Café Rouge is something of a conundrum. It’s a relatively large chain owned by the umberella company Tragus, who also own other chains such as Strada, Bella Italia and Amalfi. As such you can expect the same typical standards across a range of outlets around the country and yet Café Rouge seems to stand a league or two above such chains as Wetherspoons or Harvester offering relatively authentic French fare.
Sticky tables were non-existent, the décor was manufactured but eclectically ‘shabby chic’ and mildly pleasing and though there was a post lunch bustle (we arrived for a table at around 2.30pm) it was not overly noisy. There were none of the kappa clad families who seem to delight in taking their kids to a restaurant to shout at them.
I certainly was not planning a review of Café Rouge in Westbourne when I had lunch there today. We were only using up some Clubcard vouchers and settled for the two course lunch menu for less than £10 each (in fact with the vouchers I only had to pay £2.30 for a coke). The food was what you’d expect for such a price, quite small (I’m currently at home, munching my way through half a left over chocolate cake to fill the deficit in my stomach!) and simply ‘functional’, really not of any quality worth waxing lyrical about. I must add however that my wife disagrees with my ‘functional’ assessment of the food. Her omelette was perfectly cooked, perhaps the most basic of tasks for any self-respecting chef but well executed nonetheless.
What really caught my attention was the quality of the waitress. We were able to choose our own table and as soon as we were comfortable she brought menus. After an apt amount of time she returned to take our order and proceeded without a pad. Additionally, when she returned with our starters she did not enquire as to who was having what and I mused that she would not have been out of place in any London hotel or restaurant. This may seem like lofty praise, after all, surely any imbecilic fool should be able to remember four dishes from two cu
stomers, yet she was also looking after several other tables, serving them all in exactly the same manner.
Her demeanour perfectly represented the poise expected of good wait staff. She was courteous, friendly but not gushing, clean but not overly perfumed, present when needed without hovering with the desperation of someone angling for a tip.
You may still be puzzled due to the fact that this is what you are supposed to get from a waitress but remember this is a chain and staff are often paid minimum wage. Have we come to expect poor service in these establishments? And do we, perhaps, even excuse it in the knowledge that the staff are most likely students trying to earn money for beer books, topped with the fact that we aren’t exactly breaking the bank for the food?
It’s a sad fact that good service causes us to notice and yet poor service is the new normal, but that is where we are and ‘chain’ has become a byword for ‘basically rubbish but able to fill a hole’! Forget that these are chains of the mundane, poor service is inexcusable and good service should be noticed and expected, encouraged and rewarded.
I will be phoning the restaurant to commend the member of staff in question. If all wait staff, no, all service staff took a leaf out of her book we would see a rise in the level of service in this country. For too long we have been the butt of the joke among the service industries in other countries.
In conclusion, as a chain Rouge has a lot going for it. Its food is simple but effective for the masses (perhaps capturing the essence of French Cuisine) but if even half of their staff are as good as our waitress then they are clearly doing something right. Perhaps it was a one off but if not, maybe it’s time Tragus start paying them a more respectable wage in keeping with their level of professionalism.