ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
The service backwater that is the Northern Territory
It’s all stunning landscapes, amazing wildlife, great fishing and a million and one other recreational pursuits … seemingly with something for everyone and yet there is concern in some quarters that the tourist numbers are not up where the government would like them to be. Why?
Service, or lack of it, is the short answer.
Darwin is in so many ways a pretend sophisticated city, a social backwater, blighted by the sometimes appalling lack of service and the constant unruly behaviour evident on the streets. I emphasise tourists because Darwinites don’t seem to know to expect any better.
As for the behaviour on the streets, take this advice, courtesy of two of Darwin’s finest on separate occasions: “Don’t go out on the streets [of Darwin] at night because of the violence. The place is full of cashed-up blokes who work in mining and who don’t mind king-hitting a passer-by, especially if he is with a woman and then attempting to drag the woman away.” Enough said.
Service, for its part, is invariably better for tourists in small towns, even roadhouses, where people often go the extra yard because they don’t have the local population to swell their numbers and their coffers.
I can forgive the outback resort (OK, that’s crap, I can’t) for wanting to charge me $192 for a takeaway case of VB. I bought just 12 because I was bloody thirsty. Or maybe I could forgive the campground I’m currently staying at for keeping its red wine in the fridge. OK, that’s crap too. When I ordered a bottle of shiraz to have with dinner, it was all I could do to convince the person to retrieve a room-temperature bottle from storage.
By way of background, I lived all my life in Melbourne (although I have travelled far and wide in Australia and overseas) and I’m no stranger to fine dining, good wine, classy accommodation and good service.
Sure, now I am laughingly referred to as a usually unkempt grey nomad, towing a camper trailer with a LandCruiser ute, staying at free camps where and when possible but also at Darwin campgrounds/caravan parks, which, by Australia-wide standards, are as expensive (usually more) as anywhere in the country. I’m a player in the local economy.
So too was a mate who was staying with his wife and three kids at a supposedly upmarket Darwin caravan park (it was an outrageous $74 a night for a site). My mate was cooking a family meal in the camp kitchen while the kids were watching a movie (it had 20 minutes to run) when he was confronted by the duty manager: “Sorry, but the kitchen has to close at nine o’clock. Please finish up.”
My mate countered with a pleasant request: “Mate, the movie has 20 minutes left and I’d like to finish cooking this meal.”
The duty manager said: “No. If you don’t leave the kitchen I’m reporting you to the park manager.”
The next morning, my mate and his family were told to leave the park despite having planned and catered for a kids’ birthday party with his neighbours.
Service? Yeah, right. Jesus wept.
I checked in to the same park a while ago and my introduction was: “Right, we have some sites right down the back of the park that we don’t normally use. You can have one of those.”
Gee, thanks, and it was a snip at just $45 a night for an unpowered site that in reality was a dustbowl.
We (I am travelling with my son, who has his own vehicle) made a mistake of having dinner at the park restaurant.
Welcome to an episode of Kath & Kim. There was a wedding (they were locals) being held at the park. When my son was ordering dinner he asked (as a piss take): “Do you have many weddings here?” The proud response was: “We have two tonight.” And hadn’t the campground gone to some trouble, you know with Chinese lanterns and fairy lights and spectacular bamboo lanterns burning something like kero (sure, the smell dissipated sooner rather than later). My son ordered a chicken curry but was told after the waiter’s visit to the kitchen: “We don’t have chicken.” He also ordered some garlic bread, which we know was fresh because it came to the table unsliced and was delightfully (not) doughy.
We sat there, appropriately surrounded by “bogan villias”, listening to the wedding speeches during which one of the bridesmaids thanked the bride for teaching her how to road rage. When our dinner finally arrived (it took just 25 minutes … the excuse was: “Sorry, we’re busy tonight. We have two weddings on”.) it was, well, rubbish. Busy? The weddings weren't booked the night before. The park knew what they had to cater for, so should have employed more staff. Our nasi goreng had become nasty goreng, with cold chicken satay on the side and very few ingredients matching what was promised on the menu. In reality, we were served a piss-poor plate of ordinary fried rice. Yeah, it was a snip at $24. Not. Service? Not.
Mind you, it’s not that much easier catering for your own meals … I went recently to a supermarket about 45 minutes from Darwin to buy salad ingredients. Try $5.19 (how did they arrive at that figure?) for one cucumber. Jesus wept again.
I spent two nights in Darwin with a friend, who visited from Melbourne.
We checked into a hotel (yeah, it has the word “resort” in its name) and got a pleasant enough welcome.
When we returned to the room, we discovered a fresh blanket for the bed. In fact we got the bonus pack … sheets, blanket, towels … the complete linen set for the room. The major problem was that the offending blanket was still on the bed. If it had to be changed, we would have to do it ourselves. Service? No, a bloody insult. And for the record, the bonus pack remained in the room for the duration of our stay. Service?
We arrived at the restaurant spot on for our new time. I explained to the receptionist (read rude bitch) that I’d called: “I didn’t get that message. I gave your table away,” was the less-than-polite response. “We have a party leaving in 10 minutes. I’ll give you that table.” I thanked her and we retired to the bar for a pre-dinner drink.
After 10 minutes we were approached by a waitress who asked whether we would like a table inside. “No thanks, we’ll wait until one becomes available outside.”
OK, time for a smoke while we waited for a table. After another 10 minutes we were asked whether we would like a table inside. “No thanks, we’ll wait.”
Finally, 35 minutes after arriving we were seated at a rocky outdoor table (it really rocked badly), one of three empty tables in the immediate area.
Enter, at last, a pleasant waitress to take our orders. Two glasses of Verve Clique with our entrees of oysters and mussels, and a bottle of New Zealand pinot noir to go with the most expensive cut of beef on the menu (60 bucks each) and a couple of sides.
Then, it was Territory service at its most appalling. A waitress arrived with two flutes and a bottle of Verve. She poured like a woman possessed, filling the flutes to overflowing, and with good Champagne pouring from her hand, passed the glasses to us. The resultant trail of champers across the table was left there, no doubt a symbol of the Territory wet season.
Then the pinot arrived. “Do you want this now?” “No thanks, perhaps we’ll wait for the mains. We haven’t seen the entrees yet.”
Entrees were as promised on the menu, save for one unopened mussel that should never have left the kitchen and a lack of bread to mop up the sauce (there was one small wedge of bread with the dish). I wasn’t impressed either that I had to ask for a finger bowl, given that mussels can be messy. The bowl arrived with a spoon. “I brought this so you can finish the sauce.” Some more bread would have been better.
There was plenty of time for a smoke break between courses given that the mains didn’t arrive until more than two hours after we’d arrived.
The beef, described as well marbled on the menu, was appalling, and rather than (limited) marbling featured rivers of gristle and thick, almost uncuttable sinew that rendered it about 60 per cent inedible. We ate the meal within sight of an advertisement describing the place as a one-time winner of the best restaurant in the Northern Territory. Really? This is the best the Territory has to offer? Jesus was still weeping, this time uncontrollably.
At meal’s end, we tipped the only decent waitress with cash in hand and left the bill, all $330-odd sans tip and headed back to the “resort” for a couple of drinks before pulling the pin. It was interesting to note that there was a half-finished glass of wine and the spare linen set there the following day and that was after the housekeeping was done. Service? Nah.
What else can one say about the service in the hospitality industry in Darwin? Not a lot really. The only constant in the industry is the need to pass Jesus a box of tissues.