By Jennifer Grey
Having just read a piece in The Times about service staff hiding feelings of aggression when forced to smile at customers, I was a bit wary of the cheerful waitress who greeted us as at the entrance to Calvert’s, the restaurant at the multi-award winning Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes.
Was she really, deep down, feeling “cynical and exhausted,” ready to direct her aggression at us, her colleagues or “subordinates,” as – apparently – research had shown they inevitably do?
Well, if she was, she was hiding it well, though who knew what was going on behind those swinging doors into the kitchen, from where emerged a succession of fast-moving, smiley waitresses – are we allowed to even call them that any more? – all, apparently, assigned a different task: one to greet, one to serve the drinks, one the food, one to clear and so on.
The review continues after the adverts . . .
“It’s how we do it here,” said a cheerful employee (better be on the safe side) with a distinctly non-aggressive smile, showing no sign of cynicism or even exhaustion which, given the numbers they were dealing with, would have been no surprise. “We all do a different bit of the job. It means you get more smiles from more faces.” (Did she know I was coming?)
“I suppose it also means that if you get a table full of awkward customers you can share the pain,” I ventured.
The response was quick as flash: “Not at all! We don’t get any awkward customers here.” I bet.
Good staff are, to my mind, at least 70 per cent of the deal in any establishment, so before I even get to the starter I’m feeling well-disposed.
Mine was roast onion soup with Wensleydale cheese, the latter served grated in a little pot with croutons on the side: presentation isn’t quite all but like happy staff it augers well. Two others in our four-strong party had haddock, smoked bacon and Yorkshire cheese fishcakes, so big they could easily have been a main, but apparently tasting of not much more than fish; the bacon, however, giving them texture.
Then to the carvery, a Sunday phenomenon: what a quaint, old-fashioned, safe and comfortingly English thing it is. Just looking at its gleaming glazed carrots, shiny red cabbage (it’s the only time I ever see the stuff, anywhere), courgettes (which to me are always courgettes, nothing more to say about them) and cauliflower cheese, to accompany the home-grown (Nigel Hammond of Bainbridge) succulent roast beef and pork, makes me feel – well, English. And a bit middle-aged. Which at 70 I’m definitely edging towards.
The meat was cooked to perfection, the veg – amazingly and unusually in my experience elsewhere – not overdone, and the Yorkshire puddings enormous and enormously disappointing. In Yorkshire of all places you have to get this right, but carveries generally don’t and this one is no exception.
“You could sole your shoes with it,” I say grumpily, but my husband, a forgiving man, especially when food’s around, disagrees. “It’s just a bit tough, but there’s plenty of it,” he says, like that makes it ok.
You can choose starters and desserts from the board, or order from the ordinary menu, and the prices are reasonable by today’s standards: £10.95 for one course, £14.95 for two, £16.95 for three or a small main for £7.95. There are veggie and gluten-free mains available, and you can choose from the ordinary menu, which itself offers a remarkably varied array of vegetarian options – not the token mushroom stroganoff or margherita pizza.
Service was amazingly fast considering how busy it was, and we weren’t left to contemplate dirty plates for days on end between courses. If there is a criticism, and there’s not much, it’s that the decor feels a bit old-fashioned, but that’s a personal view. Ian says the metal ceiling supports make it look like a shed (I’m surprised he looked up from his food long enough to notice) but I rather like them: they serve a purpose and look quite utilitarian which is a look I’d like to see reflected in the restaurant itself. But that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
I took my own pictures but British diners are untidy beasts: jackets and coats (including mine) slung on the back of seats, bags on the floor and people, eating. Never a pretty sight. So the pictures are supplied, post-review, by the Creamery.
It was, all in all, a good eating experience. The food was excellent – and local – and the smiles, I’m sure, were genuine. I don’t think you can train people to be nice, and if that’s what they have done then please pass on the secret to others who from my experience of customer service are in urgent need.
The Creamery is surely one of the Dales’s greatest assets. It pulls in visitors at a rate of knots and multiple awards for its cheese-making – twenty-two at the Great Yorkshire Show alone this year. That doesn’t happen by accident and neither does good food and service.
Wensleydale Creamery, Gayle Lane, Hawes, Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, DL8 3RN. Telephone 01969 667664 email firstname.lastname@example.org