I hadn’t long been in my job at the Wellington Weekly News when I chanced upon the Waitrose café.
The supermarket was the latest stop on my whirlwind tour of Welly’s eateries. I was on a quest to find a midday spot I could call home, for an hour at least – or indeed at most.
As I entered the café I spotted a generous selection of cakes, and a thinner offering of sandwiches. “Is there anything else available?” I enquired.
I was looking to drop a couple of kilos, and the display of sweets threatened that ambition.
“There isn’t, but if you’d like to buy a salad I can plate it up for you,” the staff member replied.
I bounced over to the fresh goods aisle and spied a Greek style salad. On my return to the dining area I declined to have it plated. The staff member was rushing about on account of a malfunctioning dishwasher, and I didn’t want to burden him with the task.
I took to my seat, content to eat the Greek style salad from the comfort of its plastic housing. I was glad to have found a good lunchtime spot.
The next week I returned, the desire for the feta cheese and olive oil dressing carrying me across the café threshold.
I presented the salad at the counter but was told the purchase could not be transacted at the café. I could still eat it there, I was told, but I would have to pay at a separate till.
Naturally I obliged. Salad in hand I returned to the café.
I had come upon the last of the lettuce leaves when a senior member of staff appeared at my table. ‘You’ve been told you can’t eat in here’ they said. I assumed for a moment they had mistaken me for someone else, a local brigand perhaps.
But I was told ‘no’ I was indeed the suspect. I explained that I was not just permitted, but actively invited by the tremendous café staff to eat the Greek style salad in the café area.
‘And I’m telling you you’re not’, came the reply.
I had no appetite for a prolonged exchange, only to make clear I was not, as seemed to be implied, trespassing into the café to scoff Greek style salads.
Unfortunately, the member of staff who had served me had left as it was time for me to plead my case. As the café patrons watched on at my reprimand, I could not help but feel embarrassed.
I left the store, bereft to know that the conditions to which I had become accustomed, would be no more.
Like so many great philosophers before me, I asked myself ‘why?’, and resolved to find an answer. I contacted Waitrose for clarity on their café policy, and told them my story.
In the event they extended the apologies of senior staff, and offered me a £10 gift voucher by way of recompense. This would of course buy me three entire Greek style salads. But where exactly I could eat them remains unclear.
In a statement a spokesperson for Waitrose Wellington said: “Our Café area is for customers purchasing food there, rather than in our store. However, managers can use their discretion - for example if a customer has dietary requirements that can't be met by our menu.
“We’re really sorry for any confusion, and have spoken to our team to make sure we’re taking a consistent approach in future.”
I wondered if my ambition to lose weight qualified as a dietary requirement. I considered if I would ever again enjoy a Greek style salad in the café. I pondered why I had been singled out for excommunication from the eatery. From the depths of my Asda salad I contemplated the saga. It had in the end, like so much else, thrown up more questions than answers.