The Game of Patience

I had arranged to meet my Aunt and Uncle for lunch yesterday. I chose a tearoom that we had discovered during our last visit and arranged to meet them there at 2pm, thinking that any lunch-time rush would be dwindling by then. When we arrived however, the car park was full which did not bode well. I had tried to book the day before as we were looking for a table for 5 people, but was told that they only took bookings for guests in wheelchairs, who might have accessibility issues. I explained that two of my party had mobility issues but that neither would be in a wheelchair.

So an excited Joshua dragged me to the door of the cafe, he knew what was coming next. But we were greeted by a waitress telling us that they had no tables for 5 available. The sun was shining, although there was a February chill in the air , so we agreed to sit outside while we waited for a table to come free indoors. Joshua was not impressed to be taken to an external table – he had done his share of that during the last 2 years and had never approved, but had tolerated it as it seemed to be the only way that he could access his beloved cafes. We were given menus to be choosing what we would like to eat but were not offered any drinks outside, which might have eased the pain of waiting.

I saw a table of four empty in the conservatory and another party were paying, so I was confident that we would be seated inside soon. But both left and nobody came to fetch us. So I went back to the door and asked if we could take up the vacant table, thinking that we might have been forgotten, but I was told that no, the conservatory was only for those having ‘special afternoon tea’. So I sat down again, frustrated. Joshua was getting agitated by this stage, not understanding what the delay was. I went back to the door and told the waitress that we would have a ‘special afternoon tea’ then if it meant that we could be seated in the conservatory. A man shouted from the kitchen that they needed 24 hours notice for that! I had been there 24 hours earlier to try, unsuccessfully, to make a booking so I could have ordered the special afternoon teas then . So I was sent away again, now regretting my choice of venue and feeling embarrassed that we had recommended this establishment to my Aunt and Uncle. If it had just been us three, we would have left and taken Joshua to Donalds, which is literally next door. I had a tussle with Joshua on the patio as he tried to push past me and gain access to the tearoom.

I waited another 5 minutes, watching couples arrive and be seated immediately, and was ready to leave. I asked my husband to ask one more time to see how much longer we might be waiting, so that we could decide what to do. He was told that our table was now ,finally, ready and we moved inside. The trouble was now that Joshua had lost his momentum, the excitement of going out to a cafe was dissipated. I ordered him an omelette, which he had enjoyed at our last visit in November, but he would not entertain it, he ate nothing, so we wasted our money on his meal. My ploughmans lunch was delicious but the unfortunate start to the outing had spoilt my appetite rather too.

This tearoom understands the needs of wheelchair users it seemed, but had no appreciation of the impact of a delay on somebody, like Joshua, with learning difficulties. All he knew was, we had brought him out to a cafe, but for some reason, he was just shown it from outside and was not able to access the treat. Perhaps their no booking policy needs to be reviewed for larger parties. I have submitted my feedback to the tearoom, so that they understand how their policy, and the inevitable wait, made us feel. I am not asking for special treatment because of Joshua’s disabilities, but I would have expected more empathy and flexibility once they could see our situation for themselves.

BREAKING NEWS:

I had sent the tea room a complaint by email in the feedback page of their website last night as I pondered our experience. I had an almost instant reply from the owner asking if she could call me today, of course I agreed as I wanted to hear what she had to say. She rang at 11am as promised and apologised for our experience, stating that she was not working yesterday but she had spoken to all of the staff who were on duty to find out their version of events. She told me that I could not see how hard they were trying to accommodate our table for 5, but that the confines of their space made it difficult.

She was mortified and claimed that she did not want anyone to feel disappointed and that they would learn from my feedback. She remembered us from our previous visits, describing Joshua ‘with that wonderful smile’ and that made her even sadder that we had felt let down, when she felt as though she knew us.

Next time, I am encouraged to book in advance by explaining about Joshua’s needs. I replied that I did not like to use his disability to get restaurant tables as a rule. I suggested that they did introduce a booking system, which had not worked for them in the past as people would often book then not turn up, costing them money as they were unable to offer the table to anyone else. I told her that I had recently been asked for a deposit at the time of booking, which is taken off the cost of the food, but prevents the temptation simply to not turn up . They are reviewing their systems.

I told her that I was not complaining to get a free meal, but so that they could learn about the impact of their actions and take steps to ensure nobody else suffers as we did. I was impressed by how seriously she took my feedback, seriously enough to call me back. I will return and give them another go, but it will just be the 3 of us and if the car park is full, we will turnaround – not even let Joshua out of the car, as once he is within sight of a cafe he is hell-bent on getting inside.

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