I have been to a great number of Sainsburys Restaurants over the years and have found many offer tasty food and good service at reasonable prices.
One of my favourite branches is at Milton Keynes, where I was served the best-tasting Tikka Masala of any of their restaurants, by a smiling, friendly assistant. Also highly recommended are Thetford, Rugby and Great Yarmouth branches.
However, whilst travelling through Essex on the A12 last Friday (21st September) I encountered the worst ever supermarket restaurant experience when breaking the journey at Stanway, Colchester.
The signage outside the store informed us that the restaurant was open until 8pm Mondays to Saturdays. As we (myself and four family members) arrived at 6.30pm, we expected to be able to get a reasonable meal, up to the usual Sainsburys standards. How quickly that illusion was shattered!
First impressions of the restaurant were “muddled” to say the least. A strange arrangement of counters greeted us with no clear indication of a queuing system. The hot food section had a pile of trays at each end, yet again making it difficult to determine where to queue, resulting in customers trying to move away with their hot food colliding with those still waiting.
There were only three choices on the hot food menu, a strange vegetarian pie, chicken and chips, and ham, egg and chips. The explanation for this was that the restaurant had been busy earlier in the day (though there were only half a dozen or so customers when we arrived). This shows really bad planning – if a restaurant is open until 8pm then it should be able to offer a (reasonably) full menu until that time.
None of us really wanted the options on the menu, but the paninis and wraps, which were the alternatives, looked like they had seen better days. We were hungry and needed a break from a tedious journey, so against our better judgement decided to try the food.
My husband managed to get the chicken and chips changed to chicken and mash, whilst three of us opted for ham, egg and chips and one went without as there was nothing suitable on offer. My husband was served his meal immediately, but was told that the other meals needed to be ordered at the payment point, so off we went.
At the till we ordered the meals along with four pots of tea. I stood expectantly, tray in hand, but became puzzled when the tea didn’t appear. When I asked where it was, a disinterested assistant pointed over to a counter the other side and said, “over there!” My eyes followed the direction of the pointing finger where I spotted the pots and tea and cups plonked on a higher surface, from which I was supposed to load the tray.
On paying for our order, my husband asked if we were to be given a number (as in many Sainsburys Restaurants) for our food to be brought to our table. The (different) disinterested assistant informed us that we did not get a number, we were just to wander back to the hot food counter to see if and when the food was ready. This was when I snapped!
I stated that I felt it was extremely poor service and then did something I would never normally do. I gave the assistants a frosty glare and said, “I write about this kind of thing, and this will go down as the poorest service I’ve ever had!” (As you can see, I keep my word, rather than make empty promises.)
Give them their due, at this point both assistants underwent a complete expression change, and the next thing we knew our food was being taken to our chosen table, with reasonably good grace. Thank you for that, but what about all the other poor customers who are not given this treatment?
So to the food. The chicken was good, the mash acceptable, the eggs cooked the way I like them, the ham of reasonable quality, but sadly the chips were dry. It was lovely to have china pots of tea, as opposed to those leaky, old metal ones in some branches, but the choice of cold drinks was poor. My son had to settle for a fizzy drink as the only ‘still’ alternative was water. Where were all the bottles of Ribena, Oasis etc, available at the sandwich counter in the store downstairs?
Where this branch did gain some extra points was that it supplied bottles of ketchup instead of those irritating little plastic sachets, which deliver a minimal blob of sauce and must play havoc with the environment.
So Sainsburys Stanway, don’t let the side down. Get your house (restaurant) in order and bring your food and service up to the standards we’ve experienced in some of your fellow stores. In the meantime, do feel free to comment by emailing email@example.com