was knocking again, clearly the room next door was occupied after all and they had turned their heating on, and who could blame them with the Siberian weather we were facing. It was however impossible to sleep. I phoned reception to complain and ask if perhaps the heating could be tuned off overnight. The man on the phone said he would look at our room rate for us and I advised him that a rate of zero would be appropriate. We checked out with Mark in the morning, I told him he needed to get the plumbing sorted out and without a word of apology he simply said it was being fixed on Monday.

So after less than eight hours of very disturbed sleep we went for breakfast. It was 9:50 on Sunday morning. A waitress making up tables advised that they stopped serving at 9:30, I was very surprised that they stopped so early on a Sunday and expressed my disappointment that they did not tell us that when we checked in. Now here is where thing went wrong, badly wrong. We now were experiencing a case study in how the rudeness and arrogance of a single staff member can do untold damage to a business.

Given they were fully aware of our disturbed night, great customer service would have been to show a little flexibility and make us some breakfast. Surely it was not beyond the capability of the numerous staff there. However, they were absolutely not prepared to do so, the waitress was just explaining that the chef had left when Mark interfered with “9:30 is our brand standard” and far from apologising insisted that we would have been told “as we always tell people breakfast ends at 9:30 when they check in”. When I assured him we had not been his response was “yes you were, and it was in your welcome pack in your room.” I was astonished, it was beyond belief that this man could be so badly trained and have such appalling customer service skills that he chose to call me a liar. Not just once but three times, after the first time I pointed out that he was calling me a liar and that surely he should just accept that we were not told and it was all just an unfortunate misunderstanding. But no, he was having an argument and he was damned determined to win, we were leaving, we were in the entrance hall en route to the car park but Mark had followed us still insisting we had been told. I lost my temper and shouted at him that he should stop. We were leaving and there was no need for him to persist in his allegations that we were liars. He once again repeated that we must have been told “as we always do.” I no longer just doubted his customer service skills but his mental capacity as we headed off in search of breakfast. He was now shouting “Get out, go now!” which was odd as we would have already left had he not followed us persisting in his obnoxious behaviour.

It was an entirely forgivable oversight that the lady on check in didn’t advise us of the breakfast times, and to be fair at no point had we asked and the onus was on us to do so. A simple sorry would have been enough, sure we would still have been a bit disappointed but that would have been the end of it.

Following the wonderful meal we would have been sure to return but I very much doubt if we now will. I asked Mark to get the manager to call me, we will see if he does. The contrast in service between the night and the day was as stark as the difference between... well... night and day I suppose.


One response to “Marco Pierre White's Swan Inn snatches defeat from the jaws of victory”
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Gillion said...

Have you tried dumplings and roast ducks? They are the famous and traditional Beijing dishes. And also bird's nest soup? Its a delicacy in China.

Enjoy your days~~~


30 January 2011 at 13:11