From RASA, I returned to Tivoli-Vredenburg. The last weekend of the 10-day-long Utrecht Early Music Festival, a music market takes place there. This market used to be big and sprawl over several floors of the modern building
Looking the horse in the mouth
Before visiting this market, I decided to have another coffee at the “Gegeven Paard” or “Given Horse”. As mentioned in an earlier post, service had gone down considerably while the festival went from strength to strength. Among festival visitors, complaints increased about orders taking ages to arrive.
I had noticed this too, but circumvented problems by telling waitresses I only had 15 minutes before hitting the fringe circuit. This cut back the arrival time to about 5 to 10 minutes. Other visitors of the festival and café continued to complain that time between ordering and the orders arriving took too long to have a coffee at the café with a group of friends.
A few days before the festival’s last day, while working at one of the tables with someone else, orders we had not ordered continued to materialise at our table. We sent them away. It later turned out our table had been mistaken for a table near ours. By then, the number of people visiting the café was decreasing noticeably.
As an event organiser, I know from experience, it may not be wise to frequent the same café or restaurant for weeks or months on end in the Netherlands. In a great many places this ensures the level of service declines. Yet I had fallen into the trap of paying in advance for a card allowing me 10 drinks at the “Gegeven Paard” at a discount. I lived to regret this.
This Saturday, before the round of fringe concerts started, I ordered my morning cappuccino and handed my card so the waitress taking my order ticked off another one of the 10 prepaid ones. Another waitress brought my order about 5 minutes later.
When I returned that afternoon, I set up my laptop and had my card ready. A blond waitress came over and … started to accuse me I had not paid for my coffee that morning. I argued I had and showed her my card,, but the card did not have date stamps. It contained squiggles and another four empty squares for the four coffees or teas I was entitled to. She continued her accusations, but I stood my ground. Reluctantly she took my order and squiggled one of the four remaining squares of my prepaid card.
I asked for a glass of water with the coffee and a cookie as an extra. As usual, another blond waitress brought my paid-for coffee, a free glass of water and the cookie costing 1 Euro. She had the receipt, so I paid her one Euro.
After working at my laptop, drinking my coffee and water and eating my paid for cookie, I bagged my laptop as I wanted to visit the market which that day, closed at 18:00. As I started packing, the first waitress arrived at the table and accused me of not paying for my cookie.
Told her I had paid her colleague who brought my order. She loudly accused me I had not and demanded I point out the colleague. With waiters and waitresses working behind the counter, on the outside terrace and at various sides of the pub, did I remember which girl I had paid over 30 minutes earlier – not me. So I told her I did not see her colleague and anyway: I had paid. I was accused of lying. Lying over one Euro; what I usually donate as a tip.
The waitress who was in the business of accusing me of not paying for pre-paid coffees or cookies, walked over to one of her male colleagues behind the bar. I may look like soft-spoken fudge. It does not mean I always behave like this.
With laptop and belongings bagged, I walked over to the increasing group of waiting staff. At a loud voice, I viciously started complaining about service and treatment to the group. Loud enough, the rest of the customers could enjoy the scene.
What kind of café this was, where the first welcome a regular hears is “you have not paid for your pre-paid coffee”, I continued describing the treatment doled out to me. Having finished with a loud description of my afternoon experience, I stated Tripadvisor and other platforms would soon have my story.
Yes, it takes nerves to kick a scene, as well as training. I was taught to be this assertive by an experienced Dutch events accounts manager. It seems to be the only way to kick disagreeable cloggies staff back into place and get them to behave. I walked out followed by a waiter whining “Oh mam, it was all a mistake”, “Please, we can sort it out”, “M’am, please, I can offer a solution” etc. Did I care? Staff at “Het Gegeven Paard’ had lost me as individual customer, as well as events organiser bringing groups visiting Utrecht to them.
Of course, after this latest experience, on top of what had happened during the previous days, I went back to visiting Carla’s and the Winkel van Sinkel. There is also a very nice Starbuck’s around the corner from the “Gegeven Paard”, as well as a great many other café’s and pubs including Oudaen with its micro brewery. In fact, in Utrecht you are spoiled for choice.
So when you visit Utrecht, my advise now is to steer clear of the “Gegeven Paard”. Even if by now, with the festival over, its staff may be more able to cope with the number of visitors and orders, without messing things up or accusing regulars of not paying their pre-paid bill.
Instruments and sheet music market
As for the market: the number of participants seems to decrease each year. There now as only one stand of a harp builder. There are still quite a few with recorders, at shocking prices. A few regulars selling sheet music and music related books seemed to have dwindled. There were about three stalls of people building harpsichords, virginals, organs with the possibility to try out instruments. There were less stalls of violin, viola da gamba and lute builders.
The market is nice, but no longer has the full-to-overflowing number of stalls it used to have, nor the diversity in instruments. One hour sufficed, where in previous years, before the market moved to Tivoli-Vredenburg, there was enough to see and admire to visit it on the festival’s last Sunday as well.
So the last day I was able to visit the 35th edition of the Early Music Festival in Utrecht ended with one nasty experience and a disappointment. Not exactly the kind of end to a festival one may not be able to attend in 2017.
Les Esprits Animaux, a fringe group I did not hear play during this festival, had been awarded the public’s prize. As mentioned during the 2015 festival: the voting system for this prize is totally opaque and reminds one of the style-Sep-Blatter and worse. Nevertheless, you may already want to block the 25th of August right up to the 3rd of September in your 2017 diary for next year’s Early Music Festival in Utrecht.