Eating My Words – Ewan McDonald
GENTLE READER, you may feel I’m being harsh here. After all, you may say, it’s a seaside town on a Saturday night in midwinter. Give’em a break.
But hear me out. This is a town where many well-heeled (and well-groomed, and well-dressed, and even better motored and boated) Aucklanders own holiday homes. They spend a good many weekends here. It is also a place promoted to overseas visitors.
Frankly, I’m over this very Kiwi approach to service. In fact, this place took the Kiwi approach to its ultimate: it was largely DIY. The person who’s not to blame is the waitress. Our hearts went out to her even before she dropped a tray of glasses and crockery on the flagstone floor.
It’s the management that couldn’t give a fig (assuming they knew what one looked like in its natural state, or where to source it, or what to do with it) about the food, the cooking, or their patrons’ experience.
Keeping the customer dissatisfied is all too common in our “service” industries. There’s an island not far off Auckland that specialises in it. To think that we’re worried about whether we’ll have enough Parties Central, or hotel beds, or buses, for the Rugby World Cup visitors. We should be worried about what, and where, they’ll eat. That goes in spades for all the other tourists who save for months to get to this side of the world. And the backbone of our
eating-out business: the locals.
AS WE PAID and left, I did some mental arithmetic. “We won’t be coming back tomorrow night,” I told the others. “Go figure,” said Eamonn.
“Already have,” I said. “It’d be $170. It’s a public holiday and they’d add 15 per cent for the service.”
“There’d have to be some first,” said Jude.
The holiday surcharge crept in when the Clark Government amended the Holidays Act in 2003. Staff had to be paid time and a half and were entitled a further day’s holiday for working on a public holiday.
Mostly as a political protest, to a lesser extent as a way to pay the wages, many in the hospitality industry started to charge a 10 or 15 per cent public holiday surcharge on top of menu prices.
The chicken – or anything else on the menu – has come home to roost. TV3 reports “a new poll” (no, they didn’t say, and I can’t find the source anywhere) shows 70 percent of New Zealanders will avoid places with a holiday surcharge.
TV3′s anonymous survey indicates:
• 40 per cent of New Zealanders still go out to eat on public holidays, but avoid places with surcharges.
• 33 per cent say a surcharge deters them from going out altogether.
• 27 per cent say surcharges have no impact on what they do.
In response Mike Egan, the Restaurant Association president who runs The Arbitrageur and Osteria del Toro in Wellington and the Monsoons Poon in Wellington and Auckland, wrung out the 10-year old dishcloth that, while some cafes in busy areas can afford to open without a surcharge, others have no choice but to charge extra – or close.
Egan told TV he believes customers don’t mind paying extra as long as they get a quality experience. “I don’t think it’s the most important thing at all. New Zealanders are widely travelled and they understand restaurants work on tiny margins and anything that upsets those has a huge detrimental effect.”
Sorry, Mike. That poll, and any number of consumer forums on dining and travelling websites, and letters to the editors, indicates your punters do mind. Nor do they buy the story that it’s common practice overseas – because it ain’t.
For far too many years, I’ve worked in an industry that couldn’t survive, or meet its clients’ and the public’s expectations, without vast numbers of folk from different trades and professions working on public holidays.
You expect a daily newspaper to come out on the day after Labour Day, or Queen’s Birthday, or Anzac Day, with photos of people at the beach on Labour Day or at war memorial parades on Anzac Day.
That means journalists, photographers, editors, production staff, press crews, delivery truck-drivers and runners have to work on public holidays.
You don’t pay an extra 50c for your paper. The advertisers don’t get charged an extra 10 per cent for their space. It’s part of the annual, expected, budgeted cost of running a business.
Same goes for … oh, just about any enterprise that opens on a public holiday.
Why should cafes and restaurants be any different? Particularly when there are more people out and about with discretionary time on their hands?
If they’re still whinging about the Holidays Act, the restaurateurs and café proprietors need to move on. If they’re not, they’re gouging us. My protest against their protest is not to go into any eatery or drinkery that imposes a surcharge – and I’m clearly not alone.