Canada’s 150th Birthday… but fail to prepare, then prepare to fail!June 26, 2017
26th June 2017 by Helen Bennett
I have recently returned from a three week holiday to Canada with my husband.
We travelled to Vancouver, Vancouver Island, up to Whistler, across and through to the Rockies and Calgary. We then caught a plane and stayed a few days in Toronto and finished by taking a train to Montreal where we also stayed a few days.
It has to be said that the scenery in Canada is probably the most magnificent and majestic I have ever seen anywhere in the world. You run out of superlatives to describe it in the end!
If only the same could be said about the food, hotels and service.
I had been advised that the people were friendly and food and service was good. Sadly for the vast majority of our stay that was not our experience. Some might argue that the benchmark set for us when we arrived in Vancouver Island was high. We stayed with friends, one of whom is a chef. He not only cooked for us when we arrived, but we also went to his restaurant at the Inn at Laurel Point which was absolutely fantastic.
Our biggest issue was so many menus were so similar and the food all tasted the same – chicken wings, burgers, steaks, fries and the like – tons of fried food and carbohydrates. Or you had cheap Asian food by the bucket load. I yearned for fish, salad, fruit and vegetables occasionally, but they rarely appeared. Some towns – ones that will have tens of thousands of visitors going through each year - had so few decent options it was a case of picking the best of a bad bunch; the food was bland and tasteless. And what’s with the miserly 125ml glasses of wine? So many places only had this size. Oh yes and it is very expensive - really bad value for money - and that was when the rate was favourable!
Service was generally very poor; long waits to be served, long waits for food, apathetic and disinterested untrained staff who are clearly oblivious to just how bad they are, and 15- 20% tip expectation to rub it all in.
We went to one place next to our hotel on our last day in Montreal for our last meal at lunchtime. I was so happy – an entire blackboard full of salads! I selected Tuna Nicoise. The staff behind the counter laughed and spoke in French to each other and then told me they had no salad whatsoever. I questioned the blackboard and they shrugged and mumbled something about “no deliveries arrived.”
At a place in Old Port, we went to a bar on the main thoroughfare. I ordered a Long Island ice tea. It was almost certainly watered down and I told the waitress so. Apart from an insincere and half- hearted sorry, she did nothing; no offer to get me another, nor a replacement, nor a refund nor a reduction. A lunch of poutine from a street food stall was just awful - lukewarm and tasteless.
Again in Montreal, we went to another bar and restaurant. We waited 15mins for a miserable waiter who did not even get us the standard jug of water that everyone else had. A lobster burger, a beef burger – both with no side dishes at all, a glass of wine and a beer set us back nearly £42. A customary 20% tip was clearly expected.
One meal – a pasta dish and fried chicken in Lillooet was tasteless and served by a woman who looked like she was high. We arrived at 7.30pm and was unaware that the restaurant shut at 8pm. She soon made it very obvious! The motel we stayed there had a bed cover so smelly and stiff that it could have walked out the bedroom on its own.
Lake Agnes Tea shop at Lake Louise was lovely but having walked two hours uphill to get to it, to order a tea and be told they could not find any milk was depressing to say the least – and the staff were not in the least bit bothered by it.
In Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto, we went to a place for a late lunch. We again waited an interminable time before someone came to serve us and then again for our food.
I had fish ‘n chips in Calgary and if it were not for the fact that my relatives recommended the place, I would not have eaten it – it was virtually inedible.
Our hotel in Montreal was devoid of all human interaction. In all my life, I have never stayed in a hotel where the staff did not speak to you at all. They looked miserable and ignored all the customers!
Our hotel in Vancouver had a small spa and the steam room was not working. (At least when I mentioned it on checking out they took off the price of the breakfast to make up for it.)
I saw the carer of a disabled customer, get a parking ticket as she went in to pick him up in his wheelchair. The parking warden refused to listen to her explanation. That was really disgraceful.
A West Jet air steward spilled a drink all over my husband, said sorry, literally threw him a few serviettes and moved swiftly on to the next customer!
I was shocked at the number of road works, blocks and detours – coming into peak season; it made driving really tough at times.
To add some balance here – it was not all bad.
The one business that did impress us was Via Rail. We got stuck on a train outside Montreal for 4hrs due to someone being killed on the line. They kept us informed continually, the staff gave out free food and drinks and we later received an e-mail offering a full refund – we didn’t even have to ask.
Also, at The Post Hotel in Lake Louise we stayed one night and had to find somewhere else the second night. The receptionist recommended Lake Louise Inn across the road. When I arrived there to enquire about a room the receptionist miraculously knew my name and advised me to go back to the Post; I had left my laptop there and their receptionist rang them to see if I had checked in yet!
My husband liked that if he asked what beers tasted like, they let him have a sip before buying.
A quaint little café in Sooke called Shirley’s was lovely and the 112 Restaurant in Revelstoke gave excellent service, as did the nearby Wild Bear café for breakfast.
So come on Canada you need to do better than this. It’s not like this road trip isn’t popular. You are about 30 years behind the rest of the western world when it comes to mid-market eating and food trends; and service does not appear to be in the psyche of many Canadian hospitality staff.
What a missed opportunity! Canada is celebrating their 150th year – what a shame they didn’t get ready for it first.