Thank you to comedian, businessman and all round good guy Hamad Al Amari for raising this issue and inspiring this blog post.
At Qatar Social, an event organized by I Love Qatar last month bringing together bloggers, influencers and content creators in July, he made a very pointed quip during a panel discussion about the future of content.
He highlighted the discrepancy between many reviews on foodie websites like Zomato Qatar and actual experience when it comes to service at restaurants in Doha. He implored people not to “sugar coat” reviews and when sharing experiences online.
His beef was “service in this town” and the reality versus the online perception.
As a blogger who is invited as a guest to as many meals as I pay for myself, I realize I am implicated in perpetuating his point about sugarcoating. The service, especially at events or when I am invited, is quite different to the actual reality.
But, I am still a consumer. I pay for a lot of meals and eat out more often than most – in high end places and also small eateries across the country.
And…Hamad has a point. Service in restaurants does veer wildly between the over attentive and the downright negligent. Remember – we are talking about service, not food.
Customer experience is of course subjective. Could it have been a bad night? The team having an off day? Was I in a bad mood?
But nothing infuriates me more than good food being let down by bad service. During this most recent Ramadan I had a great breakfast eggs Benedict dish at Santa Monica Breakfast Club, but the service was a comedy of errors which resulted in me actually having to leave the restaurant and ask for the bill outside because I couldn’t catch the attention of staff to pay.
Sometimes service issues can be a glitch or the product of a a transition period. I have always been a champion of W Doha, but a recent night saw me leaving a little befuddled by the off-hand service experience I received at their usually excellent Italian restaurant. As I have noted recently, the hotel did lose its way for a bit. Service dropped off noticeably and food in some outlets and I saw this frustration reflected in social media posts and anecdotes by other regular customers. I am happy to say recent visits have seen a change and things seem to be moving back on track.
That’s the problem when you set the bar so high in an increasingly competitive market.
The way a restaurant or hotel treats their customers along every step of their dining experience has an impact on whether they will retain that customer. In Qatar, it’s rare to find a place – both in hotels and independent – that manages to unite all aspects of food and service and if you are a member of the lively Doha Foodies site on Facebook, you will know this better than most.
For me this comes down to a number of key factors:
Lack of appropriate training: Training in the hospitality industry appears to be either non-existent or one-size-fits-all. A big bugbear of mine is wait staff not knowing the menu, even in high end restaurants. This shows a lack of investment in training and in treating their staff well.
Staff turnover: Some venues seem to have a very high turnover of staff (for many reasons – salary, conditions and life in general), this means there is no “legacy” or consistency with service. When there is some kind of continuity, it makes such a difference. I recently went to the French Olive after a year’s hiatus and the waiter recognized me and welcomed me warmly. That made my day. The same can be said for Nobu Doha.
Language: I was at an event recently and had to use charades to act out the fact that I wanted a diet beverage. The server just didn’t understand me. This lack of understanding can come across as arrogant. In a multicultual country like Qatar this is hard to execute, but you can at least make a token effort.
Management: By this I mean lack of leadership but not empowering staff to deal with situations as they arise. Let me give you an example. Last year, on the first day of Eid, I went to a branch of Shakespeare and Co, a cafe chain for breakfast. You can read the full account here. But essentially they undercharged me and I unwittingly paid and left. The manager obviously realized this and instructed the waiter to go and deal with the situation. This resulted in him tracking me down in the nearby supermarket. He came armed with the card machine and in a very humiliating moment, I was forced to pay for the outstanding balance. In the middle of the fruit and vegetable section. The obvious way to deal with that was to quietly ask me to come back, but no. He was told to collect the money or it would probably come out of his salary. I haven’t set foot in this chain again.
The price we pay: Eating out in Qatar is an expensive proposition. A meal for two (with drinks) in a five star hotel or similar starts at QR500 and keeps climbing the more you add on. So with that cost comes expectation – and these aren’t always correlating.
What do you think? Is there a problem with service in this town?
Wow! Majorly disappointed by the Shakespeare and Co experience. I’ve definitely wondered with reviews that I see online who has been paid or invited to make them and if that has influenced their reviews. Thanks for sharing.
Alan Holden (@Baldrick2Dogs)
I’ve been to a few brunches recently where the drink service has got off to a really slow start. It’s almost like they weren’t expecting customers to turn up on time to maximize their drinking time. How difficult could it be to pre-pop a few corks and have a couple of buckets of cold beer ready to hand out? At Coral, a friend left the table and went to the bar to bring back an armful of beers for our table while the waiters stood around chatting to each other. Shameful service that was reported in my Trip Adviser write up.
I cannot agree with you more! At the ‘fine dining’ level, a trip to Europe (or Oz or the US) will remind you what a career server can act like, and how much that can elevate the meal. I always appreciate the staff who have true pride in what’s coming out of the kitchen. (Okay for me to link to this in my weekly round up on Thursday?)
Rachel Ann Morris
Yes so so true. And yes of course – please link!
Thank you for this post. I have been disappointed several times myself, not just in service but also food. Just yesterday, we went for the noodles and ribs at Elements and I was majorly disappointed. The food was awfully bland!
A Girl and Her Passport
This was one of my biggest complaints about places in Doha. It’s why I rarely ventured beyond the W and even they didn’t always get it right.
I am so glad this came up as a blog post by you. I hope many eateries in Doha take note. I am known as the one explaining ‘customer service’ to restaurant wait staff, much to my family’s embarrassment. I honestly feel that lack of training is one of the biggest factors that leads to this issue. I often feel the wait staff cannot think on their feet for situations that commonly arise as part of the dining experience. Let’s not even start with the delivery scene here in Doha. I have many stories to tell!
Rachel Ann Morris
this post has certainly struck a chord!
YES! I have had so many spotty service experiences in Doha, due to disinterested staff who couldn’t be bothered to respond to a hello how are you or a smile. The other day I went to Triangle, one server was absolutely lovely but the other was so rude and unaccomodating of simple requests like asking for an extra menu, it was simply unbelievable! If you’re paying a significant amount for your meal, a customer has the right to good service. I will say the general trend is that service seems to have picked up across Doha over the recent years. On the flip side, I’ve also noticed a lot of the staff are miserable because they are constantly being yelled at for no good reason by customers and managers, and get next to no tips, due to the undefined tipping culture here as opposed to other countries. I think as you mentioned in the Shakespeare incident, a lot of this can be avoided by good leadership examples.