Today's topic is... The unhappy customer.
I read a lot of restaurant related blogs, and although every one of them has already covered this topic extensively, I still feel the need to share my opinion on the subject.
The main source of contention is this: The vast majority of customers operate under the impression that "the customer is always right". This belief causes a myriad of problems. Anyone who has worked in the industry, however, realizes that this is rarely the case. I would estimate that 80% of the time, the customer is in complete error, and needs to shut his or her mouth.
Granted, sometimes the customer has a right to complain. Sometimes, a server is shitty. Or a grill cook is having an off night. Or perhaps someone just made a simple mistake. A miscommunication. Errors do occur. Even the best servers and cooks foul things up from time to time. It's hard to go hour after hour, doing 20 things at once, without slipping up somewhere. On a few rare occasions, I've visited restaurants where everything seemed to be terrible. None of them were in business for very long though.
Being a restaurant worker, however, I'm usually pretty forgiving. I'm not going to throw a childish fit if on a busy Saturday night, my server forgets to bring my side of rice. I understand that shit happens. As long as an effort is being made, I'm going to let it slide. I know how hectic things can get.
Unfortunately, many customers don't behave the same as I do. They start bitching and making demands. I believe that there are three main reasons for this behavior. Any time that a person starts berating the staff, at least one of these factors is at play.
1) The customer is trying to get something for free.... This is probably the most common motivation for starting trouble unreasonably. And sadly, people engage in this behavior because it is affective. Most restaurants, especially corporate ones, will partially comp a meal or hand out a gift certificate in order to pacify a loudmouth. Often, the lower socio-economic classes are the ones guilty of this offense, but not always. I've seen customers who drive cars that are more valuable than my home launch into tirades when they discover that they were charged $2.95 for a dinner salad.
The really ugly aspect of these occurrences is the potential consequences that employees can face. Many people think very little of going out to eat at an Applebee's, going home, and then firing off an email to the corporate office about how terrible their service was. They include the name they read off of their server's name tag, and think nothing more of the experience once they receive their apologetic email response accompanied with a $25 gift certificate. A week later they go into the restaurant again, use their gift certificate, and again fire off an email. This time they hope to get a certificate for $50.
Meanwhile, if a server catches three of these complaints, they get terminated. Maybe even fewer. I've actually read reviews and blogs written by people like this who openly brag about how much free food they've hustled, and one customer who even expressed that she thought it was funny that her complaints had gotten three waitresses fired thus far.
2) The customer is a dumb-shit... Every server or kitchen worker knows these people. They order a steak rare, and then claim it isn't hot enough. They ask if the cheeseburger has meat in it. They order French onion soup, and then demand a refund because they weren't aware that it would contain onions. They can never read the menu, or find the bathroom, or understand why it might take more than four minutes to receive their food when they're sitting in the middle of a 200 seat restaurant that is packed to the gills and has a waiting time of 40 minutes to be seated. "How long does it take to cook a dinner?" Stupid asses. How long would it take for your idiotic, drooling, overweight ass to cook a dinner? How about 400 dinners? Sit down, shut up, and fucking wait. And if you even consider sticking your spoiled, pasty face in the kitchen door to "See what the hold-up is", realize that you're looking at a group of people who are more than willing to kill you in cold blood.
3) The customer is an asshole... You see these people not just in restaurants, but everywhere. I met them when I worked the butcher counter, when I painted, when I delivered pizzas, when I landscaped. I see them in front of me in line at the grocery store. Miserable, angry, short-tempered assholes. For some reason, these detestable sorts enjoy nothing more than attempting to dehumanize those who serve their needs. I dislike them the least, however, of the entire group. As a young man, I usually wanted to throw bricks at their faces. But now, I almost feel sympathy for them. I can recognize their banter immediately, and my first thought is always this: "What has happened to you, how terrible is your meager existence, how isolated and lonely are you, that your chief role in society is to abuse every service worker you meet? Is this the only time in your day-to-day life that you experience any empowerment? Is this the only moment today that anyone will listen to your pathetic bullshit? May God have mercy on your not-so-humble soul...".
Make no mistake, however. Despite the small quantity of sympathy and tolerance I have developed for these people over the years, I'm still not exactly Gandhi or Jesus. After about three consecutive negative exchanges, I'm going to switch gears, lock into "verbal kill mode", and engage. It's just my nature. And guess what? More often than not, I'm going to win. It's a mistake to discount my intelligence and level of cunning based on the job I may hold. I'm educated, sharp, and somewhere deep inside, I have an axe to grind. I can infuriate these people beyond comprehension yet at the same time, be vaguely technical enough to avoid having the management's hammer come down on me. If it ends up with me having to defend myself to my boss after the customer complains, I think well enough on my feet that I'm going to skate free 90% of the time.
For those of you who read this, and don't work in the service industry, I request that you don't react defensively to this essay. If you're a reasonable person, who while reading this remembers back on some poor experience you've had while dining, you easily could have been one of the 20%. Some complaints are legitimate. And any decent service worker will be more than happy to admit fault and compensate you accordingly. But you must understand that while you may have been in the right, we restaurant insiders deal with many more people who aren't. Every single day of customer service exposes us to idiots, assholes, and thieves.
And there are more of them than you could ever imagine....