• Mohana Prabhakar

When ‘the customer is always right’ is a bit wrong

We keep talking about customer service, but a visiting friend who’s in the hospitality business brought ‘customer behaviour’ to my notice recently. Of course, you should expect good service, he said, but have you ever spared a thought for what you, the customer, should behave like? Or what the staff may like to say back to you?

“I refuse to serve you Ma’am. There is no reason to be so rude because I put in three drops of balsamic in your olive oil instead of one, and I did apologise.” “Sir, will you please leave now? Your language is not fit to be heard in public.” “Since you refuse to accept that the dish you want went off our menu six months ago, why not go

home and cook it yourself?”

Restaurant staff would never say these things irrespective of the requests or recrimination handed out by customers in similar situations like the ones I’ve made up above. They just have to grin and bear it.

The customer is (supposedly) always right but even if he or she isn’t, you have to handle it promptly, efficiently, and above all, tactfully. What adds to the problem, said my regional expert, is that a disgruntled customer or an amateur reviewer can cause mayhem and in today’s world you have the added bugbear of one comment on social media assuming the importance of a Supreme Court verdict.

One of the best examples that hoteliers give of recalcitrant customers is when they walk in and ask for something that is on the menu but made with completely different ingredients. You wouldn’t walk into a washing machine shop, and say, yes I will have that, but in turquoise with pink polka dots and a green door, please.

When it comes to food, we think nothing of ordering a completely customised combination, almost as if to say - you have all the ingredients, so cook it. Example: ‘I will have the mushroom risotto, but instead of mushrooms, could you give me asparagus? Oh yes, and instead of shrimps and scallops on the side, I’d prefer some tuna. Also, my partner will have fish and chips, but mashed potato instead of chips and broccoli instead of mushy peas.’

While I haven’t taken my requests to such an extreme level, I am occasionally guilty though on this front. My friend tells me it really isn’t okay to do this: If you have an allergy to a particular ingredient, you are better off ordering something else and if you just dislike something in the dish, request to have it left off if possible. But asking for a substitution indicates: a) You are telling the chef how to do his job; b) You have wasta.

None of these options are flattering. A restaurant kitchen is a stressful enough environment as it is, and asking for several customized changes disrupts the flow of work and only makes their jobs harder. Do we really want to make it more difficult for the people tasked with cooking our food?

The unfortunate thing is when the washing machine salesman says sorry, this is only available in black and white, you say fine, and either buy it or go on a quest for the ultimate polka-dotted machine. No one gets mad. But when people are told this in a restaurant, they either vocalise their extreme disappointment over the insensitivity towards customers’ needs, or fume inside and later tell everyone about their traumatic experience.

“’Yeah, it’s the weekend!’ said nobody who works in a restaurant.” - (Author unknown).

So yes, it’s a tough job for a number of reasons. Getting your customers to come back, again and again, is not easy, and the business itself is one of the toughest and most competitive. While it’s in their job description to be polite no matter what, it wouldn’t hurt us to offer them the same courtesy.

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