I write this piece as a form of encouragement and also hopefully as constructive criticism because I really want this place to succeed, not just in terms of being a profitable business in the monetary sense, but also being successful the quality of both its produce and its service.
Lauren of Footscray Food Blog's post on the newly opened Roti Road on Barkly Street sparked a mild panic attack with hyperventilation and squeals of delight! The dearth of decent Malaysian fare has been the big disappointment about the area we are otherwise so happy to live in. It was with genuine excitement when we rocked up at Roti Road on a CBA Friday, already anticipating many more CBA Fridays here to come.
It all started well. Having expressed our surprise at the generous space, we were initially shown to a small table at the very front door. But our waitress noticed the draught and organized a table further out the back without prompting. And the place was already well and truly packed and pumping by the time we arrived.
On hindsight, we gave the staff a little respite since we can be frustratingly slow orderers (if there's such a word). But once the business end was over and done with, we sat back and patiently waited for our evening meal to begin.
1 Plain Roti
1 Roti with Onion and Egg
1 Char Kway Teow
1 Nasi Lemak with Fried Chicken
1 hot lemon tea
1 iced lemon tea
Our drinks came out first. My Iced Lemon tea was the real brewed deal so I was happy. M was a little less certain with his, but to be honest, if you are going to order hot lemon tea at an Asian restaurant then ...
M's hot lemon Tea
It would have only been about 15mins in when someone not in uniform (so presumably of some kind of managerial rank) came to our table and asked whether we had ordered? And because the question was slightly unexpected and we didn't respond straightaway, he then proceeded to apologise for the delays as the kitchen was really busy. Ding ding! Warning Bell # 1.
It wasn't that much longer before the first dish arrived (so up to this point, apologizing for any form of tardiness was a little unnecessary). And guess what it was - the damn Char Kway Teow! She places it in the middle of the table and I push it towards M, and she asks in puzzlement "Oh you're not sharing?" and I go "No I'm having the Nasi Lemak". Ding ding! Warning Bell # 2
Without putting too fine a point on this, Kway Teow is a specific type of noodle and Char means Fried. What that means is you can't simply substitute any kind of rice based noodle if you do not have Kway Teow! That's like saying I am giving you Spaghetti Bolognese, but using Parpadelle instead! So if you want to serve Char Kway Teow but with Pad Thai noodles, then change the name of your dish to something else. Also the balance of flavours was a little off. Too much dark Soy in the mix which cut the sweetness of the dish with an unwelcome amount of bitterness. M did not like it. And it takes a lot to make M not like his food.
Ok while M tries his best to stretch out a 5 minute meal into 15, I sit there waiting, stomach slowly devouring its own lining.
He's nearly at the end when my Plain Roti arrives. The Roti is good. Freshly made and just the right balance of crispy/flaky to my liking. The accompanying sauces are great too, full of flavor and interest, although M finds the dahl (or is it mung bean?) a little chewy.
Then its yet another wait during which they come round to re-assure us that our other dishes are on the way. It doesn't really make the time go any faster.
M's Roti is next to be served which he finishes off accordingly. And I am sat there puzzling as to why our Rotis were not made and served together at the same time. Especially since they have already marked our table out as experiencing delays ... Or have they? Ding ding! Warning Bell # 3.
By this stage we already knew what to expect - our dishes were arriving one after the other with a delay between each serve - mildly irritating like a buzzing mosquito that won't quit, but not quite the restless sleep of jungle Malaria. So its their first official night and maybe they didn't quite anticipate the crowds ... totally understandable, surely.
But after they cleared that second tray of Roti from our table, the wait was getting noticeably longer ... and our patience and sense of fairplay were wearing decidedly thin.
Bear in mind that up to this point, I hadn't technically been served a proper meal yet. And we had already been at the table for well over an hour.
We asked our waitress to check and see how long it was going to take for the rest of the dishes to come, and she said she would. To be honest, I don't really think she did. And what's worse, I don't believe she ever intended to!
So I gave them another 20mins which stretched into 30mins and before I had a chance to call someone over again, another waitress comes over and asks if we were still waiting on anything, to which the reply was a resounding Yes.
Off she trundles to wherever it is they go, and about 10mins later comes back with a piece of paper and goes "Did you order the Nasi Lemak?" Another resounding Yes! To which she responds with an apology and says they have run out of rice and would I like Noodles instead!
I. LOST. THE. PLOT.
I exercised enough self restraint to not have sworn once, but I told them exactly how I felt in no uncertain terms. It was not a proud moment for me, but I think we had been more than reasonably patient.
Here are some of the choice phrases I used:
"can I speak to the manager"
"you can't have Malaysian food written on the front of your shop and run out of rice"
"who's manning the pass in your kitchen"
"we're unlikely to come back"
"what are you going to do for me now"
In summation here are some pointers that I have for management:
- train your staff to be knowledgeable in the cuisine you purport to be serving
- do not hire staff who make an irritated face and go "what?" when someone asks for a teh tarek and something typically Malaysian
- when you have already identified a problem with a particular table, make sure that whoever runs the pass in your kitchen is aware of this and pays close attention to the relevant docket
- If the freshly made Roti is the holdup, apologise to your customer and ask if its ok if the mains are served first
- Do not assume that a 2 person table will be sharing all dishes ordered - clarify this point first if you are anticipating delays
- and if someone asks to see a manager, do not get your staff to "pretend" to be a manager just so the real "managers" aren't bothered with difficult queries about the level of service that they are responsible for in the first place