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A week of customer service catastrophe: Toto of Talbot Street

Toto: It started off well...

I’m a liar. I’m a misogynist. I’m repulsive. I’m invisible. And I like eating food off dirty tables.

Actually, I’m none of those things, but that’s the way I’ve been treated in a series of Dublin restaurants and takeaways since I returned from India. The Parade of Bad Service shows no sign of ending, and I’m starting to fret at the very idea of eating out. It shouldn’t be so stressful.

Over the next week, we’re going to highlight examples of appalling customer service – before moving on to list some Irish restaurants where customers are made feel welcome and treated with respect and manners. We’ll finish off with a competition that we hope will make a small contribution to increasing customer service standards in Ireland.

Starting today with Toto, an Italian restaurant on Talbot Street

We’d just come out of a very interesting and entertaining talk on psychopaths given by the journalist Jon Ronson to promote his new book, The Psychopath Test. We ate because we were hungry, not because we particularly wanted to eat out.

Le Bon Crubeen comes highly recommended, but service has stopped by the time we got there. Down the street, there’s a nice little restaurant called The Italian Connection, serving the standard pizza and pasta dishes. I’ve eaten here a few times and always had good experiences.

But in my line of work, I’m always looking to try somewhere new. Hesitantly, Kate, Sorcha, and I peered into Toto’s, a restaurant just opposite The Italian Connection. It was around 10.10pm, and Toto was about half-full.

We each ordered a pizza, and licked our lips in anticipation. As we hadn’t any dinner, the very act of ordering had already made us even hungrier.

Twenty minutes later, we were starting to wonder where our pizzas were – by any standard, the restaurant wasn’t busy. After another five minutes, we whispered about the possibility of asking if they were nearly ready. But the waitress wasn’t particularly friendly, and we kept our counsel. Eventually, after half an hour, our pizzas were thrown in front of us.

... with customers still inside, the shutters were closed

Sorcha is probably the most easy-going and polite person I know, so it was with great reluctance that she told the waitress she’d received the wrong pizza.

“It’s pretty much the same pizza, it’s just a bit spicier,” groaned the clearly uninterested waitress, adding that it had one extra ingredient. “Will it not do?”

No apology, and clearly no intention of apologising. I bit my tongue. Sorcha very politely said that she wished she could eat the pizza, but it wasn’t what she ordered and that she really didn’t like spicy food.

“The kitchen is closed,” we were told. “The chefs finish at 10.30. They’ve cleaned up the kitchen, and they’re ready to go home.”

Sorcha was put in an invidious position: suffer the ire of the waitress and send the chefs back to work, or go hungry. She politely repeated that she just couldn’t eat a spicy pizza and was very hungry. The waitress said she would check with the kitchen and see what she could do.

Ten minutes later, Kate and I were more than half-way through our pizzas. Mine was mediocre, with briny, sour capers and cheap-tasting olives. Kate shared some of her pizza with Sorcha as we were all so hungry. The waitress was chatting to her colleague behind the counter, and we hadn’t heard whether Sorcha would be lucky enough to get any food.

I walked up to the counter, smiled at the waitress, and asked her if the third pizza was on the way. She glared at me in horror and told me that the kitchen had been reopened specially, and the pizza would be ready in a few minutes.

A few minutes later, she slammed it down on the table and walked away. Starving Sorcha, who had been made feel she should be grateful for the privilege of eating in Toto, ate the entire meal. The bill arrived. We’d been charged full price – €61.38 – for three pizzas and a bottle of wine.

We’d had enough. I called the waitress over, and expressed my surprise that we were being charged for the entire amount. I said that their mistake meant that Kate and I spent most of our meal waiting for Sorcha’s pizza, and we hadn’t been able to eat together. The waitress replied that it was not her fault – it was the kitchen’s. Sorcha pointed out that the chefs were not working front-of-house, but the waitress was.

I suggested it would be in order to charge Sorcha half-price for her pizza, or offer us “something” as a goodwill gesture. She said that there was no possibility whatsoever of reducing the bill, as “there is no option to do this on the computer”. She refused to acknowledge any failing on the restaurant’s part, pointing out the irrelevant fact that Sorcha had eaten the whole meal – despite the fact that the quality of the mediocre pizzas themselves were not the issue.

At this point, we asked to speak to the manager. “I’m in charge tonight,” she responded. I listed the customer service issues we’d encountered, and once again suggested it would be order to offer us a gesture of goodwill.

But she wasn’t budging – not even a complimentary coffee or dessert for Sorcha. That’s when I told her that her customer service was “a disgrace”, and asked for the name of the owner, which she duly provided. What followed was stunningly inappropriate.

“For a man to tell a woman she is a disgrace, that is terrible,” she said. “Do you know how to speak to women at all? Shame on you.”

My two female dining companions joined me in pointing out that her gender was utterly irrelevant, and to pull the misogyny card was a cheap trick. I was so incensed that I said I wasn’t prepared to pay the full price, and that she could call the Garda. She said that if we didn’t pay the full bill, she would do this.

I don’t know the law in this area, but I’m going to find out. It wasn’t worth the hassle, and we backed down. She loudly told us to pay our bill and then get out. None of us went looking for trouble, and we left feeling very stressed.

Next time, I’ll stick to The Italian Connection.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about bad service in a well-known Dundrum restaurant.


  1. Sounds awful, thanks for sharing. I fully agree with naming and shaming, I think we’re too afraid in this country to do it for some reason, thus perpetuating bad service

  2. Sounds like you received horrible service. These types of experiences can be disheartening especially if you don’t go out to eat that often. I walk by that restaurant regularly and I have to say I’m not glad that I’ve never gone in there. Going out to eat is supposed to be a treat not an ordeal.

