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First night in Plymouth

March 3, 2009

My two day work trip to Plymouth has kicked off on the wrong foot. The night before a two day conference on all things multimedia and I can think of nothing else to write other than how desperately blue I’m feeling.

“Have you visited us before?” said the perky receptionist as I stood dazed at the check-in desk.

I recounted my previous trip to Plymouth and how, when the sun rose, a park attendant had poked his head inside my tent, pointing out in an undeniably assertive tone to both me and my three other university friends that camping was not permitted on Plymouth Hoe.

“I meant the hotel, sir.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well,” she continued, “you’ll find the gym down that corridor there and the bar and restaurant on the ground floor. Breakfast starts at 6.45 in the morning.”

I grabbed my many bags and made off for the third floor.

Half an hour later, having complained about the stench of stale tobacco smoke in the room the receptionist had allocated me, I found myself in an almost identical alternative room with a slightly fresher smell. I called my colleague, also in town for the same conference and staying in a room on the floor below me.

“What’s your room like?” I asked, staring up at the ceiling fan above me.

“It’s not great,” she replied nervously, “I’m looking at the ceiling fan and ..”

I found it difficult not to finish off her sentence. “.. wondering whether it will fall off the ceiling?”

I privately dismissed my fussiness over the room. I was tired. The three and a half hour train journey must have been tiring even if I hadn’t actually been doing very much. I must eat, I told myself. Take yourself off to the restaurant.

It closed at 9.45pm. I signed in at 9.10pm and settled myself down with my newspaper a minute after. Two minutes after that I’d decided on both a pint of Kronenberg and the roasted wrapped chicken with fondant of potato and wild mushroom jus.

I casually flicked through my copy of G2, marvelling once again at the Guardian’s ongoing success at creating daily content which not only engaged me but reassured me all at the same time. How was it they got it so right so often? Whose was the brain behind this particular machine, I wondered as I skimmed over the article on anger management.

Twenty-five minutes later and I noted that unlike the other two people in the restaurant, I still hadn’t received my food. Was I being impatient ? Did twenty-five minutes justify me complaining? Or, if absolutely necessary, was it OK for me to start foaming at the mouth? I texted my husband back in South East London for advice.

Predictably, he suggested I check-in with the waitress, advice I followed with almost immediate effect.

“Well, it does take 20 minutes to cook the chicken, sir.”

“But surely if you’re cooking the chicken for 20 minutes, the chicken will be dry, won’t it?” I said as I glanced over towards the other people making use of the restaurant.

“We do advise customers to have a starter so they’re not kept waiting for the main course. You didn’t order a starter, sir. But it won’t be dry sir, I can assure you of that. He knows what he’s doing. I don’t argue with the chef. ”

“That’s fine, I will.”

I was an idiot to complain. As soon as I’d dealt what I thought was my death blow, out came the chicken on a plate, with its potato and its wild mushrooms and its jus.

“There we go sir,” said the waitress. “Enjoy your meal.”

I stared down at the plate. An ample breast, a roasted potato, a splattering of stock and a handful of mushrooms. The only thing wild about the whole thing was me. I guzzled the meal and made for a swift exit.

“Did you enjoy your meal sir?” asked the waitress handing me the receipt to sign.

I looked at her and paused.

“Not especially no,” I frowned. “I ordered it at 9.15pm and it arrived at 9.40pm. That seems quite a long time. The other thing is, it said on the menu it comes with fondant potato. It’s not like I’m a big fan of fondant potato especially, but when the meal arrived it had a roast potato clearly not cooked between 9.15 and 9.45.”

“I am sorry sir,” squeaked the waitress, “Would you like me to get the chef so that you can talk to him?”

“Not really, no.” I replied. “I’m a coward really.”

Maybe I should have hesitated before complaining. Maybe my complaint wasn’t water-tight. Maybe, in fact, if I was so bold to say that I would argue with the chef before the food arrived, that I should have been equally as bold to face up to after I’d eaten the food. After all, I do have to eat breakfast in the morning.

That aside, I’m reminded how the seemingly insignificant things can have the biggest impact when I’m staying outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I may not be picking up the reduced-rate accommodation bill, but still I can’t help getting over the simple emotional response that a slightly unfortunate experience in an hotel on the south coast has left me feeling that maybe Plymouth isn’t my kind of place.

Let’s hope it looks better in the morning.

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2 Comments
  1. You didn’t really have to confess to cowardice. The waitress asked if you enjoyed your meal. You didn’t, and said so. “End of.”

    But I did enjoy the way you resorted to texting home to get advice on how to sort it out. Admirable!!!!

  2. You’re a considerable amount braver than me. I usually take the ‘British approach’ to poor service and ‘issues’.

    If this was me I would have ordered, waited, waited, waited, tapped my fork on the table in inpatience, waited, eaten, left and then complained to my wife about it later that evening.

    If the food was awful I would probably still have eaten it to avoid making a scene.

    Oh dear and I’m off to Birmingham for a BBC Local conference next month!

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