How to be a Good Customer

I’ve mentioned the lack of good customer service in this part of the world a few times on this blog. So, I thought it would be fair to discuss the lack of good customers for a change. 

I don’t know which came first – whether businesses just started cutting back salaries and hiring fewer people and less qualified people and/or providing them with less training in order to save money; or, whether customers became so rude, demanding, careless, ignorant and impossible to please that no one with any other option and/or lick of sense wanted to work in customer service anymore.

Whichever way it happened (probably a little of both), customers, and the businesses they patronize, are now almost operating as adversaries rather than as a team. Any transaction has to work out better if both parties are able to come out of the experience having gotten what they want with a minimum of bloodshed, right?

By now we’ve all heard more than enough about Steven Slater  and his dramatic resignation from JetBlue Airlines. To me, the most interesting/frightening thing about this story is how many people in the airline industry (and customer service industry in general) are applauding him as a hero.

He “did what everyone always wanted to do but never did,” says the “Free Steven Slater” Facebook page – one of his many overnight shrines.

And really, I think if you accidentally hit a flight attendant, or anyone else, in the head with your luggage, you should apologize profusely.

Other airplane etiquette would include:

  • Not ringing that damn bell the second you find your seat while other passengers are still boarding and the flight crew is busy helping people to their seats;
  • Not wandering around the aisles, especially while the flight attendants are trying to squeeze their little food carts down the same aisle;
  • Not spending the majority of the flight taking things from or putting things back into your overhead compartment;
  • Not getting drunk and obnoxious; and,
  • Not yelling for, or at, the flight attendants.

As I mentioned a while back, XUP Jr. is working this summer as a hostess in a local restaurant. Up until a couple of weeks ago she really enjoyed her job. Then one evening she was clearing a table where four “large ladies” had been dining. (Large ladies may not have been the exact term she used).

She dropped a plate from the stack she was carrying and the large ladies started laughing uproariously and calling her a “stupid bitch” and saying things like: “I can’t wait to see how she’s going to pick up the broken plate while she’s trying to hold all that other stuff.” And, “what’s wrong with this restaurant that they hire skinny twits that can’t even carry a plate”. And, “Come on, stupid, clean up this fucking mess.”

They so shocked and surprised XUP Jr. that she lost all her aplomb and ran crying to the washroom. One of the servers cleaned up the plate and went to tell the manager about the large ladies, but by the time he got out there, they were gone. The manager was very nice to XUP Jr. and told her to come straight to him if anyone ever talks to her like that again.

I’m thinking most people in the customer service industry have run into many, many large ladies during the course of their work life. On top of this, many people in the customer service industry do not have kind, understanding managers like XUP Jr.’s So, I can see why store clerks and restaurant servers and call centre employees might not always be chirping sunshine.

However, maybe there is still time to turn all this around and make shopping somewhat pleasant for everyone again? To that end, I’m starting a list of ways to be a better customer. If everyone adds something, I reckon we’ll soon have a comprehensive handbook and people will find it and use it and distribute it all over the world and then everyone will be happy and peace will rein throughout the universe and there will be no more poverty, famine, natural disasters or right-wing crazy people. 

  1. Be polite and respectful. This should go without saying, but apparently cannot go without saying.
  2. Do your research. Find out something about the product you are looking to buy so you are somewhat knowledgeable and don’t walk into the store saying “I want a computer” and when the tech-geek asks you what sort of thing you’re looking for, you won’t get mad and sarcastically say, “I don’t know, you’re the ‘expert.’”
  3. Know the store. The internet is full of information so you can become familiar with pretty much every store and restaurant before you enter the premises. Some websites will even tell you if the have certain products in stock in that particular location. This will save you getting pissed off at The Beefy Steak House for not having a wide vegetarian selection.
  4. Go shopping in the morning. People tend to be a little less short-tempered when they haven’t already dealt with 180 dolts and/or haven’t been on their feet all day.
  5. Listen to the store guy/gal when he/she tries to explain stuff to you so you don’t keep asking him/her the same damn questions over and over. And try to answer his/her questions as fully as possible so he/she can actually help you.
  6. Don’t mess up the store.
    • Don’t carrying stuff around the store and then put it back in another section because you decide you don’t want it anymore.
    • Don’t knock stuff off shelves or hangers and leave it because “they should stack things better” or because “it will give them something to do”.
    • Don’t leave your cart in the check-out line or cluttering up an aisle somewhere.
    • Don’t open packages or unwrap stuff and then leave them lying around.
  7. Don’t hold other customers up when you’re at the check-out or with a floor clerk or at customer service. Do your business and move on.
    • Don’t start engaging the clerks in long conversations about past shopping experiences.
    • Don’t complain to the cashier about all the stuff you couldn’t find or how nothing fit or how expensive everything is.
    • Don’t be surprised that there’s sales tax on stuff so you don’t have to spend a lot of time arguing about the final cost with the cashier and/or have to put stuff back because you can’t afford everything anymore.
    • You know you’re going to have to pay at the check-out so don’t start wondering where your wallet is after everything has been rung up.
  8. Keep your freakin’ kids under control. I had a youngster once, too, so I know how excited/impatient/bored they get while shopping. So, either don’t bring them, or if you have to bring them, keep them with you and try to keep them from screeching in that high-pitched wail only young children can do. And don’t let them run around playing tag or hide-and-seek or testing the tensile strength of all the toys, garments, household appliances and food packaging.

