Here come The Ashes – who’re you tipping?

The subject of ‘tipping’ is always controversial. There is the school that advocates tipping when appropriate and the amount is governed by the level of service provided. Another crowd say that it shouldn’t be entertained at all because the waiters/servers are paid salaries (and at this point there rises up a hoard of waiters who scream that their “salary” is pitiful and they need the tips to make up their income to that of a living wage).

What no one will argue against is that the culture of ‘tipping’ varies from country to country – some folk are far more generous than others. Put any group from different countries together and get them to expound on their view of tipping, and you’ll get as many variations as there are people sitting around the table sipping espressos!

Image: europeupclose.com

Image: europeupclose.com

There are those who have almost made tipping a science, to the extent that they base their tips on star-ratings they allocate for food, for service and for atmosphere – all very subjective. But then isn’t any evaluation of anything subjective? It’s all in the eye of the beholder in the same way some regard Picasso as an artistic genius, others say his art is rubbish.

What is NOT subjective, is the planning and ordering taking place almost as we speak, that stocktakers like Rutters are having to undertake in the build-up to the coming Ashes Series. And we won’t even mention the planning that has already been in place for the two weeks of Wimbledon. Jon’s teams don’t take a time-out like us mere mortals. They’re working behind the scenes to ensure that their clients are properly prepared in order to ensure their patron’s enjoyment.

But there are some very nervous waiters around the country, wondering which group of supporters are going to use their turf as the chosen venue to watch the Series. And they are even more upset now that Mickey Arthur has been given the boot by the Aussies. Because Mickey is South African, and he might have had an influence on the Aussie team leaving tips wherever they went. But the new incumbent, Darren Lehman is a true-blue Aussie and everyone knows, especially the waiters around the world, that Aussies are notoriously bad tippers. It’s not in their culture. They might leave a few odd coins lying about (they don’t want to weigh down their knapsack) or may even mention, “keep the change, mate.” but as tippers per se … no.

The waiters around the country are hoping for hoardes of England supporters, with lots of their American and South African friends in tow, to flood into their pubs and restaurants. Those groups have, over the years, been prone to reward waiters with from 10 to even as much as 20% of the bill in tips. While the Aussies have left bird seed type scraps for the staff.

Someone even suggested that if you happen to venture into a local watering-hole with a predominance of green-and-gold-clad patrons, mention what country you come from to your waiter from the get-go – it might cheer them up in anticipation of your adding a tip at the end of the day.

So you want a tip? England to win The Ashes – two games to one!

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What on earth have you been smoking?

Some foods have always been viewed by many as “delicacies” and owing to their expense or unusualness, were only enjoyed on special occasions. Foods like foie gras (now relegated to the ranks of “not really acceptable to enjoy” by some), truffles, pigeon, birds nest soup, lobster, abalone, caviar and many more. The list goes on. There was even a time when roast chicken was a treat sometimes only enjoyed once a month.

One thing that doesn’t seem to lose its appeal as something special is smoked salmon. There’s something about the colour, texture and delicate taste that sets it apart from other dishes. But even this noble dish has become mired in controversy and a victim of cost-cutting. It seems that suppliers and nouveau-suppliers (the new guys on the block) saw that people regarded salmon as something very special and decided to make it available to everyone at much more affordable prices. The problem being that traditional smoked salmon is that way because of … well, traditional methods of producing it. But, true to the thinking of “making-it-available-to-all-at affordable-prices-and-to-hell-with-the-consequences” idea, they cut corners.

Image: Lovedbyparents.com

Image: Lovedbyparents.com

So now, there are selections of smoked salmon products on the market that makes this item available on any table – just choose which to buy according to your budget. It always was available but not everyone had the budget to indulge in it except on special occasions (there’s that phrase again). But now you can have it any time you like. Just pop down to the local supermarket and choose your plastic bag of sliced pink fish. Short-cuts have been followed in the attempt to make this product reachable to all shoppers and warning bells are being sounded about the methods employed to produce it and the health effects that may result. Of course, the various supermarket chains will take issue, claiming that they “only choose the best products” and that they “have undergone rigourous quality checks” etc etc. Didn’t they say that when horse meat was discovered on the shelves stacked with beef burger boxes?

Many restaurants and chefs choose to smoke their own salmon and other foods the traditional way in their efforts to retain quality and that ‘specialness’ that discerning diners want. Jon Rutter and his stocktaking team have seen items like maple, mesquite, hickory, pecan, oak and beech chips appearing on their customers inventories as they seek to maintain their edge.

In fact many other smoked products are now available in restaurants than ever before – many of them home-smoked exclusively for their customers. Apart from the traditional salmon, there’s trout, chicken (yes, smoking DOES cook it so that it’s not raw), various fruits and vegetables, drinks even and of course the variety of meats and spices.

And with the growth of the internet and its accessibility to so many, don’t be surprised if you roll up to a family get together and find your host has some delicacy that they have smoked themselves. It’s now easy to even get plans to construct your own hot, cold or even water smoker. However, home-smokers don’t realize that just cracking up a smoker and bunging in half a salmon for a few minutes is not going to give the same effect as that delicious product you get at your special restaurant. The traditionalists will give you just one one word – time!

