When cafe culture in Goa goes awry

When the social media profile of a hospitality stakeholder in Goa and reality are a complete mismatch, how can the State hope to attract tourists?
FALSE START: A restaurant which advertises that it is ready for business, when it is clearly not, ultimately reflects poorly on the State's tourism industry.
FALSE START: A restaurant which advertises that it is ready for business, when it is clearly not, ultimately reflects poorly on the State's tourism industry.Photo: Gomantak Times

MAYA ROSE FERNANDES

A few months ago, I wrote about my experience of the growing dining scene in Panjim, trying very hard to be something it isn’t, while prioritising it’s instagrammable interiors (When fine dining isn’t such a fine experience in Goa).

The most recent addition to this scene that I experienced was a café in a hotel, which promised a lot more on its Instagram profile than it was able to deliver in practice.

FALSE START: A restaurant which advertises that it is ready for business, when it is clearly not, ultimately reflects poorly on the State's tourism industry.
Beer, bites and books will keep you coming back to this cafe in Miramar

One understands the limitations of the word ‘newly opened’ but the list kept getting longer the more time I spent catching up with a friend in the space.

There were lovely interiors, decent beverages and I’ll add that there might have been a few more things going for the place that I’d have added here if there hadn’t been so many disappointing things not going for it.

The promise of air conditioning was a relief from the humid, pre-monsoon heat outside, and we decided to sit upstairs for more privacy.

The promise of air conditioning was a relief from the humid, pre-monsoon heat outside, and we decided to sit upstairs for more privacy because the managerial staff had spread out across three tables with their laptops and chargers.

It took three people to figure out where the upstairs floor AC main switch was, find the remote and then switch it on. When I tried to order a chicken dish, we were told by one person that the only chicken dish available was the chicken burger.

FALSE START: A restaurant which advertises that it is ready for business, when it is clearly not, ultimately reflects poorly on the State's tourism industry.
This cafe in Panjim ticks all the boxes

We then pointed out to the person that a significant portion of the itemised menu, that they’d handed to us, had chicken dishes on it and they hadn’t informed us that they wouldn’t be able to provide most of the non-veg items there.

To which the waiting staff replied, “Well, in the last 7 days, we’ve mostly had vegetarians visiting the cafe. Now that we know people are going to order chicken, we’ll be ordering chicken.”

Later, this same person called the kitchen chef to speak to us when he realised that he had absolutely no idea what ingredients were in the kitchen, but initially had no compunction confidently telling us what we couldn’t order from the menu because it wasn’t available.

Both, my friend and I, were stunned at this declaration by someone, who we realised only later, was one of the more senior staff at the place.

Later, this same person called the kitchen chef to speak to us when he realised that he had absolutely no idea what ingredients were in the kitchen, but initially had no compunction confidently telling us what we couldn’t order from the menu because it wasn’t available.

FALSE START: A restaurant which advertises that it is ready for business, when it is clearly not, ultimately reflects poorly on the State's tourism industry.
The quintessential Goan wedding menu

My friend’s food order arrived with a hair on it, and the kitchen replaced the item on request.

We’d already noticed that when the chef spoke to us, he hadn’t been wearing a hairnet, and it wasn’t fun to experience the reason why kitchen staff are usually required to wear hairnets.

I ordered a Cous Cous Salad (note, no chicken included) and after five minutes, they returned to ask me if they could offer me a Quinoa Salad, instead, because they didn’t have any cous cous in the kitchen, either. It was served after my friend had finished her second serving of fries.

By this time, both my friend and I were exhausted by the arrogantly toned excuses of male waiting staff and managers.

It was clear that we were seeing, yet again, what was a much wider contagion across Goa: lack of customer service training, lack of understanding of the context where you are setting up and a general lack of care within a service industry, where people’s main intention these days is to make money and not earn it.

FALSE START: A restaurant which advertises that it is ready for business, when it is clearly not, ultimately reflects poorly on the State's tourism industry.
Raki restaurant: Fine Mediterranean & Middle Eastern cuisine in Panjim

This is all symptomatic of a cultural intrusion that Goa seems only to yearn for, until its practical ramifications are too late to realise: the erosion of quality service, food and dining experience at the cost of those whose primary intention is to mint money.

Welcome to the new, new colonisation of Goa.

We’d only realised too late that this was a hotel with a side of coffee and no intention to actually serve food, because they didn’t seem to have the ingredients in their kitchen to match the menus they handed us, nor did they have the grace or knowledge with which to address their customers.

On going to the washroom at one point, I found that it had the wrong kind of tissue dispensers, the toilet flush button panel had already fallen out, and the latches on their door were not able to properly slide shut without a fight.

FALSE START: A restaurant which advertises that it is ready for business, when it is clearly not, ultimately reflects poorly on the State's tourism industry.
When in Anjuna, pick and choose what you'd like to eat

While paying the bill, one of the senior staff, who’d already made it a point to add to the list of excuses that his earlier colleague had begun with, said that he’d like to let us know that they’d only just opened, they were mostly a hotel, they just wanted to give people coffee-breakfast so they could have a nice space … and so forth.

My friend, who works in the hospitality industry herself, immediately corrected him saying that what we’d experienced didn’t match their Instagram posts, so why advertise that they were ready for business, when it was obvious, by their own admission, that they were not?

I told him that I’d been terribly disappointed after expectations had been mismanaged by all the buzz created, and cautioned him that I’d be candid with friends about my first experience there.

The reason why it’s important to talk about these places in balanced ways is because of the dismal displays of arrogance that are symptomatic of these cultural intrusions, wrapped in pretentious facades that have pervaded so many avenues of Goan culture.

Not only do they lack the soul and authenticity that one hopes for from a café in the heart of the capital city, but they are also signifiers of what more is to come if we don’t demand better.

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