What else?????

Table for Two?

Now that XUP Jr.’s part-time, after-school job is finished for the summer, she went and got herself a summer job working in a restaurant. Gak!

I guess it’s a rite of passage for pretty much every female on the planet to do some sort of restaurant work at least once in their young lives. Restaurants have a high turn-over in staff, so jobs are not that difficult to get. And once you have some restaurant experience under your belt, you pretty much never need to worry about being out of work anywhere, ever again. So, in that respect, I guess this was a good move on XUP Jr.’s part. That, and the fact that eventually there is some big money to be made in tips if you’re a good, experienced server.

But for now XUP Jr. is just a hostess – learning the biz from the bottom up. And what a learning curve it been!

She comes home exhausted and smelly. Her feet are killing her and she’s starving because she hasn’t been allowed to stop for her entire 6 hour shift to grab a bite to eat. So far she seems to like it, though. She’s even been getting into the restaurant-workers’ tradition of coming in early or staying late after her shift to hang around and socialize with her coworkers.

Perhaps this is why I never really got the allure of  restaurant work – I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there at the end of my shift. I’ve had many friends though who loved being servers and the whole weird other-worldliness of working in a restaurant. They loved it so much they kept taking evening or weekend shifts even after they got real full-time jobs after university.

To me, restaurants are like some sort of prison or Lord of the Flies island society where normal life stuff doesn’t apply and where crazy, quirky things like labour laws just get in the way of running an efficient dining room.

What is it that makes restaurant work so bizarre?

  1. The Customers: Some people get peculiar when they go out to eat. They figure this is their one big chance in life to be prima donnas or something:
    • They are rude and haughty to restaurant staff;
    • They demand unreasonable things like “turning the music off” or asking why, in a seafood restaurant, there is nothing but fish on the menu because they’re allergic to fish;
    • They quibble over the bill acting all outraged that it’s so high when they could have made the same thing at home for a fraction of the cost; and,
    • A surprising number of people just dine and dash, which gets the server in big shit.
  2. The Tipping: Personally, I think the whole tipping thing is outrageous. Restaurant staff get paid next-to-nothing and have to rely on tips to make a living. If it’s not a busy night or customers choose not to tip, they’re screwed. Then servers have to share out their tips with hostesses, bus staff, dishwashers, bartenders, prep crew, etc. Why can’t we just, across the board, add 15% or 20% to the price of the meal and pay restaurant staff a living wage?
  3. The Work: It’s an incredibly hectic work pace. There’s no time or place for breaks in a restaurant, labour laws be damned. Unless there are no customers and nothing else that needs doing, you’re running non-stop from the beginning to the end of your shift. And if the place does clear out, they just send you home and they save a few hours’ pay.
  4. The Coworkers: You learn pretty quickly that there’s a hierarchy of people you have to suck up to in the restaurant business:
    1. Bartender – he or she is kind of the god of the restaurant. If you don’t do serious, serious kissing up and sharing of tips with your bartender, he will not look upon you with favour and will make your life miserable. (NB: I think when I retire, I might take a bartending course and make that my old-age career. I think being a god might suit me.)
    2. Manager – why are restaurant managers all power-mad cretins? They love to throw their weight around in the most demeaning possible ways. They love to devise bizarre little schemes to pit staff against each other. They love to screw with schedules just to keep people on their toes.
    3. Lifers – there’s usually one person who’s been in the same restaurant, in the same job since the place opened in 1953. The manager is afraid of her and the only person she’s chummy with is the bartender. After you’ve worked there a few years and haven’t screwed anything up too badly, she might say something nice to you.
    4. Cooks – I don’t even know what to say about them. They’re pretty much all psychotic in some way from what I’ve been able to gather. They’re allowed to yell and swear and throw things and reduce staff to tears and no one dares object. They’re all “about to open a place of their own that’s run properly,” so everyone walks on eggshells around them so they don’t walk away in a huff in the middle of the dinner rush.

