Disappointing experience in a posh patisserie

Patisserie Valerie, Cambridge, England

Image courtesy of Wikipedia, Green Lane

When I walk into an upmarket establishment, being it a restaurant, designer clothes shop or a patisserie I expect an upmarket service that should match the experience that people running that establishment are trying to deliver, often associated to a premium price tag.  Marketers will tell you that the overall experience, rather than a single component of it, is what they are trying to deliver.   Unfortunately the marketer who designs a product or a service is not always and necessarily close to the final user.  The sales or the customer service operations in catering are usually delivered by people employed part time, paid minimum wage or similar; these are, most of the time, people who are doing this job while waiting for something better or just to get by.

This is a story of how expected premium service in a posh place goes down the drain thanks to a couple of these people.  Last week I was extremely disappointed of my visit at Valerie Patisserie in Cambridge, on the corner between Jesus Lane and Bridge Street.  We initially decided as a family to have a slice of their tasty cakes to celebrate the amazing results that both our daughters achieved at schools as well as in their music and dance tests.  It was a celebration and we wanted to do it in a slightly special way, something that we don’t do very often.

Valerie is equipped with furniture and the image of an upmarket place and I remember when we went there the first time a total bill of over £30 for what essentially were 4 desserts, 3 fruit juices and one espresso coffee; already at that time the food was good but the overall experience was pretty cold and not as worth going back.  At that time it was open for just a few weeks so I kind of blamed the lack of experience and knowledge from newly recruited staff.  Last week’s experience simply added further negative feelings to the previous not too brilliant episode.  To some extent I can understand why people at the nearly end of their shift are perhaps tired and are already switched in “going home” mode.  This is perhaps an excuse but not a justification for not offering good manners and fine customer service… in any case I struggle to believe that lack of care for customers is listed as an allowance in their job specs…

We arrived at about 6:15pm and walked in; nobody was at the counter so we were wondering around for a few tens of seconds looking for a place for the 4 of us to sit; a male waiter appeared from the very back and nearly forced us to sit at a table nearly the entrance while nearly all of the others were empty.  We were offered a menu to make our choices.  The menu is very simple with just names of the food and drinks available while the amazing cakes in display have names that are not necessarily obvious to me.  So before making a random choice I decided to go and ask for some assistance and information about the cakes.  I was standing by the display counter that shows cakes toward the outside on Bridge Street and, again I was waiting for somebody to ask a typical “may I help you?” but unfortunately I just got a “are you ok there?”; when I simply said “yes, can you please explain to me what these cakes are and what’s in there?” (I hope it makes sense as a legitimate question or is it just me?).  The young lady in front of me looked as if I asked to see her tax return and again asked “what would you like to know?”.  I replied that 6 different cakes were before my eyes and I had no idea what’s in each of them.  She quickly replied with a hurried list of names, for which I had to ask again what was in each of them; without too much care and nearly rushed off.  I really felt as if she was doing a favour to me.  While my strong instinct was to get my family and leave straight away I did not want to disappoint my little girls so we ordered, been served quite swiftly and have a strong feeling of being in the wrong place.

My daughters enjoyed their choices and quite frankly my cake was also very good; however the very negative feeling that the whole experience generated is definitely not inspiring a return to the place any time soon; considering they have many different members of staff it might well be that next time I will feel like among friends… or as I would like to feel, in a posh place with top customer service, served by people that show they care about my experience.  Am I asking for too much?  I hope not!

2 thoughts on “Disappointing experience in a posh patisserie

  1. You can count on one hand the restaurants in Cambridge where the service is both competent and friendly. The strange thing is that good service doesn’t cost a restaurant or cafe anything and a customer will always remember it, so why not focus on it?

  2. Hi Lautaro, thanks for the reply; to some extent it’s true it doesn’t cost more but it’s probably about motivating people to be good at what they do rather than simply having a job at minimum wage

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