July 26, 2010

Down In The Mouth

Am just back from holidays in France where part of the attraction for many years has been the way in which the French seem to get their food offerings so effortlessly right, both in terms of what they put on the plate and what they charge for it.

As a result, we've sat on benches and scoffed delicious baguettes, topped with little more than fresh ham, butter and mayonnaise, relaxed over linen tablecloths and elaborately prepared local specialities, dined alfresco on the open space beside our accommodation on the pates, cold cuts, rillettes and salads bought at the local supermarket or eaten crispy pizza washed down with local rose at canteen tables overlooking the harbour.

It doesn't seem to matter where in France we travel; the food is always good and the prices always fair.

So it was a big shock to us to find ourselves in a place these last couple of weeks which flew in the face of all that is good about French food. Beside the swimming pool in Pont Royal where we spent some of our days enjoying the sun and water, there was an outlet which looked like it would provide some tasty snack food, French-style, for those days when we couldn't be bothered to hike back to our apartment to make lunch.

The signs advertised organic food (which might have given us a hint of what to expect, because the French above all have rarely felt the need to promote the credentials of their food) and whilst it seemed a little pricey, we reasoned that it couldn't hurt us to splash out every so often for the convenience of quality food on the hoof.

What a disappointment! We tried it only the once and that was more than enough. The food, a mix of bland barbecued meats and fresh vegetables, was dumped on paper plates by the dour owner-chefs, who seemed to have little interest in whether it appealed or not.

This take-it-or-leave-it approach was so unexpected in a country where food always seems such a joy, that it prompted me to wonder about other sectors where the owners seem to believe that provenance alone should justify high prices, poor service and bad attitude.

It's not only restauranteurs who seem to make this mistake; I've found it too amongst software developers, car dealers and fashion retailers.

Maybe it's an easy mistake for any of us to make from behind the counter: the belief that our product should speak for itself rather than eloquently charm the customer. Judging from the efforts they made to win us over, the owners of the food outlet couldn't have cared less whether we enjoyed their food. Our solitary, cheerless experience was one that we didn't wish to repeat and so we ignored their offer for the remainder of our holiday and enjoyed our own (very tasty) picnic lunch instead.

There were no winners here. They lost customers whilst we had the thankfully rare experience of French food that left a bad taste in the mouth.