Well, that’s my take on the industry anyway. I was a terrible restaurant employee, which may somewhat colour my view of the business. But, I would love to hear some of your love/hate stories of working in restaurants — and I know almost all of you have some.

Meanwhile, if you’re dining in an Ottawa restaurant this summer, please be nice to the hostess – she might be XUP Jr.

12 Things I Don’t Like About Restaurants

One of the best things about a big city is its variety of restaurants, so of course, before my recent jaunt I prepared a list of all the places I wanted to go eat. At the top of the list was an upscale vegan place with the unfortunate moniker, Fressen. In Germanic languages the word means “to devour feed like an animal.” I suppose they had their reasons for the name so I didn’t let the name put me off because Fressen has been named as one of the hippest vegetarian eateries in North America by VegNews.

 The menu looks enticing. The reviews, however,  are all over the place,  from gushing to “I’ll never set foot in the place again”.  I’ve never been to a place that advertises itself as a gourmet vegan restaurant, so I had to go regardless.

As I hinted yesterday, the whole experience was a disaster from start to finish. When I go to a place where an evening of dining for two adults (with appetizers, wine and dessert) will run close to $100, I have certain expectations. Fressen is an excellent example of everything I dislike in a restaurant — which is why I decided to blog it. It’s not so much a review as a list of things a lot of restaurants do that are extremely annoying. If it’s a sports bar, I take a deep breath and put up with stuff, but not at a place that pretends to be chi-chi.

We had reservations, of course, and were prompt, but there was no one to greet us as we came in. As I mentioned yesterday it was really, really dark with the only light coming from a few tea candles on random tables. And the music was nightclub-loud. We stood there looking stupid for about 5 minutes before some young chippy trotted over and said, “Oh!”

So,  here are some things that restaurants should think about, in my opinion.

  1. When a customer asks you not once, but twice to turn down the music, you should probably do it, even if you can’t really hear what they’re asking you over the bass.
  2. Servers should be properly and hygienically dressed. Unless it’s Hooters, bare midriff at face level is kind of an appetite killer, whether it’s the smooth tanned midriff of a 20-something woman or the taut, furry midriff of a 20-something man.
  3. Although we were aware that Fressen makes “everything from scratch” some indication from the servers as to how many hours this entails would have been good.
  4. I really don’t like it when the server handles my glass of wine by the bowl, so when they deal with the challenge of bringing a bottle of wine and several glasses to a table by tucking the bottle under the armpit, that’s seriously off-putting.
  5. And, though I know all the great products one can add to dishwashers to disinfect and remove unsightly spots are great, they leave a residue. They smell and taste funny. When you stick your nose in a wine glass and all you smell is chorine, this is not good. Rinse the glass, please. Don’t make me ask.
  6. When bringing a bowl or plate to a table, servers should find a way to do it that doesn’t involve sticking their fingers in your bowl or on the top of your plate. Licking their fingers after putting down the bowl/plate is a really big no-no.
  7. Servers having loud arguments with the hostess about “that table of 8” and why on earth she allowed them to sit there when a party of 12 has reservations for that table in less than an hour, should maybe be conducted in the kitchen and out of earshot of the customers.
  8. Making people wait, 50 minutes between courses is ridiculous. It’s vegetables, people. No vegetable or anything else, takes that long to prepare. Hire a few more prep staff.
  9.  Servers should check back with the customer once in a while to see if they’re still breathing or would like some more booze or bread or something to gnaw on while they’re waiting for their very elaborate broccoli to appear.
  10. It’s very haute cuisine to have signature sauces, but that doesn’t mean you have to drown everything in them. It’s one thing not to be able to see the food, but you should at least be able to taste it and/or find it at the bottomless pool of sauce.
  11. It’s probably very chic to serve everything in a gigantic bowl or other similar artistic vessel, but you should take into account that the person trying to eat the thing in the bowl needs to somehow divide it into bite-sized bits. It’s hard to cut things in a bowl.
  12. Oh ya, the food? Meh… who knows. I was so fed up with everything else I just wanted to snarf it down and get the hell out of there. I will never set foot in that place again.

Sadie’s Diner, (of the fabulous veggie bacon) on the other hand, was more than perfect. Friendly staff without  being overly familiar, lovely decor, (which you could see on account of the windows weren’t all blacked out and some lights were on), home-made, yet prompt service, soft background tunes. And did I mention the amazing veggie bacon??

Oh ya, and although I know it’s de rigeur for English-speaking wait staff the world over to say “youze”, it’s still really, really aggravating. So, just stop it, okay?