Personally, I go with paying the premium and making the experience really special. There’s nothing like that special taste on the odd occasion, not the cheapened, anytime-I-want, alternative version.

When waiters and customers work together …

The notice at the foot of the menu invited me to ‘tell my friends’ if I had enjoyed my meal, but to ‘tell the management’ if I hadn’t. I wondered how many had actually made the effort to say anything to management when they had a less than pleasant experience because I saw a lady, clearly unhappy with her waiter’s service storm out the restaurant. She would probably be relating the incident to her friends in short order and the management would be blissfully unaware of the situation.

She probably didn’t read the small print at the foot of the menu.

But this got me thinking as to why people are quick to complain to their friends about some place they’re unhappy with but say nothing directly to the owners or managers. They’re also quick to “review” establishments on TripAdvisor but cut out of the loop the people who could change things for the better. Is it because their experience has taught that there are managers who really don’t care what the customer thinks and just get aggressive and defensive when confronted by a complaint? Is it because those complaining feel embarrassed at bringing something to the attention of their “host” and don’t want to draw attention to themselves?

I know that Jon Rutter WaiterWaitress and his professional staff receive many compliments and accolades, but when something needs attention, Jon is the first to know and he sorts it out quickly and efficiently. He knows that the Rutters Stocktaking team’s first priority is giving the customer what they want in the best way possible. Their customers know that they can approach the team with any problem. So why is there a reluctance of diners, hotel guests, and pub patrons?

The answer could be seated in “relationship” – the better the relationship, the more likely the customer will be frank in their assessment of service. Which got me thinking about the way folk like waiters interacted with their tables – those disinterested waiters who merely “take the order,” who offer no suggestions, who have no interest in the customer’s experience are those who create the barrier that the customer feels they cannot cross to lodge a complaint. Or else they overreact, which is just as bad if not worse. Of course, all the “blame” cannot be laid at the waiter’s door – there are times when customers can be difficult and cannot be satisfied at all regardless of how many hoops the management and their staff jump through!

And of course, there is the right and the wrong way to complain – there are books written on the subject! Some will tell you to be polite but firm, to clearly state what your grievance is and to suggest a solution in an even and unemotional way. Others will tell you to go “straight to the top” and let the boss-man know. Still others will suggest that you cool off and then write to the establishment. All are correct and valid – and as with all answers the correct method hangs on the “it all depends” scenario. Either way, there are always going to be things people are going to complain about, there are always going to be difficult customers, and there are always going to be some unresolved issues.

What would be more helpful is that waiters and servers work with the attitude that their table is special and deserves their attention and care – this will go a long way to ensuring those being served enjoy their experience and won’t be reluctant in mentioning something not quite right.

Even more helpful, would be that those being served enjoy their experience and remember that nothing in life is perfect, not even their waiter, and responding to their server’s efforts will make it an enjoyable experience all round.  Bon appetit!

Loyal customers … and the car park that bites back.

The team at Rutters will testify that prices have changed over the last 40 years. Long before spreadsheets were being used on computers the cost of “whatever” was a whole lot less than today. But (I hear you say) it’s all relative. I mean, what were we earning back then? Jon Rutter will tell you that the numbers are different but in effect the percentages are about the same. A barrel of beer yields “x” number of pints and the mark-up needs to be “y” and so on.

Wouldn’t it be great to get a barrel today at the price charged 45 years ago? That would be unheard of, or at least, someone would have made a monumental miscalculation. So can you imagine the reaction when Francis and Margaret Brierley were invited to spend ten days at their favourite hotel for the price they would have paid in 1969. Well, they had been regulars and had visited 90 odd times, so the Dolan Group’s Chairman thought it would be nice to say “thanks for the support” and hand them a 92% discount, saving them a massive £1,920! Not too shabby.

That type of discount is much more than any “loyalty card” programme will give – but then how many folk with loyalty cards keep going back to the same place for close on 50 years? What’s also rather nice, is that the Brierley’s didn’t have a loyalty card system that they were working on to try for bigger discounts or freebees. They just liked the place.

What would be interesting to know is how many pubs, restaurants or clubs have regulars coming back time after time but who go unnoticed by the owner. And do the staff tell the owners that Mr “so and so” is back again. And if the owners do know, do they sometimes hand the loyal patron a bit of a discount or complimentary drink or dessert as a thank you? The stocktakers will always factor in a few freebees for the loyal supporters, I’m sure, while they’re helping the owner plan and strategise his business to make it efficient.

Parking

The type of regulars that some places don’t want, though, are the type that just use the available facilities and then make themselves scarce. The Queen Victoria in Essex has figured that one out though – they’ve scuppered the efforts of the sneaky car-park-users by introducing a number-plate recognition system where the patron signs in to the premises on a screen as he enters and his car is then welcome. Those cars not signed in, as it were, will get fined. So in a way, I suppose that the regulars are getting some thanks in that they can continue to park for free.

Isn’t technology wonderful? Without even trying it is possible to identify the non-regulars by their car numbers and the regulars by their sign-ins. But I’m sure the Brierley’s are just thankful for the personal touch they received. The many sign-ins they did were in books and with pens. Not on computers with touch screens.