I ate at the Sofitel's casual restaurant a couple of years ago and was struck by the politeness and enthusiasm of the team of young, mostly Indian, waiters. They were almost tripping over each other to be helpful. That, plus the many positive reviews on this site for La Belle Epoque, makes my experience all the more bewildering.
Firstly, I must be clear that the food is excellent. The cuisine could hold its head up in the highly-competitive market in central London. There is no question of taking advantage of being the "only fine-dining restaurant at Heathrow" to cut on standards. It should also be added that the prices are quite fair for cooking of this quality. The problem lies entirely with the service - or lack of it.
I understand that Mondays are a particularly busy day at this restaurant (as a business hotel, they follow the peaks of airport business traffic). When we arrived, the room was about half-full, though judging by the number of staff on duty that might have been the maximum number of bookings they could take for the night. We were shown to a table by a manager who was just about polite but showed little enthusiasm or attempt at welcome.
During the evening we were served by a group of Indian waiters all of whom were similarly bored or disinterested. When one asked if we had enjoyed a dish, he barely bothered to listen to the reply. Service was slow. A table next to us was left dirty for some time and was then half-cleaned but left with a water spillage and various crumbs. My dessert was quickly put down on another bed of crumbs. This is supposed to be an AA 3 Rosette restaurant. Whilst the organisations that give such awards get criticism for some of their awards, they are staffed by professionals who are sticklers for correct service. You simply do not leave dirty tables and, at a minimum, you remove crumbs from the table before serving dessert. A bill was presented and paid with little thanks. We left and were ignored on the way out. The only modicum of charm came from the junior Polish waiters but they were not allowed much customer contact.
If the restaurant wants to retain its rating and continue to be regarded as a "fine-dining establishment" it needs to hire new senior staff and seriously re-train any remaining staff.
Walking through the Reception after the meal I saw a queue of five people waiting to check-in and just one staff member working. Late evening is peak time for this type of hotel - you would expect a 5 Star hotel to anticipate this with adequate staffing. This was made worse by the fact that there were two staff members at the Guest Relations desk doing nothing.
Maybe this was just a coincidence but after the rather disappointing experience in the restaurant, it did rather look like a pattern of employee indifference.
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