Eslington Villa: Disappointing Service, Nil Netiquette

I went for a meal at the Eslington Villa hotel in Gateshead for my birthday in April. It’s a lovely old mansion house type of building and has a reputation for high quality. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed by the service I received. I wasn’t exactly happy with the response to my email of complaint either, but I decided simply to resolve not to go there again and leave it at that.

Until today, when they started breaching what I’d consider to be quite simple rules of politeness on the interweb (’netiquette’, as it is known) and managed to offend me even more, to the extent that I thought, “right, sod ‘em!”. So what was it I was actually upset about?

I was upset because I’d been on a birthday night out with my wife, and we’d had quite a nice meal, and then we were asked if we wanted coffee. We said that we did, so we were asked to go through to the conservatory. We did.

And we waited. And waited. After about ten minutes we started playing the “trying to catch someones eye” game, and just as I was getting fed up with that and about to stand up and ask someone, the staff disappeared from the room for some minutes. By the time I had noticed that they had returned it was about thirty-five minutes since we’d been asked if we wanted coffee and I was feeling a tad fed up. So I went and asked for the bill.

They got me the bill, which had the coffee added to it. The girl looked at me and asked “did you have coffee?”.

Relatively politely, if a tad stiffly, I explained that while we had in fact ordered coffee, and had waited half an hour for it, we had at no point actually received any, so after half an hour we’d decided to give up on it. I was then informed that I “really should have told someone about it” but she offered to deduct the coffee from our bill.

I was speechless. The fact that they had forgotten our order and then ignored us for 35 minutes was now my fault? And then claiming to be magnanimous by offering to deduct something they’d never actually given us from the bill? It’s hardly like I was going to be particularly willing to pay for it…

She asked if that was satisfactory, and I said that it wasn’t, I wasn’t impressed that a restaurant which apparently prides itself on looking after its guests wouldn’t so much as pop over and ask someone who was sat there if everything was all right, or if we wanted any drinks. To be honest, I’d rather that they hadn’t forgotten our order in the first place, but even if they had, if anyone had been checking up on the guests it would have been all right.

When I spoke about it to another family member, they also said that the service had been similarly poor the last time they visited (they’d asked to see a dessert menu, and after 40 minutes none had arrived so they gave up and went and paid the bill), so I decided to email the Eslington and tell them about it: after all, if you don’t tell them, how can they know that there is a problem?

(Apart from them checking reviews on restaurant guide where, despite mostly extremely good reviews, their service was highlighted as ’sometimes a bit quirky’ as far back as 2005)

So the next day, I tried to find an email address to complain to, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds, because the main website didn’t appear to be working (which might be something to do with me using Firefox, or not running JavaScript by default). Anyway, I dug out an email address and mailed someone the details.

Nine days later, I had a reply, which apologised for the delay in replying and basically said that they had apologised on the night, that it was a genuine mistake and that they had been recently included in the AA guide. All no doubt true, but completely ignoring the way the staff had implied that their poor service had been my fault, that this sort of thing had happened before, and that it was further insulting to suggest on the night that I should somehow be appreciative of the fact the coffee had been removed from the bill.

Like I said however, I just decided “I won’t be going there again” and had been going to leave it at that.

Until I got not one but two emails from them today, inviting me to a Champagne night and using the same email address that I’d used to complain to. Now if it was sending me a free invitation by way of apology, that would be nice, but instead it appears that as a result of complaining to them (because I’d not received any correspondence from them before) I’ve been added to their mailing list.

[In the interests of fairness, it's always possible that my name was genuinely added to a mailing list some time earlier, either without my knowledge or without me remembering it, that coincidentally I didn't receive any emails from this mailing list at all until I subsequently contacted them to complain using that email address. I wouldn't have thought it likely, but it's certainly possible.]

Not only that, but the first email they sent out was sent out with the subject line:

Testing bulk senderEslington Villa

Testing bulk sender? So you’re using my real email address to test your systems, are you? I work in IT, and the importance of not running testing procedures on “live” is well known to me. There have been public examples of problems with this — a family of a girl away at boarding school receiving a letter saying she’d been involved in a road accident when of course no accident had taken place, they were just testing the system.

Indeed, Out-Law suggests “System testing with live data may breach Data Protection Act”.

So what sort of signals does sending out a mailshot to who knows how many customers with “Testing bulk sender” as the title give? It is likely to make me think that the organisation is more or less professional?

And then that having sent me the email once, they then send it to me again two hours later. What, they think that if they send me it twice that I’ll be twice as impressed with them? Or were they so cavalier with my email address initially that they don’t actually know that they already sent me one? Or did they just decide to send it again anyway because they’d changed the title to something more sensible?

Unfortunately, in neither of the emails did they manage to get their own address correct. Okay, it’s a simple spelling mistake (”Low Fel” instead of “Low Fell”, but it speaks volumes to me. I wonder that if you can’t get those sort of things right…

In the interests of being fair though, I would say that while the Eslington Villa is at the slightly pricier end of the market, the gardens are beautiful, the building is nice, the food is normally of high quality, it’s just that the care and attention to customers (in my opinion at least) sadly — and badly — lets down what would otherwise be a tremendous restaurant.

3 Responses to “Eslington Villa: Disappointing Service, Nil Netiquette”

  1. Vicky responds:

    Is it any wonder why the British feel complaining isn’t worth the trouble? :)

    From the other side of the fence, you may find this blog, “WaiterRant”, an amusing read. The author posts regular tales from his life as a waiter in a New York restaurant. He has a great sense of humor, and highlights the extremely valid point that the customer is not, necessarily, always right. ;)

  2. Mike responds:

    You should write a stiff letter to The Journal. That’ll learn ‘em.

  3. Jaybee responds:

    Point the local paper to this blog, I’m sure they’ll have a field day with it ;)

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