Keith Stewart, in my humble opinion, is one of our top NZ foodies and foodwriters. He always seems to get it right in The Grill. And it seems The Grove, who recently won Restaurant Of The Year Supreme Winner 2011, might want to ring and apologise…

It was an occasion for celebration, hopefully for two celebrations, so there was no hesitation in booking a table at The Grove. Having dined there in the past, it could be relied on for top food, a respectable wine list and professional service, and we were not disappointed. Except by a final flourish of exceedingly bad manners that took the edge of a perfectly wonderful evening.

Manners maketh the man, is the saying my parents’ generation were fond of flicking out at times when children were less than polite, and our experience at The Grove was a clear example of how important good manners are for hospitality professionals. In spite of an otherwise flawless performance the message from this particular restaurant was clear – if you want a place in which to celebrate something special, stay away in future.

Which may be what The Grove’s business plan is. After all, most of the time we go out for dinner it is not a special occasion, even if the address is especially salubrious. There are business meals, tourists exploring and foodies indulging the upper limits of their obsessions. All of these will fill more tables than those looking to enhance an already memorable event, and a good wine list offers its own rewards without the need for the sommelier to extend an element of respect to the guests.

Yes, good food is important, critical if you are running an establishment with a reputation for being amongst the best in town. The wine list needs to be expansive enough to match that reputation, and to have the services of a sommelier who knows it well. Service, friendly and efficient, well informed regarding the menu and swift without being pushy are also minimum standards in a place such as this.

So what went wrong? Well, it may seem minor to some readers, but it was the attitude towards us once we had paid the bill that still rankles. Money paid, the previously attentive staff were suddenly distracted by other tables, or essential activities in the kitchen. Certainly there was no offer of assistance in recovering our coats, no “thank you for coming”,  ”good night”, or even a nod of acknowledgement. We found our way out into the night, and in spite of an otherwise grand evening went home with the bitter taste of bad manners lingering in our memories.

Hospitality should be just that, a culture of welcome, in which the most important moment is departure, if only because when you get that wrong there are no opportunities to correct any bad impressions. Sure, The Grove doesn’t need my future business, but they didn’t need to tell me so in such a cavalier manner.

And for those cynics who have jumped to a mercenary conclusion, yes, I did tip. Not extravagantly, but enough to pay for a little more respect than I got.

~Keith Stewart

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