The Cedele branch at Novena Square, which is not easily missed since it is right in front (albeit a little towards the left) of the exit from Novena MRT station when you take the escalator up to Novena Square, is the one I usually visit on weekends. It used to be a really tiny outlet with limited seating but on those days that I pop in, it isn’t hard to find a seat because I go at times that are perhaps not so popular. I love the food at Cedele, and although this branch isn’t a full-service restaurant, it is still a bakery cafe where I can get my fill of tasty and healthy sandwiches. If you want cakes and pastries, they have it here too. So I was a little dismayed when they closed sometime in early April (or maybe even earlier) for renovation, and from the boarding, it seemed like they were expanding to take over the next unit, which I think was a jewellery store before.
I got an email (since I have the Cedele loyalty card) from them that this outlet would be reopening on May 9, last Thursday, and was fairly elated that I can again enjoy these great sandwiches nearer to me, without having to trek all the way from the MRT station to United Square (which I am not so fond of anyway) or go to other Cedele outlets further away.
Well, renovating a place is supposed to be for the better, but I think in this outlet’s case, it isn’t really all that good a thing, at least not for me. Many Cedele outlets seem to suffer from the same problem of understaffing, or that could be the case for most F&B outlets (or other businesses for that matter), so their premises tend to appear a little unkempt and messy, with food debris from patrons left uncleared on the tables occasionally. I can live with that actually, since with sandwiches and pastries, these aren’t that gross to the sight. After the renovation, indeed the Novena Square branch looked much better. I don’t have a picture to show, but the store front looks much more prominent than before, especially now that it has taken over the unit next door too, the entire shopfront has become wider and therefore, more open. I suppose having such open concept seating is meant to lure more customers in, and at the same timer perhaps discourage people from staying too long by getting cosy in a more enclosed space? At least that was how I felt, I wouldn’t want to sit there for long periods of time, because now that they have instituted this open-ness, there are actually people who stand hovering around your tables waiting for you to vacate it. Isn’t this supposed to be a cafe, and not a food court? I find this unacceptable, but maybe that is the aim of the business owner, to improve customer turnover. As I was just starting on my sandwich, a family of four was standing near my table, and the mother allowed her two young kids to prance around in front of me, playing with the chairs at my table. How blatant can you get to ask me to hurry up, eat and leave? But surely, she can see that my sandwich is 10% consumed and I’m not going to wolf it down like a cheeseburger in MacDonald’s because you need a table right? I paid for the food, which is not cheap by the way, and I get the privilege to sit for as long as I want to enjoy my food.
With this renovation, they have also put in place the same “self-service” concept that I talked about at Millenia Walk, where you place your order at the cashier and pay up, get this electronic disc that you wait for it to beep, then collect your order at the counter. I really hope they will improve on their use of this method, because currently it is plain stupid. You get beeped, and I weave my way around the tables to get to the counter at last, to be greeted with my drink, and was asked to return again later (when the disc beeps again) for the sandwich. Have they considered to prepare all of the customer’s order and have it ready first on a tray before beeping so that the customer only needs to come by once? It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you are not going to serve the food and drink to the customer’s table, at least minimise the need for the paying customer to walk to and fro. And they don’t bother to offer a tray, cutlery or serviettes, all these you need to ask from the counter, which is also sharing space with the cashier, that makes the whole service of food/drinks cluttered and messy. If Cedele had wanted to push this idea of self-service, they should have thought about having a segregated service area for order pick-up, not unlike those of Starbucks or Coffee Bean, rather than having everything at the cashier.
And maybe I was imagining things but the roast chicken avocado sandwich I ordered that day seemed to have shrank. From the aerial view it still looks the same since the bread loaf hasn’t changed, but inside it just feels like the ingredients have been reduced. Do businesses reduce the value by cutting back on ingredients whilst maintaining the prices to claw back the costs of renovation?
It wasn’t a pleasant experience that evening, from the whole ordering, getting my orders piecemeal (and I’d only ordered two items, imagine if I had four), and then eating my food all the while having to tune out the distracting vultures circling around waiting to swoop in when I clean off the last morsel of food on my plate.
Oh, and lastly, I ordered a soy latte that felt like heated soy without the latte. I don’t think it’s my imagination from the already bad dining experience but I just didn’t feel the coffee at all, even though I hadn’t had a single ounce of caffeine at all the whole day and was looking forward to a nice cup of latte.
Maybe it is a great business idea because I can see that business seems more brisk but the human touch feels absent. In dollars and cents, I suppose it makes economic sense to have high turnover of customers and people coming and going, but then it feels just like another fast food outlet in the end.