A friend of mine is having a baby shower in May and really wanted to find somewhere in Manchester that did a decent vegetarian and vegan afternoon tea. There is the Tea Hive in Chorlton that is known to have a vegan offering, but as my friend and many of her guests (including myself) work in Chorlton, she wanted to try and have it elsewhere. I searched a few vegan pages on Facebook and came across a suggestion for the Richmond Tea Rooms in Manchester’s Gay Village. I looked it up and it sounded great, so forwarded the suggestion on to my friend. She got in touch with them by email and it was confirmed that they could do both a vegetarian and vegan afternoon tea, and with notice could include vegan cakes as well. Great! My friend wanted to do a trial run, so emailed to ask if we could check it out 4-5 weeks later, and was told that it would be fine.
A few days before the trial, my friend got in touch to remind them and ask if the vegan option would still be available to try, a reply came a day or so later to confirm that it would be fine and there was no need for us to book. Awesome! My friend, her best friend and I met up today to give it a try. As soon as I saw my friend she looked a little concerned, the tea rooms had got in touch just as she set off to say that they’d had a busy weekend so were out of vegan cake, but a new batch were in the oven and they were looking forward to seeing us. My friend emailed back to ask if they needed more time to get ready as we’d be there within the hour, but no reply. We turned up at 2.15pm and asked if the vegan cakes were ready. The staff member we spoke to went to the kitchen to check and came back to say that they weren’t yet in the oven so it would be hours until they were ready. We were a little confused as we’d been told they were already in the oven, we mentioned this but the look on his face gave away that this really hadn’t been the case. He suggested we give them a few hours and hoped we didn’t mind warm cake as they most likely wouldn’t be cooled in time.
A little annoying but as we all work in retail we understood that sometimes weekends can be a nightmare and small businesses can only do their best. We decided to go watch a film at the cinema, which would give them almost 3 hours to have everything ready.
We got back to Richmond Tea Rooms at 5pm and we were starving! We’d been saving ourselves to eat at 2pm, so you can imagine how hungry we were by the time we returned. We asked about the vegan cakes and were told they’d just come out of the oven (how long does it take to bake and cool a few cakes?), so they could accommodate us. We were seated quickly and given a menu to choose from. We took the time before ordering to take in the decor at this place. It’s awesome. It’s Alice in Wonderland themed, it’s OTT, it is really really cool. We all loved the look of the place and really wanted to have a good experience so we could come back with 20 people in May. I was also excited to blog about a vegan afternoon tea option, it would be my first proper afternoon tea experience too.
We ordered 2 vegan Queen’s Tea and 1 vegetarian version. This would consist of ‘selection of cakes and delights. Finger sandwiches and savoury pastry. Homemade fruit scone served with clotted cream and fruit preserve. Pot of tea of your choice’. The server studied the description before telling us that there was only one vegan cake, so we would get more than one slice of it to make up for the lack of variety. We accepted but were a bit confused as the email had mentioned ‘cakes’ and the wait seemed a bit excessive for just one cake. Oh well. We got served our teas quickly but soon had our server return to say that they didn’t have much in the way of sandwich fillings, they asked if roasted veg, hummus and sundried tomatoes would be okay. We said that would be great, it’s a pretty common vegan sandwich filling but for a non vegan place, an acceptable offering.
It wasn’t long before our server returned again to inform us that the pastry chef had not been in today, so there were no vegan scones. He said that instead we could have a meringue with fruit inside it. ‘A vegan meringue?’ I asked. ‘Yes’. ‘Without egg???’ I replied. ‘Yes’. My friend said ‘okay, as long as it’s definitely vegan’. I was feeling really awkward and uncomfortable at this point. There’s no way they make vegan meringue, I explained to my friends just how difficult it is to make and how rare it is to find a vegan version. We decided to wait and see. So we waited. And waited. We waited for a really really long time. Over an hour infact. We watched all the tables who came in long after us get served and finish their afternoon tea. It was painful. We were ravenous. Our tea got cold.
Whilst I was in great company and it was fun to imagine the staff in the kitchen googling ‘vegan meringue’ and shitting themselves, it was impossible to relax or enjoy the atmosphere because we were anxious about what we were going to receive and how long it was going to take. Not long before it arrived, one of us went over to speak to another member of staff to check on the meringue situation and remind them of how long we had been waiting. They were shocked that we had been offered meringue and confirmed that they did not make a vegan version, they also apologised for the wait and said the supervisor who had been the email contact would come over soon to chat to us. We also got a new pot of tea each to replace the ones that had gone cold.
Our food came over. We noticed immediately that there was no meringue and breathed a sigh of relief. I noticed 2 cake options though, which concerned me as we’d been told when we ordered that there was only one. We asked if they were all vegan and got told that yes, everything was vegan. Here’s our vegan tea for 2.
