Full disclosure: I don’t get out much. You probably guessed that. It’s true. Beyond the occasional desperate family lunch at one of the two cheap sushi joints on our roster, we eat at home. I like to cook.
So heading to Whistler for a weekend meant surrendering to whatever was listed on the menu in the places that would tolerate children.
In hindsight, I should have packed a cooler and never set foot in a restaurant; the place we had borrowed for the weekend had a well-equipped kitchen. Cooking would have been a delight.
Also, and this is important, it was my wife’s birthday. We would be at the mercy of whatever place we chose to celebrate her birthday dinner, again, in a place that could stand kids.
We settled on a middle-of-the-road place that serves slushy, brightly coloured cocktails, tolerable food, and had a patio where there were already children busily colouring paper placemats. Score. Certainly less than I would have wanted for a birthday dinner, but with young children the options were limited.
We sat outside on the patio and ordered one of those slushy drinks (ironically, to be sure) along with a disappointing beer for me, and juice for the kids.
To their credit, the children’s menu included salmon and the promise of vegetable material on the plate. Maybe eating out wasn’t so bad after all.
When dinner arrived, a server barked out, “I have two kids’ meals,” then managed to put one of them in front of my wife. Another person arrived with three more plates and plopped them down on the table. Ten seconds later, our server wafted by to ask us how we were enjoying everything.
In the restaurant business that’s known as a “quality check.”
“Fine,” I said, clearly unimpressed. Quality. Checked.
We ate without gusto and regaled the kids with stories of how food used to be in the ’80s and ’90s, when cream reigned supreme.
At some point, I stepped inside to explain to a staff member that it was my wife’s birthday and that it would be great if, when they brought the kids’ desserts, they could also bring out something chocolate with a candle or something in it for the birthday girl. I was promised at the very least, a sparkler.
The kids’ desserts arrived with the server unapologetically dropping part of one of them on the ground. Then, after a short delay, the “special dessert” for “the special day” arrived. It was literally tossed onto the table, the plate clanging like a lost hubcap as it tried to find its own centre of gravity, and finally coming to rest. No candle, no sparkler, nothing.
I know. It was an inexpensive, kid-friendly restaurant – what did I expect? There are scores of world-class restaurants in the village, places with sommeliers and linen.
But the lacklustre experience of our first meal was repeated time and time again over the weekend. At other restaurants, at information kiosks – even reporting a lost camera was met with a stunning lack of sympathy. In every case this was not some systemic problem – a lack of staff or a sudden rush of customers. It came down to whether the individual in front of us cared enough to deliver more than the bare minimum. Most often they did not.
I suppose I expected that the legacy of hosting the 2010 Winter Games would extend beyond the weathered remnants and signage that tourists so love to use as backdrops for their photographs.
This is a resort that three years ago welcomed the world. It was at the top of its game. Now it feels a little like a middle-aged man in a comfortable relationship. It has grown a slight paunch, and can spend some time on the couch. It no longer feels the need to impress.
There was an exception: The young woman who sold us gondola tickets not only patiently but enthusiastically drew out a map of where we could find a family-friendly hike.
The weather was gorgeous, the gondola ride up the mountain, spectacular. We hiked. We saw deer resting in the shade of cedar trees, and we spotted a bear and her cub trundling across the mountain as we rode the chair lift down.
There is no denying the natural beauty of the place.
But the people who work there could sure do a better job of selling it.