By Ben Brooks.
I’ve had my time working in bars. It felt like I spent 50 to 60 hours a week putting in blood, sweat and booze into every drink I produced. I gritted my smiley gnashers to those customers who thought I was having a ball, even though I was really suffering through a hellish shift. A few caught my temper, but, all in all I have great pride behind the service I provide. I love to be the best and I love to make people feel at their best when they’re at the bar.
I bare all this in mind when I walk into any bar or restaurant, because I know what service I give, therefore I know what service I should be receiving. But, alas, in June I put down the trusty barblade and went with my partner in crime to tour Europe, get away from it all and find something new So, here for you is what I’ve found on my travels:
There’s a bit of a back story to our tales of France as I was raised by a man’s man who in turn was raised by a man’s man who served in the war. I was brought up on the understanding that the French wore berets, had stupid moustaches, loved garlic and above all “They’re stuck up, lad.” (Implied Northern twang).
Of course this is a sweeping generalisation of the French people. One you may have also had. It’s far from true. I implore the exploration of France. It’s a magnificent place and the people are just as wondrous as the landscape itself. To put it simply the French are only after one thing: respect, and not even a lot. Substitute the usual “Oi Froggy. Get us a beer.” (I know this is proper racist, it’s just for fun, honest) with ‘Je voudrais une biere, S’il vous plait’ and watch the plethora of extravagance commence.
The slightest bit of effort and respect goes a long way here. Don’t waste that: it can really make a trip very special.
Highlight: Willie Carter Sharpe in Montpellier. Hidden round the corner of a corner next to that popular corner of that corner… But if you get there it’s truly brilliant.
Lowlight: They love meat, cheese and bread. Kudos, but this means menus can get a bit samey. Jambon.
Slight shift here. It’s probably best to pretend you’re Spanish, because as soon as they realise you’re English they are going to do their best to exploit it. Yes I’m using a vastly over-the-top stereotype again, but, the service does seem to differ in comparison to the service the locals receive.
It’s almost like the eyes of the server glimmers as if to say “I’ve been waiting for you”. I dunno, it’s kind of a creepy place but please don’t get me wrong some of the bars and restaurants we’ve been in Spain have been lovely.
Highlight: That shed on the beach of Barcelona. I must admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for a Pina Colada and this place got me. Plastic cup, Flor De Cana 4 years blended with fresh pineapple and garnished with coconut flakes… You beauty.
Lowlight: Tacky, overpriced beach bars. Potentially brilliant | Actually rubbish.
Very efficient but a bit grumpy.
We stayed in Bavaria for three months and Berlin for one month and to be perfectly honest it feels like two different countries. Bavaria is very much back to the roots of Germany with their weird and wonderful world of large steins of local beer and long wooden tables. This also stands true for the parts of Austria we visited.
The North seems to have lost it’s way a bit. It’s more agast with pizzerias and kebab houses. More so than PUBS. The service is generally good in the capital, a lot of servers speak English and are happy to oblige you. They’re happy to chat away and recommend a tipple or a side but the bars and restaurants themselves just seem to lack a bit of quality, absolutely not down to the service.
Everything about the hospitality industry in both the North and South is OK, but none of it’s great.
Highlight: Bars in Shopping centres. For some reason their Pina Coladas look rubbish but taste like Angel tears.
Lowlight: Wondering the streets of Berlin for hours looking for A BAR. Seriously. No bars but plenty of pizzerias and steakhouses.
Belgium is a cool country which is divided into two halves. There’s a Dutch speaking half and there’s a French speaking part. I must admit I’ve only been to Brussels (French Speaking) and it’s a wonderful city full of history and sites to die for, but, the service across the board is painful.
To sum it up: they don’t provide tap water… Anywhere. Sounds petty but we’re not talking about one or two euros here or there. It’s five+ euros for a bottle of this sacred mineral water.
I always believed that free tap water was a basic human right in bars and restaurants because of certain health and safety reasons, but after a little research I’ve discovered it isn’t a law. The government in each country leave it to the discretion of each local council I.e. it is actually a law in Manchester that free tap water should be provided on request but in a lot of areas in the south of England it doesn’t have to be. They can sell bottled mineral water but not give out tap water.
Once we’d learnt this fact, we made life interesting for a few servers. The results were amazing. Every antonym for the word hospitality was thrown back at us for asking two very simple questions: ‘Can we have some tap water please?’ then on the server telling us no, the question ‘Why?’
I’ve waffled on about this for too long now, so i’ll finish with my two favourite replies:
“We don’t serve tap water in case it gives a customer a funny tummy”.
Word of warning, the next reply is the best worst service I’ve ever received:
“Because I’m too expensive”.
She went on to say how everything in the building cost money so the establishment ‘had’ to sell €5 bottles of mineral water to stay afloat.
Tap water is the downfall of the hospitality industry as we know it. Maybe Belgium have nailed it, or maybe she should just get off her high horse for ten seconds and realise she has to sell two beers an hour to cover her hourly wage and then two more to cover the sparky and the plumbing, then realise that her boss has most likely spun a web of mineral water twaddle to make a few extra bucks to go in his own pocket then made it sound like her job depends on it.
Highlights: The Delirium Village. Over 2400 of the world’s best beers… Enough said.
Lowlights: Waiting for a bottle of wine for over an hour in a restaurant with six people, until partner in crime had to go up and ask where it was.
Three hours on a train from Brussels and you’re in Amsterdam, but it feels like an absolute world away. I have not one ounce of the Dutch language in me but that doesn’t matter, they will cater to every need. Nothing but friendly, smiling, talkative faces in every bar.
Everyone thinks Americans wrote the book on service standards because of the tipping factors, but these lot don’t even WANT your tips. They do it out of love and passion for the job and they just want to chat to new people: In five different languages.
Highlights: A strange little Nepalese restaurant which was delicious and the smile on every server/bartenders’ face.
Lowlights: Getting far too high one night and being taken home for 8pm.
All in all Europe is fantastic not just for the bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs but for the experience. We’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, multicoloured waterfalls, beaches a plenty, the Alps, incredible scenery, nights so dark you can see every star in the sky, museums of great significance, the reichstag, great lakes and met some wonderful people en route too. Alas: I’m here to write about the bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs… and they’re not bad either.
Ben is currently travelling Europe, experiencing everything the continent has to offer. As far as we know he is still alive and hasn’t been kidnapped in a weird “Hostel” type way. Hopefully he’ll be back to share more of his thoughts on his beer and cocktail drinking adventures.