OPINION - London’s entitled diners are getting ruder — that’s why staff deserve service charges

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

“Do you,” asked my girlfriend, “have something against the sun? Was it rude to you at a party or something?”

I could see her point. As soon as the weather turned for the better, I insisted we ate in the bookish gloom of Andrew Edmunds’s basement. Soon after, while the rest of London weighed up how little to wear and made for the parks, I ignored the terraces and reserved a table in the midnight dining room of Sale e Pepe, for heavyweight portions of old-school Italian.

At least we didn’t get sunburn. Besides, Sale was a hoot; terrific food, light service, good crowd. We ditched pudding in favour of a nightcap at the bar. Soon we weren’t the only pair there; two guys wandered up. “Do you have Single Barrel?” said the first, referring to a garden-variety expression of Jack Daniels. “Of course, sir,” said the barman, nodding. Whereupon the two flared into a howling rage.

My first thought — I get it, Jack Daniels is trash — quickly turned from humour to horror. “What!” the first went, jabbing at the air. “The guy at the table said you didn’t! That you don’t sell it.”

This is hardly the first act of open aggression I’ve seen during a decade of writing about restaurants

The bartender, baffled, shook his head in apology. “He’s new, he doesn’t know the list. There’s a bottle.” He gestured.

“You motherf*****s,” said the first. “Why didn’t he want to sell it to us?”

The bartender held his hands up, explaining the accident. He offered a pour. But the men continued, insisting on a deliberate mistake, or perhaps a slight. It’s hard to see where they thought this might have occurred — Single Barrel is hardly a connoisseurs’ rarity to be denied; you can pick up a bottle in Morrisons. Amazon shift it for £35. The barman poured two stiff glasses. “That’s more than a double,” said the first, accusingly. “It’s on me! These are on me,” said the barman, strained with nerves. “We can pay our way!” snarled the second. Rarely have I seen generosity met with such hostility.

When we left, the two men were still at it. They weren’t just ill-mannered, they were offensive, boorish and bellicose. They might have been twice the barman’s height and leaning brutishly over him. Without putting a foot wrong, he was still getting his head torn off. Some people need better manners; these two needed house-training.

The incident is hardly the first act of open aggression I’ve seen during a decade of writing about restaurants. Customers get pissy about all sorts — about securing a booking or cancelling one, about the food arriving too quickly or slowly, about it being too noisy or quiet. About price. Last week, a well-known landlord told me he’d had his social media accounts trolled by someone who couldn’t get a table at a few hours’ notice, despite his place famously being booked out about a month or two in advance.

Lately, there’s been a flurry of discussion over service charge, both its amount and necessity. One line of questioning wonders why a waiter earns a tip for doing his job when, say, an IT consultant doesn’t. Apart from this being disingenuous — plenty of jobs come with a bonus scheme — this incident reminded me of why we do tip those working in restaurants. It’s not just about them making us feel good (though they do, and there’s a reason conveyor-belt restaurants haven’t caught on). It’s also that they do so when the rest of us aren’t always at our best, and when our expectations are at their highest. And because sometimes, someone calls them a motherf*****, and they’re obliged to pour out a drink on the house.

Taylor Swift (AFP via Getty Images)
Taylor Swift (AFP via Getty Images)

Good old Taylor Swift. After the singer doubled sales of Aran sweaters over the winter, now this summer’s UK leg of her Eras tour is reportedly set to boost the economy by £1 billion. A billion! Economists often put this country’s monetary sluggishness down to “productivity” — a misnomer that refers to financial return in relation to input, not how hard we’re all working. With the typical Swiftie set to spend £850 attending a show (about 12.5 times the average spend of £67 on a night out), to shake off this country’s dire financial straits, the answer is obvious: forget aerospace, what we need really need to do is invest in cultish fandoms. Hopefully the Bank of England is in discussion with Kendrick and Drake about a joint tour.

David Ellis is the Evening Standard’s Going Out editor