OPINIONS: It had started out so well.
I met up with an old friend, someone I hadn’t seen in a long while, and was looking forward to an evening of catching up and remembering over a few drinks. We were at a bar in central Auckland I hadn’t been to before, settled into comfy seats, and the waiter was walking over.
Then I saw his hands. empty; no menu. My heart sank.
The first time I experienced this, I was out with two mates. All mums on a rare night out, we were glammed up and ready for a rager, which for us means three drinks and home by 9.30pm.
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Glammed and revved up as we were, we decided to try a trendy cocktail bar. We were shown to a plush table in a room styled like a speakeasy, and a waiter approached.
“Three margaritas!” we cried with glee, because, call us unfashionable and basic, but that is the kind of cocktail mums on nights out like to drink.
“Oh,” said the waiter, smoothing his waxed mustache, a note of pity in his voice. “You haven’t been here before. We don’t do those kinds of cocktails.”
Well, asked one among us, could she have a negroni?
No, said the waiter. They didn’t do those either.
Befuddled, we asked for a menu.
“We don’t have menus,” said the waiter. “You tell me the kinds of things you like, and we’ll make something for you.”
We like margaritas, we said. And negronis.
“So,” the waiter said, mustache atwirl, “you like something a bit sweet, and a bit sour. Citrus flavours. Right?”
Right, I said. With salt on the rim. Like a margarita. Can you make me one?
No, he said turning to my friend. “And you. You enjoy a darker cocktail, a more bitter taste?”
Much like a negroni, yes.
The waiter went away to the bar, and when he came back he had three cocktails that had been made according to the styles and flavors we liked but were not the drinks we knew we liked.
We didn’t know what we were getting until it arrived, and we didn’t know how much they would cost until the bill arrived at the end.
I have since been to two other cocktail bars running the same gimmick, and am aware of others.
No menu. No prices. No real choice.
I hate it.
The idea behind these places tends to be that they make unusual cocktails, from another place or another age or just developed specifically for that bar.
That in itself is great. Most of us – me included! – like the opportunity to try new things, and it’s fun to be introduced to a different approach to something you’re familiar with.
I’m also delighted to be served by knowledgeable wait staff and I definitely, absolutely, want the person mixing my cocktail to know exactly what they’re doing.
If I’ve been to a place a few times and have confidence in it, I might even say: “You know what, surprise me.”
But I really want to have the choice.
By all means, serve cocktails I’ve likely never heard of. I would still really like you to write them out on a menu so I can see what they are, what’s in them, and what I might enjoy.
I’d also like you to tell me what the drink I’m going to get costs before I’m in the position of having to actually pay for it. Times are tight; part of the decision about whether or not I want to drink a particular cocktail is whether or not I want to pay for it. Unknown cocktail shaken up with unknown price is a recipe for anxiety, rather than enjoyment.
The best kind of hospitality experience, for me, is one where I feel seen, heard, and taken care of.
These cocktail experiences made me feel nervous and condescended to. But the worst of it is that I feel judged for deigning to suggest I might know what exactly what I want. When my request for a famous, classic – if unfashionably basic – cocktail is met with a smirk, you don’t make me feel welcome. You make me feel embarrassed.
It’s the very opposite of hospitality.
Next time, please give me at least the basic information about what’s on offer and what it costs.
Or, you know, make the damn margarita.