Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Ambience: * *
Babe Count: * *
Because of last night's chat with Kate, the woman who'll be managing the Spur when the new owners take over, I've persuaded Steve, my editor at Memar, the Ethiopian educational tv project, to come have lunch with me here.
Our waitress duly took our drinks order, and then disappeared for twenty minutes. So we flagged someone down and asked if we could order.
"Well, I'm the manager," says J.J. "Of COURSE you can order through me!"
Steve and I are both eating the same meal today. "Special request," I say to J.J. "Two things. Both burgers must be ULTRA well done. NO pink bits. NO blood. So well done that your chef is embarrassed to put them on the rolls. Is that cool?"
"No problem," says J.J.
I've learned in my life never to trust anyone saying, 'No problem.' The alarm bells should be ringing. But hey. He's the manager. What could he possibly get wrong?
"Number two," I say, "please can you ask them to toast the insides of the rolls?"
He repeats the order back to us. "Two pepper burgers, both ultra well done, no blood, rolls toasted on the inside. No problem."
He disappears. Five minutes later the drinks arrive. I've foolishly ordered the fruit cocktail. Rule number one, Roy. DON'T ORDER FRUIT JUICE IN A SPUR! It's got a preservative in it that I'm allergic to. Wonderful. So I get a coughing fit four sips down and have to abandon the stuff.
Twenty minutes later, the waitress brings our food. Steve and I are by this time sawing at our fake-leather Spur placemats we're so hungry. We're even contemplating eating Morrie and Edna and Beulah and Clyde at the table next door. They're VERY loud geriatrics. Octogenarians, by the look of things. Morrie has a stroller. We know their names because they have to look at the person they're speaking to and bellow that name first to get their attention.
"Hold on," I say to the waitress, who has basically dumped the food on our placemats and is starting to flee. "I just want to check this." It's basically luck of the draw that I happen to cut into the well-done burger of the two. I slice open my pattie, and it's perfectly well done. "But hang on," I say, pointing my knife at the roll. "They were supposed to toast the insides of the roll. They haven't done that."
Steve's examining my pattie, and he's satisfied that if they're gotten it right with mine, his will be fine too. BIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGGGG mistake, it turns out.
The waitress offers to toast the rolls. "Nah," I say. "I'm really hungry, and now we're late for work."
Steve's eating with long teeth. At some point, I catch sight of his pattie. Bloody hell. I'm almost completely through with mine, but he's only about a third of the way through. Oh man. This is disgusting.
Even to a rare-meat-eater, Steve's pattie would have been too rare. Escaping past the pepper sauce is a tiny trickle of blood, and a little bit of icy water.
"Steve," I say. "Don't look now."
He looks. Folds his knife and fork together. Calls a waiter.
"Please find my waitress."
She arrives ten minutes later. And I'm NOT exaggerating about these times!
"I'm sending this burger back," he says. "It's completely raw. And I asked for it to be well done. Take it off the bill. I'm not paying for it."
"No," says the waitress, "don't worry, I'll ask them to put it on the grill."
"No," says Steve. "I'm not eating another bite. I don't WANT the burger. I want you to take it off the bill. I refuse to pay for this."
"Okay," says the waitress, and she takes our plates away.
"Please bring the bill," I say.
It's now five minutes to two o'clock. We've been here for around an hour and a bit, and work is beckoning. Steve and I have to turn out 14 half-hour chemistry episodes every week, and the pressure is enormous. Long lunches are definitely not the norm.
The bill arrives at ten-past two. The waitress flees before we open it. I open it. Full charge. Two burgers and two drinks.
I flag a waiter. "Please call the manager," I say. "We need him here right now please."
Our waitress arrives from nowhere and whisks the bill away from us. Goes to the cash register, where J.J., the so-called manager, whips out a calculator. We see him do a calculation. He smiles in our direction, and the bill comes back. It's now twenty-past two.
He's given Steve a discount off the price of his hamburger. Instead of R28, Steve only has to pay R14.29. J.J. must have figured that Steve ate slightly more than half of the burger.
"Steve," I say. "This is outrageous. I'm refusing to pay ANYTHING on this bill. They've now just crossed the line."
We get up and go to the cash register. But now J.J.'s not there anymore. "Call the manager," I say to someone there. He goes to the back. J.J. arrives exactly ten minutes later, just as Steve and I are leaving.
"J.J.," I say. "Are you actually the manager here?"
"One of them," he says.
"Well, J.J., you've now kept us waiting on this query for more than twenty minutes, and you've charged Steve half-price for a raw burger. I placed the order with you personally. Do you recall?"
"What's the problem?" he says, smirking. "You ate half the burger, so you pay for half the burger."
"No, not at all," I say. "You messed us around with the most appalling service I've encountered in a restaurant, and we're not paying ANYTHING of this bill."
"What? You're paying nothing? After I've given you a half off the price of one burger out of the goodness of my HEART? I'll tell you what... you pay nothing, and don't bother coming back here ever again, okay???" An aggressive rugby-player stance.
"Who's the owner?" I say, notebook out, pen open, the black blood flowing onto the page.
"Ashley," he says.
"Phone number," I say.
"083 283 5418," he says.
Just then Morrie and Edna and Beulah and Clyde arrive, the stroller clanging against the floor. "EDNA!" says Morrie. "THERE'S J.J.!!! EDNA!!!"
"OKAY MORRIE, OKAY ALREADY!!!!! NO NEED TO SHOUT!!!! HEY, J.J.!!!! COME HERE YOUNG MAN!!!!!"
J.J. puts his hand on Edna's shoulder. She presses a fifty buck note into his other hand.
"FOR OUTSTANDING SERVICE!!!" she says.