As some may know, I work part-time in a local public house. It’s more a social thing rather than a real money earner however, it’s also something of a return to my working roots. Bar work runs through my family history; my parents were in the trade and it was also my original occupation before joining the police. Working behind a bar is also a great venue for social observation (see previous post); ‘people watching‘ gives you a far better chance to actually understand, why people do and say the things they do.
In a recent BBC Magazine article Rosie Waites asked; “why is service still so bad in the UK?” She enlists the help of the Michelin starred chef Michel Roux Jr to examine the situation…
BBC News: Bad customer service is unforgivable and its everywhere in the UK. “Surly, slapdash and dreadful” is how Michel Roux describes it… (Read more)
Roux suggests that; “good service in a restaurant is as important as good food.” An obvious factor when you consider another one of comments; “if people don’t feel welcome they won’t come back.” That may well be the case but I have to say, bad manners and incivility are not the exclusive preserve of the ‘customer’. In addition and contrary to popular belief, the customer isn’t always right.
Whilst trying to put a finger on the root cause of the issue, the article examined how the problem may have its foundation in our inherent snobbery. A hypothesis that suggests we are simply suffering from our social history, a throw-back from the Upstairs-Downstairs era. A class problem, with service seen as subservient, where the rich demanded and the poor served. There may be an element of this however, the article was also sharp to notice how; there is a persistent feeling in the UK that providing service is somehow a second-class occupation.
Both the above factors are in many ways born out of arrogance however, I would disagree with the ‘class’ connotation. In some ways the article implies; those originating from a higher class (actual or perceived), are likely to show a greater propensity for this arrogance. In my experience I have often found it to be the opposite.
Many of those who are the most vociferous about service or product quality, are often those who have absolutely no concept of what constitutes good bad or indifferent, let alone the ability to differentiate between the three! The issue is more about bad manners and ignorance before arrogance.
I’ll cite the following example to illustrate my point… A few weeks ago there was a young man in the pub, a shinning but somewhat stereotypical example of today’s youth. Unable to complete a sentence without swearing, only able to speak with a monotone ug and totally unable to enunciate the words please or thank you when asking for something. Each time he came to the bar and mumbled his demand for a pint of lager I politely asked, “is that all” or “anything else PLEASE” and cocked an ear in his direction. A kind of vain attempt to elicit some civility, needless to say I was unsuccessful. After the third attempt to educate the young man about manners I received the following reply;
“I don’t say please to no fucker. It’s your job to sell me what I want and you’re paid to do what I say, shut the fuck up and pull the beer!”
He wasn’t drunk, neither did he appear to be under the influence of any other substance. He didn’t appear angry (at least no more than is usual for today’s young people). He didn’t appear agitated about anything and nobody had upset him… Needless to say, he didn’t get his third beer and was invited to vacate the premises promptly!
What the article didn’t manage to cover was, to my mind an important factor. There is also a lot of American influence on UK customer service standards i.e. “Thanks and have a nice day” etc. accompanied by a false plastic smile. As with many business practices we tend to import and adopt both good and bad service ethics from the USA. Personally as a customer, I would much sooner receive a “hi can I help” or maybe “cheers, see you again” than some contrived plastic platitude of a greeting.
Although the BBC article briefly touched upon the attitude of customers, it failed to identify that; (sometimes) the customer IS NOT always right and perhaps many of them receive the service they actually deserve?
- Are you being served? (bbc.co.uk)
- ‘The hardest thing to teach young people is manners’, Michel Roux, interview (telegraph.co.uk)
- Service with a smile: A new reality show teaches the skills of Michelin-starred waiters (independent.co.uk)
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