Scenes from an Indonesian Restaurant


It is always nice to find favorite restaurant during trip. When I do, I visit them often, sometimes daily basis. We are more likely to have good experience with different menu in the proven restaurant than trying different restaurants.

So here we are, paying our fifth visit to this restaurant, we found ourselves discussing why their service is so bad.

Yes, our favorite restaurant in Bali has really bad service. Waitresses are very unfriendly and unwelcoming. Food is often late. One time, waitress dropped used spoon with oil onto my wife’s pants, leaving stain. She laughed and said oops, but no apology.

Everything else is perfect. Perfect location, being on Monkey Forest Rd (yes, it’s a real street). Food is amazing with great price. We keep coming back here because of cheap price and high quality of food (good service is luxury for us).

While we were waiting for our food (it took them 50 minutes to prepare our food this time, and there were only two other groups in the restaurant.), we started talking about why they had to have such a bad service. We came up with a couple of theories.


1. Law of Pick Two

You might have seen this triangle chart. In college life, you can only have two of these three qualities (Sleep, Grade and Social Life). If you want good grade with social life, you can not have enough sleep, etc.

Similarly, we discussed, we may only expect two out of three qualities from restaurants: Reasonable Price, Tasty Food, Good Service.

So in this case, if we chose Reasonable Price and Tasty Food, we must say good bye to Good Service. We had also experienced Good Service restaurant with Reasonable Price but crappy food. There are of course high end place with Tasty Food with Good Service, but they are very expensive. So the theory works?

Maybe not. Good Service is cheaper than other two. A major part of Good Service can be achieved by having the right state of mind. What troubling us most was how waitresses are unfriendly. Smiling while talking with customer takes no big effort, yet they can’t do it somehow.


2. They are highly intelligent AI robots

You see we were ready to explore every possible way…

Well, they look emotionless. They never smile to customers. Greetings are very automatic. You know Indonesia is one of the fastest growing countries in the world today. Maybe their technology is so advanced without us knowing, and they have already built human-looking super-intelligent android, while my country is stuck with this.

As much as I like to believe this theory, if this is true, then it means the end of Japanese robotics. So, no.


3. They were trained to be unwelcoming

They are meant to behave this way. Maybe they are trained to be like this!

First we thought it is very unlikely. I mean, who will train its employees how to be unfriendly, unwelcoming, and unhelpful? But when we examined this further, we realized that this might be it.


3.1 They think it’s character

In Japan, there used to be some restaurants, typically run by an old man (we call them Ganko Oyaji), serving really good food with questionable service. If customers were busy talking without touching food, Ganko Oyaji will yell at them, “Stop talking, and finish your food!”. When customers order a food, another Ganko Oyaji may refuse to take order, and force them to eat what he think customers should eat (“Are you stupid ordering this? You should eat this instead.”).

And you know how some (not all, obviously) Japanese react to this? They adore them for its character.

But, this isn’t the case here.

Those Ganko Oyaji had reasons for their raging. They wanted their customers to eat their food in the best condition (Foods are best eaten right after served, and many foods have good season to eat).

These waitresses are unfriendly for no reason…


3.2 Battle of who could take tips

Good service leads to better tips, and maybe that was the problem.

Maybe there were times when waitresses fought over who should take tips from what table. Maybe one day some drunken guy left huge tip, creating huge quarrel. I could see some name-calling and slapping. Maybe the manager thought the root of all evil was tipping itself, and decided to train them to be mean waitresses to avoid further quarrels.


3.3 Controlled entry

Tokyo Disneyland celebrate New Year countdown nicely, but they have to limit the number of visitors to ease congestion. Similarly this restaurant, being as awesome as Disneyland, maybe be trying to control the incoming flow of visitors. Having limited tables might not help, because their food and price is good, people will wait inside of restaurant.

I once went to this really popular restaurant. After waiting for over an hour, we got a table right next to the waiting crowd. That wasn’t pleasant. People were chatting right next to me and peeking at our foods. Maybe this is exactly this restaurant is trying to accomplish here. They want to keep all tables full, but they don’t want too many people waiting for their tables. After years of experiences, they found perfect balance in providing great food and price with terrible service…


4. Occam’s razor

Do you know Occam’s razor? It’s a principle that says the simplest explanation is the most plausible one.

After maybe 50-minute discussion on dinner table, generating many theories mentioned above, we concluded that the simplest explanation must be the answer here too.

So, what could be the simplest explanation here?

This is just a lousy restaurant. They are just lucky to have a great cook, and they are so lazy to update their price, maintaining the same price for years.


Feel like a winner, but I’m sure I will be pondering on this for a while…

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