  3. I will never understand how people like her end up in the service industry, the owners of this restaurant are obviously very foolish, she should have been well-informed on how to deal with a dissatisfied customer and compensated you in some way, even the smallest gesture like some ice-creams or coffees goes a long way, it is not difficult(or expensive, might I add) to treat your patrons well. Thanks for naming and shaming Peter, good to know where to avoid. There are so many places in this city with delicious food AND really pleasant staff so a spot like this doesn’t deserve an ounce of business. Looking forward to hearing more customer service tales(good and bad!).

  4. You still paid?!

  5. It was either pay, or have the Gardai come. Ultimately we didn’t want the incredible hassle and stress. I wasn’t entirely sure what the law is here, but I suspect it would come down on the restaurant’s side. I’m looking into it and hope to report back later this week.

  6. Hey Peter, not sure what the law is in Ireland but I would imagine it’s similar to the UK’s…
    You should have called her bluff!

  7. Hi Peter

    What a horrible experience!!! I also make a point of politely complaining about poor food/not what I ordered etc. Even though my fellow diners are mortified. I think as long as the diner discusses their issue politely & respectfully then the restaurant should be happy to get the feedback and have the chance to make amends. If they dont make amends however, I will not be back & I will write a review on Yelp/Menupages of my experience.

    I am NEVER eating in Toto!!!!

    Thanks for highlighting the issue.


  8. Just rang to ask for contact details of the manager. Was told there is no email address on which to contact him. Extraordinary. Thanks for that link Rebecca, looking into it.

  9. sounds awful peter but thank you for naming and shaming!i walked by there today and had filed it away as a place to try….most definitely not now! it will be interesting to see what way the law lies on this!

  10. What ridiculously bad service. And how easily that unpleasant scene could have been avoided if the waitress had exercised basic common sense!

    About whether you should have paid or not: my feeling is that you would be on shaky ground, legally, if you refused to pay for food that you received and consumed, even though it was delivered slowly. As you say Peter, reducing the bill or offering a freebie is a gesture of goodwill. Any establishment with an ounce of sense will do it and they were fools not to, but it doesn’t mean that the customer can choose to refuse payment. I think they were completely in the wrong and you did the right thing by raising your objections. Anyone in that situation should do something similar: point out the problem and if it’s not resolved, tell everyone you know not to go there!

  11. Holy feck. Definitely not going anywhere near that place. Appalling!

  12. Wow…. that is bad 🙁

  13. Well, the owner will get what he deserved for not training his staff properly on customer service: bad publicity on a blog like yours in going to cause more damage to their reputation than the cost of a free coffee. Well done for trying and posting this online. The worst is that there is no real support for customers to complain of such a bad treatment, which is why so many places get away with it.
    May be it’s time some places realise that the Celtic Tiger years are long gone and that you do have to go that extra mile to stay in the business?

  14. Big thanks for sharing this, I really hate complaining, it just stresses me out, but normally if you do it politely it’s taken care of.

    Obviously the waitress in question should not have been left in charge of the place if she doesn’t even have the most basic level of manners, not to mention customer service skills.

    I hope the manager gets back to you and has the decency to be ashamed of the way you were treated.

    One place to avoid 😉

  15. Thanks for sharing this, I always think it’s great to hear about other people’s experiences in restaurants and hotels. In the past I was very reluctant to complain about poor service but after working in the industry and having seen both sides, I now always would give feedback about poor service food as we are paying for good service and food so we should get what we are paying for and I always go out of my way to give good back too when deserved. Places will continue to give poor service if we don’t speak up. Name and shame is probably the best way to go.
    I look forward to reading more reviews 🙂

  16. Thank you so much for not only highlighting the awful customer service here in Ireland but also for standing up for yourself – something most people here do not do! I’ve had similar service (or disservice) time and time again and as a Yank I usually say something (not that it does any good). Recently I was at an Indian restaurant and bit into a piece of hard clay that was attached to the back of my naan bread (it had broken off from the inside of the naan pot). I nearly chipped a tooth, and when I pointed it out the waitress, she apologized but said “sometimes it happens!” When we got our bill, there was no discount, nothing.

    It’s about time people wrote publicly about the horrendous customer service at so many restaurants here in Ireland. Well done!!!

  17. I’ve contacted the manager Martin about the experience and alerted him to this blog post. He apologised for my bad experience and said he will look into it. I await his response.

  18. That is actually unreal. Some places don’t deserve to be open to the public at all or employ inadequate, incompetent rude waiting staff at all. I worked for years as a waitress and now dine as a customer and so know both sides of the table, but this is just the height of bad manners.

  19. Any response from the Manager yet Peter?

  20. Unsurprisingly, no. I only informed him out of courtesy, but I’m not calling to deal with a manager for a third time. Clearly he supports his incredibly rude staff.

  21. Looks like it’s NOT just a civil matter in Ireland:

    Diner charged over cocktail bar bill dispute

    “…facing theft and public order charges over the incident in which he is accused of continuing to refuse to pay after gardai arrived.”

  22. OK, it looks like the guest refusing payment didn’t really help himeself by threatening the attending garda he would burn her house down “with her and her family in it” when she arrived to investigate a disputed bill.

    …so not necessarily normally an arresting offence!

  23. I was going to visit that place, but I won’t be after reading this.

    I had a friend who had a similarly awful experience in a cafe and refused to pay at the end, and gave the venue their name, address and phone number to call the Garda as they were gonig back to work. The Garda arrived and my friend explained how bad the whole thing had been and the Gardai left. They saw it as an issue for the venue to resolve with the customer.