The Cottage Smallholder


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Good service

Photo: wine in cooler

Photo: wine in cooler

In the early eighties I worked part time in a French restaurant on Lavender Hill, London.  It was a really long day for the restaurant proprietor. He had to be there at 8:00 am to take in the fresh food delivery and we were often still waiting for diners to leave at two in the morning. This was not the sort of place that sweeps up around the final lingering tables.

As a waitress I started work at 6:00 p.m. All the staff ate together and we were allowed one alcoholic drink before the service began. Having studied the alcohol content of all the bottles in the extensive bar, I always drank a small glass of Benedictine (high!).

It was the sort of restaurant that really put the needs of the customer first. We were taught to recognise diners by name and how to give good service and get the best tips. This was basically assessing what each table needed and wanted, and was done when we brought bread rolls and complimentary pork Rillettes.  The way people accepted these set the tone for that table for the evening. Some people wanted to be left alone, others wanted help with the wine list, others wanted to chat.  Apart from good service, every table wants something different from a waiter or waitress.

If we weren’t serving we stood behind the long bar and watched for any sign that a table needed attention. If you cannot get the attention of a waiter or waitress in a good restaurant, I can assure you that you are being deliberately ignored. With a bit of practice, a waiter can spot a raised eyebrow at a distance of sixty feet.

One day, a lone woman booked a table. She arrived wearing a soft black leather trouser suit. She was sparky and gutsy. She ordered mussels, followed by rack of lamb.
“And what would you like to drink with your meal?”
She passed the extensive wine list back to me.
“I don’t know any of this wine. Have you got some of that Mathews stuff?”
My mind whirled. Was Mathews a wine importer or a brand?

Then as I turned over the word Mathews in my mind I twigged that she meant Mateus Rosé. A blended wine that would have had the rather pompous wine buyer frothing at the mouth.

I lied. “Yes of course we have.”

Within seconds I was shooting out through the back door and clambering over the fence behind the restaurant. I raced down to the wine shop at Clapham Junction and bagged a bottle of MR.

She tipped extremely well and became a regular. She arrived one day with an attractive man also dressed in soft black leather and, although she never dined alone again, they always drank that Mathews stuff.

I was a toymaker at the time and I’d put the wheels on my wooden cars and trains when I returned from restaurant. I sold them on Saturdays at Covent Garden Market. One Friday evening the soft leather couple were in the restaurant. As I gave them their bread rolls and Rillettes she mentioned to her friend that she had been kept awake by this banging every Friday night.
“I can’t understand where it’s coming from. At first I though it must be someone laying a carpet. But they can’t be laying a carpet every Friday night! It’s gone on for months and it’s driving me out of my mind.”

I cringed away and repaired to my place behind the bar. I remembered that I’d seen her in my road. She must have the attic flat adjacent to mine. I thought that it was best to come clean so when I served the starters I announced.
“I am the hammer banger that disturbs your Friday nights.”
They looked astonished.
“I must apologise. Because no one complained I thought that no one could hear.”

They were charming, left an extra large tip and I never put the wheels on my toys again after work.

And we always kept a few bottles of that Mathews stuff for when they dropped by.


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13 Comments

  1. I nearly missed this post Fiona, so glad I didn’t! xx

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Margaret

    I often smile when I think of those days. Rather like my days now, no office politics but we did have divas in the kitchen.

    Hi Springtime

    Waitresses teaches you so much about life. I real rock face. I reckon that it was the tightest learning curve of my life and extremely valuable.

    Hi Casalba

    That is a bit weird! I liked Camden Lock market although I didn’t visit until I’d given up doing Covent Garden. The late nights and determination were tantamount. Exciting times.

    Hello Veronica

    Great that you enjoyed my post. Your comment gave me such a boost.

    Hi Chris

    But I was dishonest about the wine ? and that made all the difference!

    Hi Z

    Thanks for leaving a comment, much appreciated.

    Hello S.O.L.

    Remembering this story always brings me down to earth with a bump.

    Hello Anthony

    The restaurant often seems to reveal someone’s true colours. Fascinating stuff. With a captive staff all hell could break loose if the baddies let rip. I waitressed for four years and only met two or three tables of real nasties. I can still remember every detail 25 years later.

    Hi KarenO

    It was a very good restaurant. Quite expensive too but worth it. I often ate there as a customer as I knew that there would be good food and great service.

    I think that there must be similar places in England today. We don’t eat out anymore so I can’t judge but if a restaurant wants to survive the recession surely it needs to develop these tactics. Good service is as important as good food.

    Hello Belinda

    That Mathews stuff is pretty good wine when it’s high summer and you want to drink something light. Chilled and properly served I’d enjoy it now.

  3. Belinda

    Great story Fiona.. thanks for sharing it with us.

    “Thats Matt6hews Stuff” was the first wine I ever tasted.. my parents would drink it occasionally on a Friday night. They were usually beer drinkers.. but Mum was a pretty flashy seafood cook, so Dad would sometimes come home bearing wine

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