I had intended for this post to be an exciting and detailed food review, but as you will read, things don't always work out as planned despite our best intentions...
Below is a copy of a recently-sent letter to the 'Food Detective' column at The Australian newspaper. Although I am under no illusions that the Food Detective will respond to (or perhaps even read) what follows, I feel all the better for having aired my issues and sent them out to the world! **current update 12/12/09 - the Food Detective has indeed read my letter and responded to say that she will be forwarding it on to Tetsuya Wakuda, as she feels he would be very disappointed to hear of our experience! I will update again if I receive any further response...
Dear Food Detective
Following is a story of how one can make (and lose) a booking at one of Australia’s premiere restaurants. Lest you think I am writing to have a whinge about my personal experience, let’s clear this up at the beginning – I certainly am. I would, however, much appreciate if you’d take the time to read on (it’s a little long), as it seems there is a statement to be made about how a well-regarded restaurant treats its clientele based on reputation and the ability to fill tables.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Mr Restaurant-Goer (henceforth to be known as Mr RG for ease of writing) and myself reside in Perth. Perth is small and does not offer such a vast array of dining options as many cities, so when we travel Mr RG and I enjoy seeking out interesting places to eat.
A little while ago, Mr RG and I decided to get married. We would have a destination wedding in New Zealand – a great plan ensuring lots of nice holiday time and the chance to dine out at several fantastic restaurants. ‘Where shall we go?’ we asked one another. Saffron in NZ’s Arrowtown was a given, along with Martin Bosley’s in Wellington. ‘And’, we thought, ‘how about we go home via Sydney so we can finally eat at Tetsuya’s? We’ve always wanted to go, and it’s months away so we should be sure of getting a table’.
So, in February this year, I made a booking at Tetsuya’s for the end of October. Downloaded, filled out and faxed back the booking request form as per their protocol, and received a phone call from a very nice female staff member the next day to confirm that yes, we did have a reservation for three people as requested (planning, as we were, to take a Sydney-based foodie friend who wanted to pick up the bill as a wedding gift).
And that’s where things started to go wrong, although we didn’t realise it at the time.
Early on the morning of our booking, we flew into Sydney from New Zealand, and I switched on my phone. Said phone does not have international roaming so had been switched off for a couple of weeks, and I expected to find some messages and missed calls to attend to. What I did not expect, however, was a curt SMS, sent the previous afternoon, to inform us that our table at Tetsuya’s had been cancelled.
The horror! ‘Must be a mistake’, we thought, and promptly called the restaurant. ‘No mistake’, Mr RG was informed – apparently we had neglected to be available to confirm our booking the afternoon before and our table had now been given away.
Now, we are not ‘fancy restaurant virgins’. We understand that busy and in-demand restaurants need to confirm their bookings in order to avoid empty tables, and have no problem with this process. Perhaps we were naïve to expect that a restaurant of Tetsuya’s calibre would confirm our booking only on the day of reservation, and had we known they would need confirmation a day or two prior, would have given Mr RG’s phone number rather than mine so they could contact us while we were overseas.
But here’s the problem – nobody from Tetsuya’s, at any point, advised us of this procedure, so it seemed we had come to Sydney specifically to eat at a place which now would not recognize our booking.
Thus ensued not one, but two, lengthy phone calls between Mr RG and the Tetsuya’s booking manager, wherein Mr RG explained our position and the fact that, being as we had only come to Sydney to dine with them, we certainly would have adhered to their confirmation policy had we known about it. Why, he asked, would we have booked a table a full nine months prior, and arranged flights and a hotel to match our booking, only to not bother being available to confirm?
Sadly, we didn’t feel that the response we got to this argument was in any way helpful. Instead of a genuine apology or some accountability taken for not having explained their booking policies, Mr RG received the statement that ALL booking staff at Tetsuya’s inform ALL customers of these policies when a booking is made, both verbally and via email, that it was unthinkable that a staff member would not have done this, and it was unfortunately not their problem if we had provided incorrect contact details or not taken any notice of this information. Additionally, Mr RG was told that when confirming tables, staff will make every effort to reach the customer numerous times by both phone and email before cancelling a table.
We move on to the next point: there was a single missed phone call and voicemail on my phone when we arrived in Sydney, made the day before, approximately one hour prior to the SMS which told us of the table’s cancellation. No extra phone calls, no emails (which I do check and which would certainly have avoided the whole sorry mess in the first place). In fact, I have never received a single email from the restaurant, despite the original staff member I spoke with way back in February checking all of my contact details.
Impasse. Both sides maintained their stance, with Tetsuya’s only concession being that they could squeeze us in for lunch that day (it was now 11:30am, we were flight-dirty, had no hotel room to check into, bags everywhere and the third member of our dining party at work), or they would try to find us another restaurant to go to that evening. Alternatively, we may be able to come on a weeknight the following week (when we would have left Sydney to go home). We declined all offers on the grounds that they were very poor substitutes for our original booking.
So what becomes of the desire to eat somewhere after an experience such as this? For our money, we’ll be going elsewhere for dinner next time we are in Sydney. No matter the reputation of a restaurant (and we don’t doubt that all the good stories of Tetsuya’s are true, it’s why we wanted to go), poor handling and lack of accountability when an error is made - even a seemingly small one involving lack of information given to a customer – can have a significant impact. For us, it meant a good deal of planning and money to travel to Sydney was effectively wasted. And the better the restaurant’s reputation, the worse the impact when something does go wrong.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, we did go somewhere else for dinner (even managed to organize it for ourselves, aren’t we clever?). We tried Bodega in Surry Hills. It was fantastic.