Counter Service is an Oxymoron

I have to admit, I’m a pretty big fan of Australia. I mean the weather is at least decent (no hot summer days so far, but still), the scenery is beautiful (as are the men), the accents are an endless source of entertainment and don’t even get me started on the cuddly animals. However, there is one thing so far that drives me insane – counter service.

At the majority of sit down restaurants and bars I’ve had the pleasure of dining at both during this trip and last, this seemingly ubiquitous concept of service structure is irritatingly present. The general gist of it is that you enter the establishment, walk up to the bar, place your beverage AND food order, pay, and then find yourself a table while clutching onto your drink and one of those metal signs with a number on it otherwise used to identify table numbers at lower budget banquet affairs. Granted, you could secure yourself a table first, but as a solo diner and being wise enough not to leave my purse behind as a spot saver, I’m left with no real way of indicating MY table selection so I leave this step until last. Maybe I should just lick the chair?

Your food arrives – generally promptly – to your table, which is the exact point that I realize I’ve forgotten to collect my cutlery while at the counter. Also, don’t try to order a beverage refill from the food deliverer (even when they happen to also be the bartender), I’m pretty sure that earned me more than just the dirty look.

Now, counter service isn’t extremely terrible, I just much prefer the experience of having table service. I think the rampant existence of this trend in Australia has a lot to do with how high minimum wages are here, and they are even higher on weekends. However, one nice thing about the high hourly wage is that tipping is not the norm, and not expected in the service industry like it is at home. It’s nice to know that when I choose to leave something in addition, it’s both noticed and appreciated.

Unfortunately though, taking the tip out of the equation seems to also remove the concept of service as well. While the friendly service I receive at home is strongly rooted in the providers knowledge of the financial benefits their behaviour is linked to, I feel that this cordial human interaction is a big part of the experience of dining – especially while doing so solo. I always think of the service industry as being chalk full of vibrant and interesting personalities, and I unfortunately don’t think that is true here in in Australia – or at least not in Sydney.

I have been trying to let my hatred for counter service fade, and I thought I was getting used to it – until tonight. I needed to escape my newly anxiety inducing apartment (more on that tomorrow), so I headed off to a restaurant at a nearby hotel. The facility and menu seemed lovely so I ducked inside and – shock – counter service. I had to line up for five minutes at the bar to order (strike one), and then was handed a buzzer similar to the kind you get at home while you’re lingering at a bar waiting for your table to be ready – where you will promptly be greeted and served. I stared at it for a minute and had the bartender/cashier clarify – yup, the contraption would buzz at which point I would be welcome to collect my order at the Kitchen counter.

Service Fail

I begrudgingly set off with my beer to find a table, which ended up being on the other side of the restaurant. An irritatingly long time later, my buzzer started flashing, buzzing and beeping. At this point I had to make the game time decision to leave my precious beer in charge of saving my seat – and headed off to get my dinner, which was sitting under a warming light with no one nearby to verify if it was indeed mine.
I collected my plate, trudged back to my table where my beer was thankfully still keeping watch, and sat down to enjoy myself….

… But I’d $&@king forgot to collect my cutlery!!!!

While I’m not so sure I’m on board with increasing the expected tip in Toronto to 20%, I definitely think our service framework has the upper hand – and I’m sure some servers will receive some handsome tipping from me when I get home this spring!!



Filed under Negative Nancy, Pictures Tell a Thousand Words

2 responses to “Counter Service is an Oxymoron

  1. ugh, we are princesses.. it would be hard for me to adjust too..

    like oh, I need another napkin.. I’d like to pay you a dollar to fetch me one..

    because I really just don’t want to interrupt my meal please and thank you.

    I am totally with you on this one!

    • Ya, this is probably a princess thing – but it still drives me insane. These places are not bloody cafeterias, they are restaurants. The other day the server hadn’t rang through the extra lemons I had ordered (TWO DOLLARS EXTRA), so I had to get my wallet (breavely left my purse at the chair this time, the place was empty), go back to the bar and pay and then get my meal at the kitchen counter. Just an adjustment to make 🙂

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