The more often that you use a service, the more often you'll notice little things that aren't perfect. So ... eating out at various cafes and snack bars in Melksham at lunchtime on a regular basis ... I'm bound to notice little things - and there's been the occasional not-so-little thing too - over time. As a host to delegates on our training courses, the cafes / pubs / restaurants used are really my subcontractors, and as I'm providing the courses to delegates it's my reputation as well as theirs which shines or takes a knock depending on the service provided.
Over Christmas and the New Year, a number of local establishments have changed hands / are under new management, and it so happens that we used three of these earlier this week during the Python course. The fact that we were trying new suppliers was chatted about ahead of time around our small (and game) group of four, so I'm not quite as concerned as I would usually be that I noted the following:
• A dirty knife - previous customer's food cooked on by the dishwasher?
• Lunch for four - served one at a time with huge gaps. First finished before last started!
• Clearly cheap can/freezer -> microwave -> plate food, not fresh.
• Sticky menus - previous customer's drink sticking the pages together?
• An underage cook (I would guess 12 or 13) "helping Mum during half term"?
• Selling up - pressure to buy deserts and another round of (expensive) drinks
• "Don't know if we're VAT registered / can't tell you our number" so costs business users 20% more.
• Vegetarian offering was fish - not everyone's idea of vegetarian.
• Old menus from previous operator / faded, type has worn off and smudge inside plastic pockets
• Appalling freezer burn
• Bench seats and table that can't be moved / badly related to each other
• And a receipt that has "Malksham" rather than "Melksham" printed on it ;-)
If we had issues such as these, I would want to fix them ... but I might not be aware of them (all). So feedback is critical. Did I offer feedback? I'll admit that I didn't; my primary responsibility was to my customers and I didn't want to "impress" them by complaining, but I will probably offer quiet feedback to two of the three establishments. The third has given strong indications that customer feedback is a nuisance to them. And on the first two, we'll - no doubt - try them again sometime, all be it "family and friends" rather than delegates, and in a few weeks when they've had a chance to settle further.
I've started with the negative ... but there is much positive. All three places (and especially when combined) offered a wide variety of food options, and at all three the time taken to serve (at least the first meal in one case ;-) ) was well within bounds.
Also on a positive note - let me add some tips / comments as to what attracts us to particular establishments
• the certainty of comfortable seating
• service in sequence and reasonably fast
• a menu that does not break the budget, no matter what is chosen
• a lack of pressure from staff to spend more money with added options
• a good selection of truly vegetarian dishes
• an ability to handle other special dietary requirements
• an ability to order without the need to all stand in line in a queue
• a friendly team that welcomes customers irrespective of age, gender, etc
• a quiet environment
• an environment that isn't doing a hard sell on religion
• proper VAT receipts
• advertised prices that are the same on the bill
• and food that is nice and health (and no-one expects cordon bleu at lunchtime prices) (written 2011-02-24)
Associated topics are indexed underG205 - Well House Consultants - Food and Drink. 
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Melksham Food and Drink Festival, 2010 - (2010-01-17) 
Cornerstone Cafe, Melksham - (2009-06-14) 
Why are cooks bad tempered? - (2008-12-22) 
Little Gems but not Lettuce - (2007-09-20) 
Subway Restaurant in Melksham, Wiltshire - (2007-09-02) 
Melksham Art Cafe - (2007-06-09)
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