Across Scotland, these days, we are growing used to the new age of hospitality. Hotel receptionists welcome us in, whatever the hour, waiters bow and assure us that our order is 'no problem,' gastro-pubs offer us saumon en croûte instead of mutton pies, smiling service-providers ask 'how may I help you?' and express the hope that we 'have a lovely day.'
Whatever happened to that generation of grim Scots landladies, warning us that supper is only served at seven, and the front door will be locked at 10, while any suggestion of entertaining visitors in your room will result in swift ejection?
Readers will be pleased to learn that this great tradition has not vanished altogether. Entertaining friends in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town the other day, I suggested we might share a glass of wine and possibly a light lunch in one of the city's charming public houses. Down half a flight of stone steps, we entered a rather dark, but atmospheric saloon, empty except for our small party of three.
We were 'greeted' by the patron, intent on his newspaper behind the bar, who viewed us with ill-disguised disinterest.
'Er, do you serve food?' we enquired.
'Menus there,' he indicated, nodding towards the end of the bar, where a typed list was stapled together.
'Ah, this looks good,' we said, leafing through a varied selection.
'Burgers only,' came the brusque reply.
We took our seats at the far end of the room. We remained the only people there.
'May we order please?' we asked nervously.
'Orders from the bar,' said the aspirant bartender of the year.
'Well, let's have three burgers, not over-cooked, with two portions of chips please; and a bottle of dry white perhaps?'
We detected a grunt of acquiescence as he wrote the order down.
Five minutes later three tin trays were placed in front of us, followed by six plastic mini-containers, napkins wrapped round a bunch of thin wooden knives and forks – and, only fair to say, a bottle of white wine with three glasses.
At this point, another couple entered warily, took one look round, sensed a certain froideur, and departed. A bell then clanged behind a wall, heralding the arrival of food from the nether regions. The burgers turned out to be perfectly cooked, the chips were fine, and the wine cool. We did not linger long after eating, but called for the bill which, of course, had to be settled at the bar.
The electronic slip informed us that we had consumed 'Open Food 3 x Classic, 2 x Fries and a Sauv.Blanc, subtotal of £51.50' – a steep bill, even for the New Town.
Table 6, it seemed, had been served by 'Jason'. We did not discuss the experience with Jason (if that indeed was his name) since he looked as if his evening job was cage-wrestling. We nodded nervously and headed towards the light. Jason did not seem troubled, or particularly surprised, that we were light on the gratuity box.
He did not hope that we had a lovely day.