Monday, March 21, 2005

Service behind the smile

I hate service that's insincere, inattentive and impersonal - and managed to receive all three wrapped in one beaming Aussie package yesterday.

Now we tend to drop into cultural stereotypes when looking at face-to-face service, be it in retail, restaurants or even in our own businesses: - Americans are buzzy but insincere, Germans are frosty and efficient, the French are superior (or at least think they're superior to those they're serving), and the Aussies score for being naturally warm and friendly.

Yesterday at a chain restaurant in Oxford, we were greeted with warmth in abundance - and left vowing not to return to this particular establishment for a fair while yet.

First thing: we explained we were in a hurry (daughter number one was playing in a concert and we were grabbing some dinner in between her rehearsal and the performance). So we waited 10 minutes to order. We asked for a jug of water, it never arrived.

Twenty minutes went by, no food arrived. Then beaming waitress announced to my daughter that they'd run out of popcorn chicken and could she make up her platter with more of the remaining offerings - we said yes. Time passed. Daughter number two's plain pasta arrived, drenched in sauce. Son's meatballs were cold, wife's prawn salad arrived with three prawns. They should have been hot; they were cold. One wasn't even cooked through. Daughter number one's chicken platter arrived with no chicken at all.

The waitress asked if everything was ok - I said no and explained what wasn't, said we'd run out of time and asked for the bill. Five minutes later it arrived - no deductions, so therefore no tip offered. Wife, son and daughter number one ran for the exit and the concert. Daughter number two mixed eating and wearing her ice cream. I was keen to go. Waitress asked if I wanted an ice cream. 'No thank you' through gritted teeth. 'Another drink?' 'No thank you' (with a sub text of 'piss off and let me get away NOW!'

She then waylaid us by the stairs to wish us a 'great evening'. I wonder if some people are thick skinned or just thick?

Anyway, rant over. The homily for the day, if there is one, is that if you're going to offer service with a smile, make sure you've got the skills, product and timing to deliver beyond the grin.


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