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Customer service catastrophe #2: Harvey Nichols Cafe, Dundrum

The service has never been great here.

On our first visit the waiting staff, serving nobody in particular, seemed exceptionally busy, and a little bit scatterbrained. My sister Barbara had almost finished her (delicious) Chicken Schnitzel burger by the time she got the plain mayonnaise she’d asked for – three times. Getting the staff’s attention consumed about half our eating time. In fairness, when it did arrive the waiter was genuinely apologetic.

Yes, the service was slooooow. But it was friendly, which made it tolerable. We even overlooked the very unpleasant smell when we went inside to pay. The food, enjoyed while sitting outside in Dundrum Shopping Centre’s courtyard by the fountain on a sunny day, made up for it.

Overlooking the problems, we went back again last week…

It was to be the second time in seven days whereby I experienced poor service. We waited for outside seating, and after being ignored by the waiting staff, we sat ourselves at one of the many dirty tables.

I guess we just assumed that someone would come and clean it, a not unreasonable expectation. After waiting over five minutes, the waitress finally came and brought us menus. She placed them on our filthy dirty table and walked away without asking if we wanted drinks or water, or saying a word.

We had a look at the menu, saw nothing that jumped out, and looking again at the filth around us, realised that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience. We got up and left, heading instead to The Counter, a great burger joint with excellent service, just two doors down. I won’t be going back to Harvey Nichols.


  1. I had problems with this cafe just the other week, though mine were more menu based than customer service. (Not that the service was stellar by any means!)

    We popped in to get something brunch like to eat. Unfortunately we had just missed their breakfast menu so had to stick to the lunch offerings. Among these was listed Croque Madam/Monsieur.

    So, not having had one in a while, I went for the Croque Madam, expecting a toasted ham & cheese sandwich with Bechemel sauce and an egg.

    What I got a was a toasted smoked salmon & cream cheese sandwich. When it arrived I queried whether this was my correct order and I was informed that this is what a Croque Madam is.

    I disputed this and said that what I had been expecting, and what’s listed for any definition of a Croque Madam is a Croque Monsieur with an egg on top.

    The waiter was not exactly apologetic, but did offer to swop it for the “ham and cheese toastie”. I declined, but did make the point that they should not advertise that they sell Croque Madams when in fact they sell toasted smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, which is a really weird combination. There was nothing on the menu to indicate that they had their own version of this classic.

    No other attempt was made to apologise for the misleading menu. Since my lunch companion’s burger was also nothing special and they added on a “discretionary” service charge, we decided we would not be eating there again.

  2. They add on a service charge for two people? That is a disgrace. And it’s indicative in their shoddy service, wait staff should have to work/be pleasant for their tips, that said, I do agree with adding a service charge for large parties, as a former waitress, a lot of large groups tend to tip poorly and you have to work extra hard at a big table. But that doesn’t mean you treat them any differently. Being a pleasant server actually makes your own job easier. There’s also no excuse for the misleading menu, a Croque Madam is what it is. For cryin’ out loud!

    Peter, how busy was the cafe? Was there enough staff? A lot of restaurants seem to be understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with a rush these days, but still, to seat someone at a dirty table or to do that and then give them menus without cleaning it up is inexcusable. I must say, as woeful as your experiences have been this past week, I am delighted they happened to you, it’s great that you’ve been able to expose these establishments and their horrendous customer service practices. I agree with you about The Counter, they are absolutely lovely in there. The other eateries around the Town Centre could do with taking a leaf out of their book, have had bad customer service experiences in both L’Officina and Cafe Mao, as Jim says all the time, it’s like they don’t want money.

  3. Hi Rebecca, yup service charge for 2 of us! I have no issue with it being added to groups of 6 or more as I get that they are more difficult to deal with, but for 2? Total madness and doing themselves out of money, as we would generaly be generous tippers, leaving over the 10% they charged.

    We were also waiting to be seated for what seemed like quite a long time considering they weren’t full. There was even a staff member standing at the desk next to us, but she seemed to ignore us and we weren’t seated till her colleague came by from the kitchen.

  4. Joanna, your experience chimes with mine, especially with the staff member seeming to ignore you. You’d expect better from a big company like Harvey Nichols. The odd slip-up is forgivable, but half-decent management should ensure good service by properly training their staff.
    Rebecca, it was barely half-full on both occasions. In fairness, the staff seemed quite busy, especially the first time around, but rather than explain that to the customers, they seem to follow a policy of pretending they didn’t see you call them.
    I am lucky enough to have this forum to publicise my experience. But most people don’t have an outlet for their frustration; I always encourage people to leave good or bad feedback on this site or others, like MenuPages.

