I’d come to Sisco’s because of an ad that said Sisco’s was trying something new. A lunch trolley: no waiting, the perfect solution for the one hour lunch break. The ad promised tapis, yum cha dumplings, sushi, wraps, all sorts of bits and pieces to tempt and taunt. I knew what would happen. The famous eyes-bigger-than-my-belly would kick in and I’d want one of everything. One hour wouldn’t be long enough, one stomach not big enough. I hoped to be so excited by small plates and big flavours that I’d want to come back each day until I’d tried everything twice. So on a whim I tucked Tim Winton under my arm and climbed the stairs to small food heaven.
I took a seat. Deathly quiet, except for the incessant rat-tat-tat-tat of the ceiling fan over my head. Then it dawned on me. Not a trolley in sight. Shit.
The waitress was warm and attentive. She brought me a drink. And three menus. Oh dear, where was the trolley? There was the standard lunch menu (really the dinner menu), there was the fish specials menu, and there was the crayfish specials menu. I craned my neck and gave my eyeballs a thorough 360 degree workout. Where’s the trolley? Panic rose in my throat. The waitress patiently explained: they tried the trolley for a few weeks. But no-one came. They needed to prepare three trolleys at a time. But no-one came. “Maybe Hobart’s not ready for it, cos no-one came”. Hobart’s not ready? I’m ready! Instead of leaving in a huff I ordered the prawn bisque.
It was nice enough, the bisque. It came rich and red with a prawn cake and a whole prawn wrapped in silk-like pasta threads. But I couldn’t help feeling an ongoing sense of disappointment. I wanted the trolley. But beyond not getting my own way I was disappointed in Sisco’s for not keeping their money where their mouth was.
Sisco’s has a mixed reputation. I’ve had stunning meals here and abysmal ones in equal measures. Hurrah to them for trying something new, boo to the patrons (myself included) who were too slow to grab the chance, and boo to Sisco’s for being too quick to punish us for our tardiness. Any new venture is an expensive risk. Maybe it was a risk worth persisting with. Maybe it was just what Hobart needed. And then again maybe it was crap and we are all better off not knowing.
I was about to scoff my coffee and leave, but then I noticed the recently-arrived table of middle-aged women quizzically eyeing their three menus … “Um, what happened to the trolley … we booked here a month ago specifically because of the trolley …”. I rose and paid my bill. The woman taking my money was the 'boss' of Sisco’s. I thanked her for the lovely bisque and the excellent service. But then, grabbing the bull by the horns I told her how disappointed I was that the trolley was so short-lived, I told her what a good idea it had been and that she should have persisted. But her attitude said it all:
"We’d have three people on a table wanting the trolley while the fourth person would want something off the dinner menu. People would ring up wanting to know what it was all about, what was on the trolley, would it fill them up, how many courses were they allowed, and so on. It was all too hard. Hobart’s not ready for something like this."
Maybe you should try again?
"No, I can’t be bothered."
I felt outraged.
I’m tired of feeling punished by restaurant owners with this attitude about Hobart and its diners. It was clear to me that due to their own impatience and poor menu control Sisco’s was bound to fail with their lunch trolley. But Sisco's obviously doesn't understand this, so in the interests of patiently explaining the problem I’ll use simple words:
- Most restaurants have a different lunch menu from their dinner menu, diners expect this.
- At lunch time, don’t give people the dinner menu to order from. Boring.
- To give a new lunch idea such as the trolley the best chance of success, don't give diners the option of ordering from the dinner menu. It's lunch time, diners will deal with this.
- If diners need educating about your new lunch option, be patient and teach them what it means. If you have no patience with this personally, have another staff member deal with telephone enquiries. Given that you are rarely open for lunch, people will be curious and the onus is on you to be patient.
- Don’t bitch to local diners about Hobart “not being ready” for your brilliance. It is graceless and leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.