Friday, 27 January 2012

Angry Letters: Dear Goldsmiths Catering Service

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to express my blistering disappointment at the catering ‘service’ you provide on site at Goldsmiths College, University of London. The three years I have spent eating at Goldsmiths have been characterised by a cyclical pattern of dissatisfaction and short-lived boycotts. If we take as truth that the body cannot remember pain, then we are some way towards understanding why I have returned, time after time, to these spaces. On each occasion I steel myself, convinced that the new experience will be an improvement on the last. Each time my hopes are thwarted by a plate of overpriced slop, a total absence of common courtesy and a hair, or worse, a bone in my ‘vegetarian’ meal.

On one occasion, last year, I foolishly dared to enquire as to whether an egg and cress baguette was made with free-range eggs. The gentleman serving me replied immediately and with an eloquence that far made up for his failure to answer my question in any way. His words, ‘Look, do you want it or not?’ have stayed with me ever since. The establishment in question was ‘Loafers’ café, a place named presumably in reference to ‘loafing’ students rather than the style of footwear. In actuality, many of the hardworking and generally polite students of Goldsmiths are faced with apathy, misery and even hostility on the part of Loafers’ staff. I will be writing to Her Majesty the Queen this week, in order suggest that the creator of this café’s witty name be knighted for his services to hubris.

Having been both a vegetarian and vegan at different points over the past three years, I was initially pleased to see that the refectory at Goldsmiths claimed to cater to these specific dietary needs. You can imagine how my pleasure increased when I bit into a falafel wrap marked ‘vegan’ only for a generous dollop of yoghurt to spill brazenly onto my unsuspecting tongue. My confidence was cemented the following week when I found traces of cheese on my ‘vegan’ pasta dish. When I complained to the on-site manager about the same utensils being used to serve both meat and vegetables, he kindly gave me an honest explanation. ‘I understand what you’re saying,’ he began, reassuring me, ‘What you have to appreciate is that we just don’t have the time to keep everything separate for the sake of a small minority.’ What this gentleman failed to grasp is that I don’t have to appreciate anything because I am not running a catering service and thus I am not responsible for upholding food hygiene regulations as designated by the Food Standards Agency and in The Foods Standards Act 1999. If it is truly beyond the staff on-site at Goldsmiths to provide truly vegetarian or vegan food, such options should not be advertised at all.

My most recent foray into the gastronomic minefield of Goldsmiths catering occurred last week. When I ordered pasta with tomato sauce to take away, I received a portion far smaller than would have been given on a plate. The kind lady (she must have been new) on the till agreed with me that it was an unusually small amount but when I returned to the server on the pasta bar to request a full measure, he was extremely rude and ignored my complaint. I did not enjoy this flavourless, insubstantial handful of overcooked pasta quills but I ate them because I was hungry. When I had finished, I looked down into the puddle of translucent fluid at the bottom of the plastic pot and wondered if the sauce had really been that watery, or if the ongoing trauma of such terrible food had actually led me to cry into my lunch.

Despite my severely negative experiences of the food in your café and refectory at Goldsmiths, it is the unabashed rudeness of your employees that disappoints me more than anything. Despite my anger at past experiences, I have always been polite and friendly to staff, whether making a complaint or simply ordering a coffee. I always make a point of saying hello, please, thank you and goodbye. The act is rarely reciprocated. Unless asked a direct question, the only words regularly spoken by your staff are prices. When I say ‘Good morning, how are you?’ to somebody, I don’t expect the answer to be ‘£2.50’

There are a number of excellent establishments serving food in and around Goldsmiths. Crème en Gold in the second floor common room of Goldsmiths serves food which is delicious, colourful, affordable and healthy. Best of all, this food is served with a smile. Café Crema and Goldsmiths Café also boast friendly staff, whilst the newly opened Goldsmiths Garden Café-Bar, directly opposite the college, is already gathering a firm base of support from students. In an ideal world, I would choose only to eat in these spaces. Unfortunately, due to their popularity, it is often hard to find a table. Time after time, I am driven back by default into the bowels of Loafers or the refectory to experience the very worst that college catering has to offer. Once again, I will grimace as I chew on limp lettuce, lukewarm chowder and lentil-loaf so hard and clay-like that it even draws comment from the grumbling staff-member collecting plates. If I were in any way responsible for the soul-destroying service provided on site at Goldsmiths, I would be truly ashamed of myself.

Yours faithfully,

Douglas Williams

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