My first rule for writing restaurant reviews is to visit the restaurant at least twice and sometimes more than that. The point is to be fair – everyone can have a bad day, make a mistake etc. However I recently verified that this can go both ways.
My initial impression of Elia Greek restaurant was a great one. I spent a couple of weeks raving about the food there to anyone who would be interested. I was there on a saturday night and my friend and I were the only patrons. I thought it was quaint and cosy; I even thought that the room upstairs that seats around 20-25 people might be great for intimate events. With that point in mind, I even made a remark to the owner on my way out about how the room upstairs would be ideal for a reading and asked whether he would be interested in such an event. He nodded enthusiastically and I gave him my business card.
Two weeks later I called back. After the initial “No English… phone… eleven.. twelve” (presumably by the scared elderly woman behind the counter) I got through to him and explained whom I was again and reminded him about our conversation. I repeated that I would like to organise a reading. Now, I appreciate that there is a language barrier, the owner is Greek, however I fail to imagine what other interpretations to ‘reading’ there might be. And if he didn’t understand me, all he needed to do was ask. We’ll get to that later. I asked him (note: asked.. not told) if it would be ok to book the room upstairs for about 15 people, maximum 20 and whether he could send me some prices for platters or deals etc by email. He said he would get back to me. Three days later he called and basically read some things off the menu as examples of what he could offer us. Not quite understanding whether he got the gist of what I was asking for, I resolved to explain to him that I would order some platters for the group (I actually gave him an example here and mentioned 5 platters) and told him the rest of the people might order more food if necessary and obviously drinks.
On the day my group started staggering in from 7pm, since this was a casual event they weren’t all punctual and already I could see him getting antsy at this. As soon as there were 4 of us I started ordering a platter at a time. Please note that in the end I ordered more than I had originally told him I would and one of my guests decided to get an extra platter to share with her partner.
After 40 minutes when about 8 of my guests had arrived he asked me whether I would prefer to keep the upstairs area reserved for our private function. I explained that since we would be reading things out (again, where was I not clear?) that this might disrupt the event and that is why I had asked for that room. I take it that when someone asks to book the room, the owner has the right to refuse if this does not suit him! Eventually more people arrived and we were 11 in the end. Not quite the 15 I’d planned, but then again some things cannot be controlled. We drank and ate merrily. The food was great, mind you.
After some more time he pulled me aside to once again ask how many people would be turning up. I told him that some of my guests could not make it unfortunately and he started getting worked up. He said he had been refusing patrons (although the tables downstairs were empty, quite confusing) and that I had put him in an uncomfortable position. Once again he asked whether he could let people sit upstairs. This time I told him that it was up to him, that it was his restaurant after all and up to him to take that decision. I could see his point of view that after all we were only occupying half the space and despite the fact that he could have refused my custom when I called to book, I thought it would be fine to accommodate him too.
However he did not send any people to sit upstairs and his service deteriorated rapidly. He stopped clearing plates and glasses off the table; there was an order for wine that we had to make twice and there was an obvious attitude about him. So much so that I had to clear some plates away myself to make space for the platter that he had brought upstairs and left on an adjacent table (!).
At 9:45pm he asked to speak to me privately. He was red in the face and fuming already and he told me that they needed to close for the evening. I was rather taken aback but saw that he was cross and asked for the bill. It would have been nice to be given some notice about such an early closing time. Some of us were about to order coffees and sweets. But I guess it was not to be. He started making a big fuss whilst making the bill, telling me again that I had put him in an awkward position that I had promised that 20 people would be coming and ‘having a proper dine’. I distinctly recalled using the words ‘light meal’ on the phone but at the time of this argument I was so startled and surprised that aside from correcting his numbers there was not much I could do.
He said that he had to turn many people away because of our event. So why had he pulled me aside twice to ask about this and then did not let people come upstairs even after I’d given him the go-ahead? This question did not please him at all. He said that I had not explained what we would be doing and that we were taking up all the space. Ladies and gentlemen, I promise you that I COULD have been MUCH rowdier with one friend in there and that I could have perhaps disturbed the whole restaurant. However the reading was of an entirely different nature. 11 bookish people reading part of novels and poetry out and clapping and thanking each other and having discussions. Not exactly a rugby team banging on tables and throwing scraps of food around, no? As regards the space, 11 of us were occupying exactly 11 chairs and 2 tables. I don’t see how we could have been better in a space-saving manner.
He was livid and as he was about to finish the bill he declared that he would be charging me for those extra 5 people who did not come, because apparently we had not spent enough money. My friend and I asked why and he kept repeating numbers and the words ‘proper dine’ and getting very worked up. I actually needed to ask him to calm down. He punched in an extra 50 euros and handed me the bill.
I made a quick decision to just pay him – for a couple of reasons: the evening had been so pleasant in terms of amazing company and success of the event; I was in a great mood and didn’t feel like getting worked up like he was and the most prominent reason is that I was utterly confused & surprised by his behaviour. I almost found his attitude and hyperbolic anger hilarious. Would he have had this threatening reaction if faced with a Tyson-like opponent? (Or would he have rolled himself up into a vine leaf? :p I kid I kid)
Just to be clear – I can understand his conundrum; he is there to make money and not to accommodate nerds who want to share poetry and apparently not consume enough. I would have even been understanding if he decided to send other patrons upstairs (and who knows, maybe they would have appreciated the stories too!); I would have been accepting of an explanation in terms of not making enough profit to justify keeping the space private or if he had told me he prepared food for 15 but we didn’t order all that food. What irked me was his attitude. He wanted me to order food for 15 people, then why not serve this food and tell me I needed to pay for it, rather than make me pay for food that was never served? Why not tell me what he was going to do before getting red in the face and declaring he was closing the restaurant and charging me for food we had not consumed?
And at the end of the day – what is 50 euros compared to 11 people walking out of there having had a pleasant experience, returning with other friends & family and like me, raving about what a good time they’d had at this restaurant. My opinion is that his actions were shortsighted and greedy. An unfortunate experience means that neither of us is ever going to set foot in that restaurant again and he is likely to get a bad name because of this. I repeat, is that worth 50 euros? On an island with hundreds of excellent restaurants and a population who loves to eat out, how long is it going to take for people to start talking? A very big pity Elia. Your food is great, your attitude unacceptable. I could throw in a punch about the Greeks and their economy here, but I didn’t manage to get enough Retsina in me since the evening was cut short..
Update: My friend returned to the restaurant after discussing details of the issue with me. He asked for the 50 euros back – he got various responses;
1) that I had not informed him about ‘the poetry‘ (!).
2) that we could get a couple of friends with us to consume 50 euro worth of food (to which my friend’s response was that we do not wish to ever visit that restaurant again)
3) that you don’t expect people to just drink water or soft drinks when they eat out (this was the best answer, hilarious and so offensive!)
In the end he ‘gave in’ reluctantly and handed back the money. So.. it wasn’t just a man having an unfortunate bad day.. wow.