If you like to eat in Nairobi, and not in the house that you reside in, or your mother's, then there's one major hindrance to a good time that I am sure you have encountered: the incessant plague of Nairobi's horrific service.
What is it about service that a large number of establishments just cannot seem to get right? Is it that because there is not really a tipping culture here, there is no service culture here either – though tipping will take an entirely different article, won't it? Is it that we are all so content to accept sub- standard service that no one really says anything about it and nothing ever changes? Or is it that, quite frankly, no one gives a damn?
It's kind of appalling that there is almost no consistency in franchise branches of the same restaurants. You can go to one Java, and get wonderful service, and go to another and feel like you're in a parallel universe, save for the fact that the colours on their uniform are the same. Related to that and honing in, sometimes, you can go to your favourite little coffee shop or ice cream vendor, or whatever you desire, and even then the product differs.
Case in point – Brew Bistro is one of my favourite bar cum brunch places. I've been happy to watch their expansion and admire their ability to somehow keep up with the notoriously fickle Nairobi night scene.
And as with all popular locales in Nairobi, it has quite a reputation for getting incredibly busy when incredibly crowded – and it does get quite crowded. I often wonder, if they are so surprised by the numbers, why don't they stop letting people in at some point? Anyway, long story short, they don't stop admitting people, and then the waiters get overwhelmed, and then the customers get irritated and swear to never come during a Happy Hour again, or simply just go to the counter to order themselves. Why aren't they more organised?
Of course I'm not expecting, for example, food courts to have particularly excellent service, simply because they're too busy trying to shove each and every menu under your nose.
A visit to Diamond Plaza quickly reminded me why I go there only when under duress, when I need to figure out how good I am at turning people down, or practice my patience while waiting for parking for 25 minutes.
However, for somewhere that calls itself something more than a food court...I expect more.
Another (overhyped) place that I don't frequent any more – unfortunately, as the only thing they had going was above average desserts – is About Thyme. I have a feeling the stones will come flying hard and fast, but for some reason, it just isn't what it used to be.
The last time I was there, the service so bad, we would often feel like they don't want us there, don't want to serve us, and don't want our money to boot when we're done. Last weekend, a friend of mine went there on a recommendation, and proceeded to wait so long for service that he picked up his cell phone and dialled the number for the reception so that someone could come and attend to him. Ha!
This kind of behaviour really will not do. For me, the experience of food is not only made by the food itself, but also the combination of ambience and wait-staff. In this day and age where there are multiple training companies for this exact need – such as AB Customer Service, or Bare Excellence – the excuse of access does not hold water.
Is it laziness? Perhaps so, but at the end of the day, it is not the clientele who will suffer. If you can make the same thing at home, you definitely won't have a reason to leave your kitchen.
Wondering where to get the 411 on what's happening in Nairobi's foodie scene? There's a lot of places you could go, but here's where we want you to be – getting the dish on the dish. Get it? We knew you would.