Desperately looking for good service in Cape's slipping paradise
BACK from 10 days in Cape Town, I have to tell you that all is not well in paradise.
Even Capetonians are beginning to complain about increased crime in the city and the influx of unemployed and homeless people from less prosperous parts of the country gives the city a strong Johannesburg flavour these days. Uncollected rubbish bags are piled up along Long Street and the litter problem in the city is noticeably worse than it was a year ago.
The only plus is the fact that the Western Cape hasn't yet fallen into the clutches of the ANC because things would undoubtedly be worse if that were the case. I suspect we will know when the ANC win the Western Cape because the noon day gun will go off at 1.30pm for a few weeks before being stolen.
All of this is rather distressing because we are apparently pinning our hopes on Cape Town to attract foreign tourists. Admittedly there are plenty of backpackers visiting the city, but they are not staying at the swanky new hotels. What Cape Town needs to do is to concentrate on attracting the globally well-heeled if it hopes to feature as a major tourist destination. Constantly being accosted by drunks and beggars won't do much to promote SA's image abroad.
The Waterfront has jacked up its security since the Planet Hollywood bombing and has now installed concealed television cameras everywhere. This may be great in the fight against crime but it makes The Waterfront an extremely dangerous place in which to conduct an extra-marital affair.
The real problem with Cape Town though is the almost complete absence of a service ethic. This may be something the government might like to tackle at the forthcoming jobs summit although I doubt whether they'll think it that important. After all, the aim is only to talk about creating jobs without giving too much consideration to what actually makes somebody employable.
For example, the general attitude among restaurant staff in Cape Town seems to fall into one of two categories. Firstly, there are those restaurants who specialise in only hiring beautiful staff who all seem to think they are on the brink of an international modelling career. They make it quite clear that waiting at tables is merely a stepping stone to greater things and they really cannot be expected to remember what the specials are that day or who ordered what. The second category consists of waitrons who seem to bear a personal grudge that you are about to spend more on a meal than they earn in a month. Consequently, they see no need for eye contact or friendly service.
I wondered if this was just my natural cynicism running wild so I decided to road-test the sort of place that tourists might be drawn to. The results were not inspiring. The Chapman's Peak Hotel in Hout Bay, for example, enjoys a stunning view over the ocean. One could just about tolerate the quirky shabbiness of the place were it not for the abysmal service and food. The gloomy waiters seemed rather put out when people actually sat at tables and spent most of their time carefully avoiding patrons, preferring instead to gaze vacantly into space or chat to one another in a remote corner of the restaurant.
We persevered and eventually an overworked waitron took our order and brought us two plates of calamari and chips floating in a small lagoon of cooking oil. No complimentary bread is served but, best of all, there is a surcharge of R2.50 for the tartare sauce. Despite frequent requests, the bill took considerably longer to arrive than the meal took to eat. Really dreadful tacky service in one of the Cape's tourist traps.
Next I thought I would play it safe and try Bacini's in Kloof Street. Outside the restaurant stood a blackboard which announced fresh yellowtail and kingklip. The waiter took our order only to return and tell us that there was no yellowtail. Heaven only knows who had eaten it all because the restaurant was empty. So we ordered kingklip which we were assured was fresh. Well, perhaps it had been earlier in the week, but the grey, glutinous mass that appeared was completely inedible. When I asked the waiter why the fish was so disgusting and whether he actually intended to charge me for it, he became defensive and replied that he could hardly be held responsible for our lousy choice. "I mean, I didn't exactly catch the fish myself did I?"
I was tempted to punch him in the mouth but couldn't be bothered. Besides, I didn't relish the headline "Sunday Times columnist smacks waiter" appearing in the newspaper.