10 Oct 2011

Bad service and attitude lets Bordeaux down

We all know how important is good and friendly service in any service industry, and especially in the field of food and wine. And when a restaurant, wine bar, winery or shop lets customers down in this respect, it is not only the place itself but the whole region that suffers in terms of image. When this place also happens to be the "official" showcase for the wines of the most famous wine-producing region in the world, I feel that the fall-out from such a bad experience is multiplied by at least 10!

Here is a true story that I experienced last week in the Bar à Vin (Wine Bar) attached to the BIVB (Bordeaux Wine Council) offices, right in the centre of Bordeaux, a city I love and admire (see other posts on this blog listed at the bottom of this article).

Last week I was teaching, for 2 days, a group of students from several countries at the Bordeaux Ecole de Management (BEM). At the end of the first day of my seminar, I suggested to them that we meet up in the evening in the centre of Bordeaux to share a glass of wine: wine just happened to be the subject of my teaching! Quite a few of them accepted my suggestion and so I selected the Bar à Vins of the BIVB as the site, since it is both central and reasonably priced. In addition, I thought that it was only fitting to introduce them to some more of the wines of the region where they were studying.

I got to the place first, at about 8 pm, since my hotel was right next door. I sat at a small table for 4 and mentioned to the waiter that I was expecting quite a few people to join me, although I couldn't be sure at what precise time they would arrive as they lived some way out. He warned me that the place was quite full (which I could see), so I said that I quite understood and that we would adapt to the situation. Four students arrived shortly afterwards, then 2 or 3 more. So, as a small second table next door had become free, we asked if we could join the two together. This was no probelm and we ordered a round of different wines by the glass that I selected. All were good and well served in excellent quality glassware. Then another group of 4 or 5 students arrived, and I asked if we could either bring up more chairs or add on another table. This was met first with silence, then by a clear refusal as the head waiter brought me the bill and slapped it down on the table in front of me with no explantion (I had not asked for it). I asked him if this signified that he was throwing us out.

I should empahsize that all the students were well dressed and well behaved. I believe that I was too, although quite surprised and annoyed by the waiters' attitude. The waiter did not reply, so I asked to order another series of wines by the glass. I had in fact previously asked a girl server whether I could order a bottle, given the number of guests. She has very curtly replied "we do not serve bottles" (why ????). Anyway, as there were no free chairs, but a vacant space around some low tables just next to us, we attempted to move these low stool-like tables into our area so that the freshly arrived guests in our group could sit down. The staff then intervened and moved them back. So I suggested to our new group of guests that they sat themselves down in this vacant area, next to three people who were not members of our party, but who seemed very happy with this arrangement as there was plenty of room (we naturally asked them first). From then on, not a single waiter came to take our orders and I had to go to the bar and place these.The girl waiter previously mentioned continued to do the opposite to smiling, and the others clearly considered that we were just annoyances, although we were perfectly well behaved and polite, although somewhat surpised and disappointed by their attitude.

When I went to pay at the end (they were switching the lights on and off rather than coming and explaining that it was closing time) nobody thanked us for our custom or (fat chance!) apologised for their behaviour, lack of space or lack of amenities (and willingness) to look after customers. I should emphasize that the place was half empty by the time all our party had arrived and when we left, since there was a danse performance going on just outside the bar. In other words, we were not taking anyone else's places, just marginally adapting what is anyway a modular space to our needs as customers.

The wines were all good, by the way, and the prices, I can confirm, are quite reasonable, although with a curious gap (apparently) between 3 and 8 euros per glass within the range.

Bordeaux (the city) has done a great deal to make itself attractive and welcoming to the visitor. But the wines of Bordeaux, and especially their official promotional body, still have a lot to learn about how to make visitors welcome and wanting to try their wines. Proper staff training does not appear to exist, or does not include any notion that the customer is the most important person in any business.

These  photographs, with very low definition I fear, are all from the web site of the Bordeaux Wine Bar

Other articles and photo essays on Bordeaux and its region are to be found here on this blog:





  1. Dear David,
    Hope somebody from the CIVB will read your post and writte you back. This kind of behaviour is for me significant of the typical attitude the "bordelais" adopt regarding what and whoever comes from the outside. Contempt and smugness can kill a reputation faster than bad and over expensive wines... I fell sorry for them.

  2. In fact they did read it and the person in charge of the bar called me to apologise. This is fine and I appreciated the gesture, but they do need to deal with the root of the problem which is staff attitude towards customers. And of course this sort of thing does not happen only in Bordeaux. Going to be back there early in November. Want to meet up?