The bottom tier was salad, oatcakes, hummus and then the hummus, roasted veg and tomato sandwiches. Tier two was 2 massive slabs of chocolate cake. The top tier was 2 more massive slabs of some kind of apple, fruit cake thing and some raspberry biscuits. When the server first described the tiers to us he called the chocolate cake a vegan cake but didn’t do the same with the other cake option or biscuits on the top tier. He did describe them as vegan when we asked, but considering all the different things we had been told already that day, I was becoming really wary of the food.
I’d just like to show you the vegetarian option, as this was important to us. We didn’t want the veggie option to look superior to the vegan one at the baby shower.
It does though, doesn’t it? Our vegan option was not exactly as pretty or dainty as the vegetarian version. The cakes are iced here and there’s a nice savoury pastry included, jam and fruit preserve. We reasoned that our tea would look better compared to the veggie one if we’d had the vegan scones, as we’d have got jam too. I also suggested that we could get hold of some vegan clotted cream and ask the team rooms to dish it out for the vegan options on the big day. At this point, despite being really disappointed we were desperate to make this work for the baby shower because we loved the look of the place so much.
We started off with the sandwiches and oatcakes, the sandwiches were nice but oatcakes…meh, they’re oatcakes, nothing special. I then picked up my massive slab of chocolate cake (I was waiting for the supervisor before I dared to touch the other cake as I was doubting whether it was vegan). It was ridiculously heavy and looked incredibly dense. It was not cooked in the middle. The outside was overdone and chewy and the inside was like glue. It pretty much stuck my mouth together. I was hungry so persevered but eventually gave up as it was so unpleasant.
At this point the supervisor came over to chat to us. She apologised for the wait before telling us that she had no idea we were coming today and that they’d not had enough notice to get a good vegan option together for us. My friend pointed out that she had emailed 3 days ago and that the supervisor had responded twice, including once this morning. We were then told that she hadn’t received the emails she had replied to, and that perhaps someone else had emailed my friend back. My friend explained our frustrations, that we had come in twice today, gone and spent money at the cinema to buy them more time, come back and waited over an hour for food, had been offered vegan meringues and that the chocolate cake was undercooked. The supervisor responded by saying she thought we were coming in May and then said that she was due to go home an hour ago so she didn’t really have time to sort it out right now. My friend responded that we should have been home over 3 hours ago and that we really were not happy. The supervisor asked us if we could wait a little while so she could resolve the issue.
We waited for about 20 minutes. She went back and forth between an office in the back and the drinks bar where she was asking the other staff loudly and obviously ‘exactly what time did they turn up?’. Just a tip for customer service here, don’t make it obvious to the customer that you think they’re bullshitting, it’s just bloody rude. Honestly, what kind of customer service training does this place give out?
When the supervisor returned she owned up to receiving the emails and responding to them…so was clearly lying to us the first time round. She then went into a lengthy explanation about the weekend and how busy they were and how they’d lost two pastry chefs so had an agency replacing them. She assured us that for the baby shower they would make all these improvements and it would run smoothly and were told that we could have 50% off our bill as if it were a favour. We hadn’t even finished our afternoon tea at this point. My friend responded by saying that the baby shower would definitely not be happening there as the way we had been treated was just not acceptable and she didn’t want the stress, she then added that we shouldn’t be paying at all, especially since we had spent 5 hours trying to get afternoon tea! We’d spent 3 hours at the cinema, which cost us £25 to do so, and along with the wait for the food and the wait to get the whole mess resolved, we’d spent 2 hours at the tea rooms. We were told that a supervisor could not give us more than 50% off so we would have to wait again while she contacted the owners.
Jesus Christ, how much waiting did we have to do? We just wanted to leave by this point, we’d expected to be home hours ago and had pretty much wasted the whole day. This time we didn’t have to wait long before the supervisor soon came back to say there would be no charge. Her return was so quick that I doubt she even contacted the owners at all. We left the remainder of the tea and went to leave.
One last slap in the face was noticing the supervisor bitching about us as we were leaving. Nice touch.
I am so gutted by how awful this experience was, I will never go back to Richmond Tea Rooms. Not only was the customer service awful, but I doubt how vegan the vegan option really was, especially after all the lies and misinformation. It is so frustrating as a customer to have complaints met with outrageous lies and then to have the blame placed on you. I have worked in retail for all of my working life and whilst I don’t believe that ‘the customer is always right’, I expect a decent level of customer service and expect my complaints to be met with some level of understanding and respect. We got none of this from Richmond Tea Rooms. I would have been so much happier if the supervisor had held her hands up, admitted she messed up and apologised. We didn’t need a long explanation full of reasons for why it had happened, we just wanted it sorted. And I cannot believe we were expected to pay for any of it after all those shenanigans, we’d left more than half of it on the table anyway.
So that’s my experience of Richmond Tea Rooms. Anyone know of any decent vegan afternoon tea options in Manchester? My friend hasn’t had an easy pregancy so far and really deserves a special day with zero stress! Suggestions in the comments please!