Random observations from an American in London: Why is service in restaurants so crappy here?

Here’s another random observation that hit us quite rapidly upon our arrival in London and is reinforced almost every time we decide to dine out:

Why is restaurant service here so crappy?

We’ve been to several restaurants now, and only one of them (ThaiSquare near Trafalgar Square) had reasonably good service by American standards. I have to wonder if it had something to do with the fact that we were out with a former postdoc of mine and her husband, both of whom are natives, her having moved back to London after finishing up in my lab. A second restaurant, Bertorelli on St. Martin’s Lane had adequate, although by no means speedy, service. Oddly enough, both restaurants also had the best food we’ve experienced since our arrival.

At pretty much every other restaurant that we’ve been to, the service has been substandard at best and terrible at worst, and that included and that included the one Indian restaurant in the city that we hit that, contrary to the reputation of Indian restaurants in London, happened to have just so-so food. However, it also had absolutely atrocious service. (Even Boswell‘s wasn’t that hot in terms of service–just adequate.) No one seems ever to check to see if you’d like a refill on drinks or even water. Once they’ve brought you your food, it seems, the wait staff decide that you’re completely taken care of and move on. Then, when it comes time to have the bill brought, on more than one occasion I’ve wished I had a flare gun to send up a distress signal to get the server’s attention. It’s gotten to the point where we actually go to Starbucks now for our breakfast because we don’t want to waste all the time it takes to get a real sit down breakfast, particularly since we’ve been rather bad about getting early starts. For lunch, we now think that hitting a pub where you order food at the bar and pay in advance is becoming the way to go.

Once again, this is a small sampling and anecdotal experience, but from other comments in some of my other brief posts about my visit and after having been here five days, I get the feeling that this is more than just bad luck or a poor sample size.