12 September 2008

What Part of 'Customer Service' Don't You Understand?

St Petersburg, September 2002. That was the last time I experienced customer service in restaurants as consistently bad as it is here. The first couple of times here, I gave them the benefit of the doubt - there is bad service everywhere. But it has become a regular feature.

Today we had surly boy. Despite one of our number enquiring politely - in German - about some of the items on the menu we weren't sure of, he told us he couldn't help, waved his hand airily at the menu and walked off.

Last week a waitress told us off for using a credit card to pay our 20 something Euro bill. A few weeks before at a famous local establishment beginning with Hof- and ending with -brauhaus we sat for half an hour waiting for a waiter to turn up and take our beer order, eventually having to find a manager to instruct someone to serve us.

And so it goes on.

Some people have said that this is a result of the absence of a culture of tipping. This is nonsense. There are plenty of people out there working in service industries who get little or nothing in tips but who manage to be polite, helpful and efficient.

I've also heard it suggested that some waiting staff view the idea of service as demeaning and by being surly or indifferent, or by questioning the customer's judgement they assert their equal status. In which case they should have the guts to resign and go and get a job more amenable to their hang-ups.

I'm not asking for the fake, forced, hyper in-your-face approach that often ruins a good meal in America. But it is not unreasonable to expect those three things - politeness, helpfulness, and efficiency - from waiting staff at a restaurant.

It's possible there are generational factors at play here. I have noticed that in restaurants and cafes where the waiting staff are young people - and where the customers also tend to be younger - that the standards are much better.

The old dogs probably can't be taught new tricks at this stage, otherwise they could learn a lot from their younger colleagues. They could also learn a lot from visiting local Turkish, Chinese or Indian restuarants and cafes where the staff understand customer service.

Perhaps restaurant owners don't care, but I have an expanding list of places I will not be returning to and another list of places I will happily go back to. After the quality of the food, the quality of the service is the most decisive factor in deciding which list an establishment joins.


Raúl y Pablo said...

me gusta mucho tu blog lo visito a diario visita el mio y si t gusta deja un comentario de si t gusta o no y nos linkeamos los blogs

Trixi und Julian said...

A well-spotted fact: German customer service doesn't exist. The simple truth is: Germans are rude. Put them in any somewhat superior position, and they will inevitably abuse it.