Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Lobster Pot in Felpham: fancy waiting an hour for a sausage sandwich?

A rather nice illustration of Felpham's Lobster Pot restaurant.

Look, I'm going to be honest from the start: in my opinion Felpham's Lobster Pot restaurant on the West Sussex coast near Bognor Regis, has lost something – and I think it's the larger-than-life lady that used to run the place (who has since left and now runs a B&B). Back in the day (and we're not talking years ago either) she was in charge and the customers knew where they stood. They knew that they wouldn't have to wait 30 minutes for their food, they knew that the tables would be regularly cleared and, well, they knew that when they came off the beach in search of a cup of tea or a sandwich or anything, that all would be well.

Avid readers of this blog will know that I, your humble narrator, have a lot of time for the Lobster Pot – and for good reason. As a child, my parents would bring my brother and sister and me to Felpham for our annual holidays. We used to rent a house on the beach on the Summerley Estate and we loved it – and still do.

The Lobster Pot, which used to be called Perdido's many years ago, was part of our holiday fun. We'd walk along the promenade in the sun (it never rained) and enjoy traditional caff favourites such as sausage, egg and chips, with lashings of HP Sauce, washed down with a fizzy drink, normally Coke or Pepsi, and then walk back along the beach. It was a good mile, if not longer, to the house called 'Merryweather', which is still there today, but has, I think, lost the name.

Anyway, the larger than life lady has gone, the place is now open at night as well as during the day, it has a slightly trendy air about it – and, of late, the service has been very poor.

Today (April 20th) the sun was shining brightly (at 23 deg C, London temperatures were on a par with Alice Springs)  and there were a lot of people taking in the sun on the beach.

Whenever I visit Felpham, the Lobster Pot is my first port of call and so it was today. But unlike in the good old days when the larger-than-life lady was in charge, there was a warning on the counter reading something like, "All food orders will take 30 minutes." I should have known better and ordered a slice of cake or a biscuit from the counter-top display, but I opted for the sausage sandwich – and waited over an hour for it!

Other customers were getting visibly annoyed as they too waited unnecessarily long periods for what amounted to very basic and easy-to-prepare food. My wife had arrived at the restaurant ahead of me – by about 15 minutes – and had ordered separately for herself (quiche and salad) and our daughter Serena (sausage, beans and chips) while I went in search of a cashpoint machine. Serena's sausages, by the way, were a cut above standard caff sausages.

I reached the restaurant at around a quarter past one, but the sausage sandwich I ordered didn't arrive until a quarter past two. Appalling! I made a point of nudging one of the 'waiters' and informing him that I'd been waiting for an hour for one sausage sandwich. In that time I could have made half a dozen, I almost informed him.

There were plenty of other customers getting steadily angry and developing peeved expressions as their food failed to materialise and all I can say is that, perhaps, the menu is not right for the day-time trade or the staff are too inexperienced to cope with such high demand. I began to wonder how they would perform on a hot July day.

The fact that there's a 30-minute wait for any food order means they must be doing something wrong. Surely, if a lot of the meals involve frozen chips, as they do, it's got to be fairly straightforward if you're in the catering business. And if sausages are involved, why don't they cook off a load of them and have them ready for service? Likewise, the fillings for sandwiches. Don't tell me everything is cooked to order – now that would be ridiculous for this sort of establishment, even if it does take on a different character at night. During the day, it's a traditional seaside caff!

I'm not a caterer, but I've written a fair bit about food and restaurants in my time (as editor of Pub Food and Hotel & Restaurant magazines). I've listened to chefs of all abilities discussing how they conduct themselves in the kitchen and, whichever way you look at it, the Lobster Pot is getting something seriously wrong – or it's certainly getting it wrong during the day as I've yet to experience the nocturnal offering. Either they're slacking and not putting everything into it, or they're simply not up to it. The average daytime customer, who invariably wants a sandwich or something with chips, shouldn't be expected to wait an hour for it! Although, the problem here, however, is that customers pay up front for their food and become, in a sense, a captive audience for incompetence. Either way, the Lobster Pot was cheesing off a lot of its customers, including yours truly.

Personally, I won't be going back in a hurry – and for me, that's saying something – and I know that others probably won't be returning either. Next time I visit Felpham, I'll go to the larger place at the sea end of Blake Road: it's just as good, I reckon, and, hopefully, I won't have to wait an hour for a sausage sandwich or a plate of chips. Why should anybody waste precious time waiting for a simple and easy-to-prepar snack item? In many ways, it would have been fine if my incredibly long wait had been an isolated case; but no, there were many irate customers on the verge of losing their rags.

Bring back the larger-than-life lady!

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