Last night brought a stark reminder of this when it took a local Indian restaurant two hours to deliver food for four people. Let me repeat that for you. Two. Hours.
It's still not fashionable - certainly in this country - to complain. Don't make a fuss, don't cause a scene. The most we'll do is to be a bit sniffy with the staff, which more often than not goes way over their heads in any case. We might afterwards proclaim that the establishment in question is not getting our custom again. But they've still benefited financially from the last transaction and there are plenty of other willing victims.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Certainly from my travels in other countries I've seen how it should be done. Customer service is seen as an honourable career, not something done by an uninterested 17-year-old as a Saturday job. In the restaurants we've used in New York, for instance, the waiters were all in their forties and probably pulling down serious numbers from well-earned tips. And, as a customer, you want for nothing as a result.
So we've decided to get damnably un-British about things. If the customer service isn't up to scratch, it's going to cost the company in question. Think of it as a 'reverse tip'.
An example would be the local KFC to us here. We don't frequent it that often, but on occasion there's an itch that only Colonel Sanders can scratch. The problem is that I've seen fingernails grow at a faster pace than the queue moves. Katie once spent 20 minutes at the counter while they got one particular menu item ready. In the past she would have muttered under her breath and, on receiving the item, paid up. Not any more. She waited until they'd produced the meal, then fixed the staff member with a steely gaze before telling them she wasn't going to bother after all, turning on her heel and leaving. Net result; KFC have wasted their time and money. (Yes, Katie's wasted her time and we have no food, but you get my point).
And the feckless Indian restaurant last night? After Mike had called them three times to chase up the delivery (and been lied to several times -"He's just left...") the food finally showed up at about 10pm. After handing us the food the driver gave us a bill for £42.
"Actually, I don't think I want to pay this much," I said.
A shocked pause. "But that's how much it comes to," he said, "Look, I'm sorry, I know you're regular customers."
"Nice use of the present tense. Anyway, we've waited two hours for it. I tell you what, here's £30. That's what I'd like to pay."
"If you've got a problem you need to take it up with my manager at the restaurant."
"No. You go back to him and tell him that he's just made £12 worth of apology."
At that point he realised two things:
- He'd already handed over the food, somewhat limiting his negotiating powers.
- He'd angered a hungry fat bloke.