The customer is always right!

Whether you run a pub, a fine dining restaurant, a tea room or a small ‘chippy’ on the corner you have a lot in common with each other. There are suppliers, bills, licenses, staff – and there are customers. The other common denominator is the need to plan successfully in order to be successful and in that process is the need to try to cater for every eventuality that may occur.

It would seem obvious that the publican would plan differently to the chap with the tea room but planning, none the less is involved. The stocktaker dealing with the tea room will have different formulae and items in his system than when he visits the hotel or the club who are also his customers. Jon Rutter will give you lots of examples of the things he has to consider for his clients that form part of his comprehensive feedback.

But it is unlikely that even Jon would have seen the ‘little black book’ that some establishments are reported to have tucked away that contain the list of rude customers. The implication in Francesca Infante’s recent piece is that the more upmarket type establishments might have such a list that they consult when a table is requested and they can then “regretfully” tell the client that there are no bookings available. The owner of a chippy will generally tell a rude customer “take a hike” rather than waste time consulting a list.

Image: Guenter M Kirchweger

Image: Guenter M Kirchweger

However, one wonders what one has to do in order to “get on the list.” Do you have to generally behave badly and chuck food around? Drink red wine with your halibut? Or merely point out to the waiter that you’d like your steak done a little less rare. Whatever the reasons they seem to be pretty subjective as to what “rude” is. It seems that it’s up to the waiter’s and the maitre-d’s whim as to whether or not to write the name down.

At least being refused a table would seem preferable to having the police called in when you start to have words with the receptionist (a word of warning here – if you plan to have a birthday celebration, make sure in advance that you ARE permitted to sing a few bars to the birthday boy or girl). You don’t want to end up like Mr Doherty who, after coughing up over 300 quid for his child’s outing had the police roll up and query “what’s going on here, then?” because he hadn’t paid for the “party option.”

And if you’re over twelve, don’t ask for fish fingers (even if you like them) – the Cummings family might be branded as rude for asking for this, but the Regional Manager of the hotel in question has apologised “for any inconvenience” after they left.

Any host will tell you that this hospitality business can be a minefield of service, preferences, customers, planning and so on. They’ll point out that there are always two sides to a story but that they cannot accommodate every request. They would be right – it’s just a pity that sometimes PR doesn’t come into play, especially in the heat of the moment.

There is a sign on the wall of one kitchen I know – in full view of every waiter coming in and out as they serve – “The customer is ALWAYS right … even when they’re wrong!

I don’t want to complain, but …

These days it seems that everyone has something to complain about. Whether it’s the Government, the NHS or the way children behave towards their elders, there will be some issue you’ll pick up on when listening to people chat. And some of the moans might seem quite legitimate to the “moan-er” but trivial to the “moan-ee.”

So, can you imagine what your reaction would be if someone walked up to you and said, “I don’t like the colour of your house. So you’d better change it!” Well that’s exactly what happened to Ann and Mark Kennedy when they decided to spruce up their listed cottage with the same colour paint it has been for at least the last 12 years. The new coat of paint was, well … too pink! That is what new paint does, it isn’t the faded version. Now, there can be a whole debate on whether the colour is appropriate to the era, whether it breaches the Listed Building Consent guidelines etc etc – but what this does illustrate is that one complaint (yes, ONE) can throw someone’s best laid plans and intentions into turmoil.

The debate can also revolve around the “officiousness” of some councils and their employees, or of some individuals who think they are above the law – like in the case of the town councillor Angie O’Grady who felt that the Town House in Llandudno should “let her in” after closing time and thereby breach the licensing policy. Possibly the good councillor had had such a good time at bingo she merely wanted to re-live some of the ambience, but the Public Services Ombudsman (yes, it got THAT far) found that she “had used her position to attempt to gain an advantage for herself.”

As some are so quick to tell us, there are lessons that can be learned. How to complain and how to handle complaints are paramount. There is even advice out there on how to deal with complaints about noise – which is pretty useful if you have a local troubadour in once a week. Doing things the right way will go a long way towards getting a gripe attended to in an amicable way. The recipient of a gripe, by handling things correctly, could retain a customer or even create a loyalty that wasn’t present before. This is particularly applicable to those in the hospitality industry (that business of the feeding, watering and housing of guests).

Sea dog

With so many different tastes, preferences and foibles a host has to consider, he’d be forgiven for throwing his hands in the air at some point and wondering if it was all worth the effort. But successful businesses will confirm what Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers will also confirm – that with careful planning, doing things the right way and with conscientious attention to detail, dealing with any gripes becomes an opportunity not a discouragement. Apart from the nuts and bolts of ensuring there is enough beer in the cellar, Rutters team members who know their local area will also give whatever feedback that landlords need in order to stay successful, and possibly also on the good side of the local residents.

Who knows, they might even comment on the colour you painted the building, or the quality of your ornaments displayed on your shelves. Unfortunately, there will always be something someone doesn’t like – hopefully, if it is the ornaments, they won’t start chucking the Toby Jugs around. People can be interesting, but some are just not happy unless they’re miserable.