I had a couple of hours free in London this week and with no plans to do any formal reviewing I decided it was time to check out one of the those areas that has really developed since I left the capital about three years ago.
London is constantly changing, as old run-down areas become trendy, and with chic postcodes come classy coffee shops in areas where you’d be lucky to find a greasy-spoon caff in the past.
The coffee I had yesterday was really excellent. It was wonderful to be able to sit outside, enjoying the last few rays of sunshine and watch people going past. For once I didn’t have cake so can’t comment on that. But there were a few things that put me off the place…
It was enormous, for a start, on an almost industrial scale. Yes, that can be fun if you like to sit and people-watch, but when a coffee shop gets that big, it loses its intimate feel, its place at the heart of the community. I guess, for me, size matters, and the smaller the better.
It had lots of cheerful, smiling staff. So you might think: fantastic to have good service.
But because of its size, I guess they needed a lot of staff, and it became somehow tiring the way I was warmly welcomed each time I went through the door, with the same offer of a menu, even though the second time I went in I was just trying to find the toilet, and the the third time it was to go in and pay. The trouble with having that many different members of staff is that you are not likely to be recognised when you reappear, so again you lose the family-feel of the smaller coffee shop.
And when it came to paying, I noticed there was a ‘discretionary service charge’ of 12.5% added to the bill.
Yuk. I really really resent having a ‘discretionary’ service charge added. Good service is surely something you should reward if you feel it’s deserved or has been special.
I know there are different cultural norms in different countries (hey, we lived in the ‘20% is standard’ USA cafe culture), but ‘discretionary’ feels so misleading, and I have memories of the row I had in one west London restaurant years and years ago when the service had been appalling and I wanted the 12.5% deducted…
I’d much rather they charged more for the coffee and just paid their waiting staff better if needs be. My flat whites were £2.60 each; it’s a little more than I usually pay up north, but not bad for top quality and in a trendy part of town.
I’d far rather they added 33p to each coffee any day instead of a ‘discretionary’ service charge – it just left a bitter taste in my mouth, even after they’d offered me a flask of water to cleanse my palate before I left. I’d rather be thinking of the coffee than my discretionary tip when I leave a place.
No, my preference is to keep it small, keep it intimate, and charge what you need to for top quality. But don’t overload the place with serving staff, and please no more ‘discretionary charges’.
But what do you think?
Oh, and I’m staying discreet on where I was yesterday. I shan’t be reviewing them anyway, in spite of their fantastic coffee…