(apologies for the length of this post; we think it is worth reading).
It is not normal for me to be writing this note. I am a bit confused on how to approach the subject; my mind tells me to be cautious but my heart tells me I should approach this subject head on.
Mental illness is a serious matter.
Sometimes, when we are unaware of the issues we smile. Maybe we smile out of discomfort of the situation. Sometimes we react as if the situation we find ourselves in and the circumstances and the experience are directed at us and we feel threatened.
I remember once taking my friend’s son out for a trick or treat session one Halloween a few years back in London. We were attacked by this old man. I remember he wore a dark suit and red socks. I do not know why I remember these details. This old man was accompanied by a younger woman who tried to control him. My reaction was to protect the young child and to retaliate. The woman apologised on his behalf (amidst his protestations) and told us not to make a big deal out of it. We were shaken, but no harm was done.
My biggest fear in life is not cancer or some other disease like that awful illness. My biggest fear is mental illness, mental instability, call it mental disability. When filming a documentary about Alzheimer’s in Philadelphia a few years back I experienced first hand the effect brain damage has on relationships, people, their relatives and those close to them. The inability to reach that person, the lost memories, the isolation. I really do not want to live through that.
Sometimes, the pressure of our work, working 7 days a week for 16 hours a day can render our mental health fragile to say the least. These days we seem to be sailing too close to the edge. We subject ourselves to such traumatic experiences and endurance challenges that it is miraculous that we are not more mentally disabled.
Hold on. We run a restaurant. Margo's. Valletta, St. Julian’s, Mistra Bay. Why on earth are we harping on about Mental Health Issues (capitals intended)? Bear with me. Let me tell you what happened today.
After finishing service at our Margo's in Mistra Bay where everything went swimmingly and customers told me how silly was the person posting stupid comments about animals in the jungle (the kids refer to it as the jungle and they climb trees and chase the chicken and collect eggs while the parents are relaxed during lunch) and that I should not take these things personally and not to change anything because the kids love it as it is, I received a call from Valletta’s Margo's telling me that note everything was well. I was told to call someone urgently – a customer who just walked out after being served poorly (to put it mildly). I asked what went wrong. “The Manager had a complete meltdown; a nervous breakdown right in the middle of service”.
I called the customer and we had the most frank and open discussion. Half an hour of man to man talking about the experience, how some of the staff were amazing and how this guy started shouting, crying and behaving in a very erratic manner.
Eventually, they managed to persuade the manager of Margo's Valletta to go home while they got on with a rather low key service. Carnival on the streets; havoc in the restaurant.
As I write this, four in the morning (cannot sleep) I have been unable to get in touch with the Manager. I hope he is well.
I saw some posts slating our service and nasty comments about how we invest so much money in the product but not in the service that I thought I pre-empt further nastiness and explain what went on.
I apologise to all our customers for this.
This is life. Life at its worst.
What triggered this? Well, last week, as misfortune would have it, the staff had another bad experience. That also triggered another backlash. We think that the experience of the previous week had triggered something in the Manager and the situation got worse over the week, thus culminating in what happened today.
A very unfortunate chain of events.
The following letter, written to the man who complained last week, explains what happened last week in a rather graphic manner – not for the faint hearted.
When I asked the manager whether any of the customers helped in that situation, he replied, “no one helped; on the contrary, they were goading us, screaming at us for service. No one lifted a finger”.
So sad. This is not the Malta I want my children to grow up in.
Here is the letter:
Dear Mr. Mallia,
Thank you for your review that you posted both on Facebook (RUBS?) and Tripadvisor to ensure maximum damage. I am personally very sorry that you had such a bad experience at Margo's. Sometimes circumstances work against us and, as in this case this was way beyond our control.
As soon as I read the review, I also received a note from a mutual good friend telling me, “please handle the situation personally because a friend of mine went to Margo's in Valletta and had a terrible experience”. I was already in the car by then driving to Valletta’s Margo's. I assured her I would.
Apparently we will be talking later on today.
My key staff personnel are professional, talented and dedicated to their work. There is the odd trainee who behaves just like that – a trainee – warts and all.
As such, like any other restaurant, Margo's is a going concern in the business of providing a service and a product. Hope springs eternal and we hope that we could even make a little profit over a period of a year. Some situations though are far more important and for us our priorities were never profitability but the excellence of the product, regardless of the cost.
Yet even if we did not have this work ethic, there are other things that are even more important in life than our passion – life, people, care for one another.
Lately, a group of people were arrested but released without charge for taking photos and putting them on FB of a mother and a daughter trapped in a car under a fallen tree during the storms. No one helped. You find that disgraceful? I do. I find it abhorrent, disgusting, callous and inhumane.
So allow me to accuse you of being disingenuous in your comments.
Let me explain.
I already heard of this incident but I did not connect it with you and your table.
When you were at Margo's there was a medical emergency with one of the customers. Apparently while this woman was going to the bathroom she fainted but luckily one of the staff caught her before falling and hitting her head.
This woman ended up vomiting and excreting blood from all orifices in the middle of the restaurant.
The staff’s first priority, according to my guidelines is to deal with this situation and attend to this woman in the most professional manner and to call for an ambulance.
Once the woman left the staff had to clean up the mess as quickly as realistically possible and proceed as if nothing happened.
None of the customers helped. Instead the man who ordered a Jack and Coke and shouted at the manager that he only drinks vodka (CCTV shows that he actually did ask for “Jack Coke”) asked the staff, “can you hurry up and clean this mess?”
Not knowing what happened I was intent to take some drastic action when I left my office last night while driving to Margo's in Valletta.
Instead, I left the restaurant humbled by the decisions the staff took and proud of them for prioritising in the right manner.
Money? Who cares about money when we are dealing with humans at their most vulnerable.
If I was in their situation, I would not know how to react. They were telling me with tears in their eyes how scared they were because they have never seen such things – blood coming out from this woman from everywhere – in their short lives. They handled this situation while coping with 120 customers in 3 hours. No one ever prepares you for such things in life.
Maybe the readers reading this response should take note – we will still do the same next time if the situation arises. We hope you do not mind.
A 6 quid pizza over a human life? This is not just a restaurant. This is Margo's and we are extremely proud of it.
Sorry that you had to wait an hour Mr. Mallia.