  5. I had terrible experience in The Port House, bad service in The Counter and mediocre food in other places I am getting sick of eating in Dundrum. Am hoping Wagamama will not go down the same road when it opens out there soon.

  6. Firstly, let me say – I hate bad service and I can understand how annoying it can be.

    But I don’t think that this Name-And-Shame strategy is going to do anyone any favors.

    I work in retail and people complain about our store online on occasion though or Yelp. Sometimes the customers are absolutely correct in their complaint – but we were unaware that there was a problem (such as disappointment with a product or being neglected in the queue) and had we known we would have looked after them without question.

    When people read the bad reviews, and get put off coming to the store as a result, it isn’t necessarily fair as we will always compensate legitimate complaints.

    Perhaps you have made more effort than I am aware to contact the owners of these establishments so they can keep a closer eye on the customer satisfaction in their establishment – but if not – this really should be done before complaining on a well respected blog.

    We, like everyone else in retail (and I presume Food Services) is struggling and this isn’t going to help.

  7. Heres a tip for you. Dont just sit at a dirty table, wait for the staff to seat you in the correct section, so that they can provide proper service. If you have to wait five minutes, that is because the staff are busy and are working in a sector on its knees and working with minimal staff in order to stay in business. If you want fast food go to McDonalds, not Harvey Nicholls.

    Sitting yourself down wherever you please infuriates waiting staff and almost guarantees you poor service. This is basic stuff, for someone writing on a food blog not to know this is laughable.

  8. Hi Gavin. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that customers should try and raise a complaint before going online, and I generally do this. But I don’t think you’re comparing like with like: I already dealt with a “manager” at Toto for instance, as I did with another bad experience I’m holding back on writing about for now. I made several efforts to contact Toto, for example.
    In some instances, customers are intimidated and don’t know what sort of response they’ll get, so they don’t want the stress of complaining. It’s not up to the customer to walk through minefields, and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle; there will now ALWAYS be outlets for disgruntled customers, whether they’re right or wrong, to voice their opinion to thousands of others (Facebook, Twitter, blogs). The retail sector needs to clean up its act here and display a customer service charter so customers know what to expect. Otherwise, they’ll just go elsewhere.
    In the case of Harvey Nichols, there was no point as it was pretty clear the staff weren’t interested, and I couldn’t really complain about service I didn’t have.
    About publishing this: I see your point and totally understand where you’re coming from, but I disagree that publicising bad service won’t help. Newspapers and magazines do it all the time; the internet is a much more democratic forum.

  9. Ciaran: what a load of utter rubbish. If you’re standing for five minutes, with a two-year-old child, you’re hungry, the waiting staff haven’t even acknowledged your presence – all they have to do is explain they’re busy (which they weren’t) and that they’ll be with you in a few minutes – and there’s a load of dirty, empty tables, it’s perfectly legitimate to seat yourself. I don’t expect fast food, just a basic level of service and hygiene.
    And if a restaurant can’t offer this, a customer is under no obligation whatsoever to stay. There’s plenty of other struggling restaurants who can manage to seat their customers, be polite, and maintain hygiene standards, so the customer will go there instead.
    As for your last comment – “sitting yourself down wherever you please infuriates waiting staff and almost guarantees you poor service” – I sincerely hope you don’t work in the food industry. Customers do lots of things that infuriate staff (in this case, they’d be wrong to be annoyed) but that does not give any justification for them to subsequently get in a strop and provide bad service; if they can’t manage to control their frustrations and deal with customers they don’t like, they’ve no business working in the service industry.

  10. Hear, hear Peter!

  11. I’m a waitress myself, and I do know that when customers stroll in, and waltz straight over to a dirty table and sit down, then click their fingers and demand it’s cleared can be very annoying, but clearly what Peter is saying here is that they were waiting for some time, with a small child, and were completely ignored by staff, before actually seating themselves. If i treated customers that way, I’d fully expect an earfull of abuse! And no matter how bad a day a waitress is having, or no matter how much they hate the customer, all negative emotion must be covered with a smile, manners and good customer service. Otherwise you don’t deserve your job in this day and age when so many people are out of jobs.