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Tearooms serving up angst

A GLOOMY overcast day at Rottnest Island was certainly a dramatic change from the previous breathless day scorcher, almost as if the sun was determined to roast the post-Christmas holiday makers in or out of the teal-blue waters.

An uncomfortable nor-westerly gusted its unwelcome windblasts upon us on the verandah of the Rottnest Tearooms during the busy breakfast session.

The beachfront café was almost to house-full status and obviously battling to keep up with the demand.

Tables were in short supply and the queue was forever extending. At the busy jetty, a fleet of fast ferries, almost large enough to evacuate Dunkirk, continued to unload hundreds of people onto the island and staff all over Rottnest were under pressure.

An extra burden on the island facilities come from a different source. When, at the end of their stay, those that are vacating rented villas and are due to depart the premises by 9am in the early morning for a changeover of tenants, they tend to head for the ferry docks and coffee and a snack.

It’s the last scant taste of Rottnest, a vacation day lost in the departing rush. (Rottnest accommodation is paid for 12 months in advance by the night not the days).

The Rottnest Tearooms staff were under the hammer. Patrons were unhappy and a mood of discontent settled around the tables. The place was serving more angst than bacon and eggs.

The tearooms have a novel and innovative service formula where you queue to order and pay.

On this taking place the patron is supplied with an electronic beeper to take to the table to indicate when their meal is ready.

Waiting staff have been effectively by-passed and like cafeterias of the past, you do a self-serve.

I have no problems with the service style if it operates efficiently. Certainly, it’s not as completely impersonal as a number being broadcast over speakers to remind you to fetch your tray.

All these variations of service are designed to contain costs and keep the price down to the customer, but the queue was 20 to 25 minutes long and, that was only to place orders for the meal planned on. Beepers were in short supply and when the 24 beeping robots are all out on tables—the kitchen is flat out meeting deadlines.

Frustration overflowed and was the order of the morning—both by patrons and staff.

Clients were pained because on queuing for the extended period to place their order, only then to be told certain dishes were not being served that day despite the fact they were on the printed menus.

Remember, the wait in the queue was only to order breakfast; there was then a second term while the meal was being processed that demanded extra, supreme patience.

This frustration flowed over. Some of the staff’s reaction to the patrons voiced disappointment was less than pleasant and in some cases rude, the anger around the room was obvious and could be felt.

In my estimation the tearooms were badly understaffed, tables were slow to be cleaned and cleared. Even the snack bar section only had a single young lady serving and although the queue here wasn’t as time consuming long, she obviously required assistance.

I called the tearoom operators, The Westshore Group Pty. Ltd. It manages both the Rottnest and the recently completed Broome Tearooms. The company has been down-sizing, selling off properties including Jetty’s Smorgasbord Restaurant at Hillary’s Boat Harbour and the Surf Club at Port Beach.

Recently retired director, but still a shareholder, Blair Farquhar, was obviously upset when I contacted him with news of the Rottnest debacle, taking immediate action to remedy the eatery’s problems—but he acknowledged that staffing the facility was difficult.

“ The executive chef walked out two days before Christmas leaving a huge gap to fill,” he explained.

“ Staff accommodation on the island is our real problem. Commuting staff each day has limited success and our island-based staff accommodation facilities are pathetic – staff is a major Rottnest problem.”

When I explained that the Tearooms appeared unable to keep-up with their own menu, he explained a dilemma.

“This is not of our making, the complexity of the menu was forced upon us to comply with the demands of the tenancy agreement with the RIB,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Westshore Company has taken to remedy the current faults in a facility that has been very successful in filling a need in its third season history. Island management teams have been replaced and staffing expanded. These moves will be required to satisfy the Rottnest Island Board’s performance requirements. My information is that two island businesses have been questioned on this basis.

Service quality on Rottnest Island has been a continuing sore through many island boards, successive governments and hoards of frustrated Rottnest visitors for decades. Some staff accommodation is quite acceptable while other facilities desperately need improvement because certain businesses must have permanent staff resident.

A question that must be asked is, have visitor numbers met their peak, particularly at the busiest times or should more competition be encouraged.

A perfect example of competition working is the new bottle shop in the general store. This attractively priced and well-stocked facility competes with its stablemate at Geordie Bay and the hotel (under management) and is doing outstanding figures. In fact the entire, revamped general store is an example of the direction Rottnest Island should be going and the staff are a credit to their management.

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