My dear readers (yes, all three of you), after a couple of (fun) years of writing this blog and many more of living in this city I call home, it’s starting to dawn on me that there is something a little wanting in the restaurant industry here. “That much we already knew” you might retort. But I’m not really referring to the things we usually complain about. I just feel there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the service industry approaches consumers in Geneva and this is especially clear in the restaurant business.
Far be it from me to paint all of the city’s restaurants with the same brush, many of them do go the extra mile, and having a meal at such establishments is a highly pleasurable experience. Quality restaurants are usually expensive and Italian, French or Shibata. Or they’re located in a five-star hotel, but when you’re charging that much money, you really have no excuse. So the fact is great restaurants are few and far between. I’ve drawn up a list of things I feel contribute directly to Geneva’s failings when it comes to how its businesses prepare and serve food. So here goes:
A total lack of imagination
Let’s just start with the most obvious point on this list. Food-related businesses here lack imagination in so many ways, it probably deserves an entire blog post unto itself. But let’s start with a staple that should be found in every culture: hot food you can eat on the go. In the U.S. you’ve got burgers, hot dogs and a plethora of foods from around the world. Go to any large city in the United States and you’ll find quick, hot meal options on every street corner.
Other cultures offer their own signature foods, examples include hot, fresh slices of pizza in Italy, empanadas with various stuffings in South America, fish and chips in the UK, falafel sandwiches in the middle east, etc.
What can you really get here? Don’t kid yourself, you really have three options, only one of which is something of a local specialty: kebabs (not really my cup of tea), McDonald’s (strongly dislike it) or your typical boulangerie fare (cheese and ham sandwiches, ramequins and croissants, etc.). The cold, hard truth is that most boulangeries in Geneva are boring and unexceptional and even the better ones will lose their appeal quickly once you’ve been a few times.
But the lack of commitment to originality doesn’t stop there, say you do go the sandwich route, can you name one original sandwich filling you’ve had in this city? More importantly can you name one original filling that is both fresh and genuinely a treat for your palate? I challenge you!
No attention to detail
Let’s stay on the sandwich topic for a second. Let’s say you do find that exceptionally original, tasty sandwich. Question for you: how good is the bread? Is it fresh? Is it hot out of the oven? I’m thinking probably not. There is a famous sandwich chain in Geneva, other than feeding you various processed fillings (seriously, processed eggs? Oh dear Lord), their bread is pre-baked. Yep, yep, in spite of the high turnover this business enjoys, they can’t even be bothered to make fresh bread. And by the way, bread that isn’t technically fresh and processed fillings and condiments come close to a whopping CHF 10 a pop in this particular chain.
There are numerous places in the rest of the world that understand that when it comes to sandwiches, quality bread is a key ingredient. I can’t think of a single place off the top of my head in Geneva that seems to grasp this concept.
You can’t really go out for breakfast here
I’m not talking about Sunday brunch and boulangeries don’t count either, I mean a real place that serves you various breakfast staples every day of the week. Eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, beans on toast if that’s your thing, bacon or even cereal. Actually there is such a place, it’s called a five-star hotel. Otherwise you’re stuck with a boulangerie continental breakfast. That’s it. But you weren’t hoping for variety, were you?
They always have to botch something
A friend of mine was recently complaining about IKEA’s hot dogs, which I agree are no gourmet meal, but hey, they cost all of one franc! And while I’m no fan, what seemed to bug him was the soft bun. I was like, dude, that’s the one thing they actually got right. Kind of. This whole baguette business is just not the way to eat hot dogs. I use the hot dog example but this is true of lots of other things.
A general unwillingness to commit to quality
Ever have a doughnut in Geneva? It is a truly painful experience. They are dry. They are hard. They are gross. This so consistently seems to be the case, that I am starting to believe coffeehouses and various other places here think doughnuts should actually taste and feel like hockey pucks. But no, let’s not give them a pass quite so easily. They know they’re serving you inedible garbage and they’re doing it anyway. Let’s try a different example, when is the last time you ordered a dish here and enjoyed the side of rice that came with it?
Laziness and/or apathy
I recently went to a sandwich place in town and asked for one of the sandwiches listed on the blackboard. I was politely told there weren’t enough people making sandwiches that day and therefore I could have either of the sandwiches sitting in one of those display cabinets which by the looks of things had been made a couple of hours earlier, or you know, not have a sandwich. Oh and by the way, I was the only customer in the shop at that point. Now, wait a minute, doesn’t it specifically say all sandwiches are made to order? Which brings me to my next point…
Not sticking to initial commitments
Geneva’s food industry is rife with this kind of thing, they’ll tell you they’re open year-round but won’t be, they’ll tell you sandwiches are made to order except when apparently they can’t be bothered, they’ll list items on their menu then when you try to order them, they’ll tell you they’re not available, the list goes on.
Thinking organic or local ingredients get the job done by themselves
Yes, right now organic and local food is the way to go. That is an effort I applaud. Slow food movements are on the rise and that’s definitely a good thing. But that doesn’t mean restaurants should slack off on doing the rest of the job right, namely, making exciting food that actually tastes good and makes you want to come back for more. I personally don’t go to restaurants just because the ingredients they use are organic.
Polite, friendly service is not always on the menu
I saved this one for last because this is a recent and highly unfortunate development in Geneva. What has happened to this city in the last couple of years? There was a time when a restaurant’s waitstaff was generally polite and pleasant to deal with. However, I and a number of my friends and acquaintances have recently experienced a kind of rudeness previously unknown here. Sure, people in the service industry here may not always be warm and fuzzy, but they’re usually very civil.
This, unfortunately, no longer seems to be the case. When it comes to dealing with restaurants, there are many things I’m willing to forgive, it is, after all, a stressful job and a thankless one at that. Forgetfulness or even minor signs of stress I won’t hold against you. Be rude to me once and I’ll never visit your establishment again. This has happened on two separate occasions in the past month. But that’s a post for another time.