food

'The seemingly innocuous café incident that deeply divided everyone I told.'

It was a regular Sunday morning that started out as a regular Sunday should. Sun out. Activewear on (for the exercise that may or may not happen, who cares). Destination: Coffee.

My partner and I decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and take a longer walk than usual to a café in the leafy backstreets of an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It was packed, so we took up the waitress’ offer to sit in a waiting area with a low table until a proper table became available.

We ordered our coffees (me: large soy cap, him: regular soy latte), and our breakfasts (me: the haloumi stack, him: scrambled eggs on toast with a side of sausages). All of the above arrived just perfectly, and by now we were cosy in our nook and didn’t want to move when a regular table became free. We had a nice view of the street, the trees, the passersby and enough space to just chill with the newspaper.

UNTIL IT HAPPENED. My partner started to make the first cut of his toast and the entire plate of eggs went flying, plate akimbo like an Olympic diver backflipping into the abyss of… the floor.

Cannot. Take. You. Anywhere. via GIPHY

We had an eggs overboard situation. Two attentive young staff came running over to help clean up, and they totally seemed to understand my partner’s misfortune (I won’t call him clumsy because that’s usually my claim to fame).

The kitchen made his eggs again and brought it on over, and we thought that was just lovely of them. But the café owner had a different take on what shall now be known between you and me as EggGate.

After we’d finished the meal, we went up to the counter to pay and the owner dropped an eggshell, erm, bombshell.

“We’re going to have to charge you 50 per cent of the [dropped] meal, and 100 per cent of the replacement,” she snapped as she printed the bill. “Ordinarily we’d charge you for both.”

Wait. WHAT? We didn’t ask for the replacement. We’d been led to believe the kitchen made the non-dropped breakfast out of the goodness of their hearts. Uh-uh, our fault, we had to pay.

I went through a range of emotions from understanding to fury. I could see the business owner’s point to a degree – lost food/labour is annoying. In her mind, the 50 percent was a discount.

But was it fair? Surely, as humans, we understand that accidents happen?

Watch: Five signs you’re drinking too much coffee (Post continues after)

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My partner was less diplomatic about it. He argued the point, because we were never given the option to reorder or pay extra upfront, saying, “It’s your right but I’m just saying it’s not a great business decision because we’ll never come back here, and we come here a lot.”

We paid and left with a bad taste in our mouths, especially because the snarly owner gave the clear impression that our money was more important than our presence. Later, then.

Not long after, I reposted my partner’s Instagram Story to my own, with a poll asking if EggGate was fair – still trying to figure out where I stood.

I didn’t expect my stupid First World Problem would get such a response: 160 people voted and it was split between 57 percent feeling it was not fair, and 43 percent thinking the café owner was right to charge for the uneaten meal.

Um, so this is our life now. Image: @adambub

I told various friends and colleagues the next day and the responses were divided. Here are some of their comments and questions:

"It's BS, when you go out dining with kids they always knock over their drinks and get refills at no extra cost."

"If it was your fault, of course – the knocking down, I mean. But I totally agree with the fact that they should have asked first."

"There's a lot of details missing here. How much food was consumed? Did they offer to make it again or did you guys?" After I filled them in: "If they offered, that's bad on them to charge. That's pretty poor service."

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"Was the table bumpy?"

All valid points. The table was not bumpy. Yes, we could have moved to a higher table but at that point we were settled and quite frankly, eating at a low table at a café in urban Sydney is normal (lucky we weren't on crates).

And yes, they should have absolutely given us that choice before making another meal, rather than dropping it on us at bill time, and in a rude and accusatory way.

Ugh, this whole thing is fraught and I feel like a terrible person for even worrying about this when there are starving people in the world.

But it raised some interesting questions about customer service expectations among the people I know.

So tell me, where do you stand on the issue? Is it lousy to charge a customer extra for being clumsy? Are the costs of running a small business more important than customer satisfaction? Is paying half of the lost meal a reasonable compromise? Let me know in the comments.

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