A plea for good customer service

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By Burton K. Janes

On Labour Day Monday, my wife and I left Deer Lake, where we had spent the long weekend with her parents. We stopped for breakfast at a bar and grill on the Trans-Canada Highway. My sister-in-law joined us, and we settled in for a cosy chat and meal.

We placed our respective orders. Mine included eggs, bologna, hash browns and whole wheat toast. Eventually, my meal, minus the toast, was placed before me. We had to request cutlery. I surveyed the plate, anticipating the delectable morsels I was about to dig into. First, though, I reminded the waitress of the oversight about my toast.

Sometime later, by which time I was well into my meal, my toast arrived, but it was white, not whole wheat. “I ordered whole wheat toast,” I said.

After I had finished eating, my whole wheat toast finally arrived. Within minutes, the waitress arrived at our table again, this time with the cheque, which she plunked down beside me. As she turned to return to the kitchen, I said, “By the way, I did order whole wheat toast.”

My reasoning was, “Why would I, a diabetic, order white rather than whole wheat, toast?” (I’ve been led to believe that whole wheat bread is healthier than white bread for a diabetic.)

Whirling around, she hissed, “Now listen here,” as she jabbed her finger at the “W” inscribed on the cheque, “you ordered white toast!”

I ventured forth with a question, “What happened to the customer being right?”

My sister-in-law spoke up: “He did order whole wheat toast, because I heard him.”

By now, the waitress had begun her final retreat, growling a surly “Yeah.” I was taken aback by her rudeness.

Was this incident simply a matter of white vs. whole wheat toast? Far from it. The bread was merely a symptom of a deeper problem. I usually leave waiters and waitresses a sizable tip in appreciation for services rendered. In this case, I had a tip for her, but it wasn’t a monetary one. Instead, it is this: restaurateurs have certain expectations of their customers. However, the reverse is also true: customers  have certain expectations of restaurateurs. The one non-negotiable expectation on my part is respect, which should be a given.

I left the table without eating my toast and paid for the meal. To add insult to injury, the woman who accepted my payment didn’t even say, “You’re welcome,” after I thanked her.

While writing this column, I read the following on the BCC food blog: “any great restaurant is about more than the food — it has to have great front-of-house, too. In my experience, a customer is more forgiving towards mediocre food than they are to slack service. … Good manners are becoming a thing of the past. … And it’s not good enough for a waiter simply to take an order and bring the food to the table. … They need to be able to sell — with confidence — the full dining experience the restaurant has to offer.”

Perhaps our waitress was simply having a bad day. But that’s no reason to insult a customer.

Do I think the eating establishment owes me an apology? Definitely. Do I think I will receive one? I doubt it. But I could be pleasantly surprised.

Incidentally, after I left the roadhouse, two other customers, sitting adjacent to us and obviously witnessing the event, said to my wife and sister-in-law, “We won’t be coming back here again either.”

Sadly, the waitress did not “sell — with confidence — the full dining experience” the bar and grill had to offer.

Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts.

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway

Geographic location: Deer Lake, Bay Roberts

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Recent comments

  • James W.
    James W.
    September 14, 2013 - 18:21

    Mr Janes, it sounds like, from the tone of your letter, you were out of your element. It seems to me you chose to patronize the waitress who brought you white toast instead of wheat toast,a simple oversight for someone working a long holiday week-end. I'm sure the waitress would have much more appreciated a little understanding or even levity on your part instead of your condescending attitude. A "full dining experience" with bologna as the main course at a roadhouse? The way you treated that lady, I know I wouldn't have eaten the toast either after Lord knows what was done to it. Respect is earned , not bought and paid for by the likes of people like you.

  • wavy
    September 14, 2013 - 13:41

    I would like to know the name of said "roadhouse" so as to never darken the door of the place. If a restaurant can be publically slammed in a newspaper review for serving trash food , so too should it be with poor "service", negative experiences and interactions with ANY staff, from owner on down to dishwasher, not showing at the very least basic respect for the customer. Think of it from the perspective of a tourist. I shudder to think of the take-away experience any visitors had at this particular restaurant, although the problem is, sadly, not isolated to this one establishment. Terrible service is an epidemic in this province. You only have to go to Halifax to see the difference. Those folks have hospitality and customer service down to a science.

  • MrSqueaker
    September 14, 2013 - 08:12

    Great insight by the disappointed fussy eater here at the end of the letter; perhaps " his" waitress was having a bad LABOUR day..... If you are willing to pick on the lowest workers in the food service chain, on labour day, then I am prepared to say, stay out of the restaurants on Labour Day, and make your own diabetic toast. I suppose that was diabetic hash browns too, diabetic spuds.....Man oh man the telegram must laugh when these gems come in. Maybe, Mr.Janes, may I suggest also, due to you erratic glucose levels, that you may have been a little contrary yourself(also considering a weekend with the inlaws), and met this waitress halfway on a confrontation. You could have asked to see the manager, and been told that was not possible, as it is a holiday. Thos server was not working that day to sell you an experience my son, she was mucking through her working holiday, until she had to deal with some toast crybabies from town, in her eyes.

    • wavy
      September 14, 2013 - 13:38

      And so, in your mind, you believe working Labour Day Monday excuses one from performing his or her job to the best of their ability, in line with expectations of the job? By God, I hope you're not a surgeon, cop or pilot- although I somehow doubt it.

    • Alexis
      September 14, 2013 - 14:26

      "Crybabies from town" speaks volumes. In other words, I guess anyone who is a townie automatically needs to be brought down a peg or two. Yeah, that's a great excuse for bad behaviour. NOT!!!!

  • NonTipper
    September 14, 2013 - 07:55

    I rarely tip wait staff or hotel porters. I really only tip people who have a dangerous or unpleasent job and get paid very little to begin with, such as taxi drivers or barbers. The wait staff really do nothing different than fast food servers except for walking a few feet to your table which is really not worth the extra 10-15% tip. Yes, they are polite and add to the experience, but they should anyway. Instead of assuming bad behaviour is the nature and award good behaviour with tips, we should assume good bahviour is the nature and punish bad with complaints and firing.

  • Alexis
    September 14, 2013 - 07:54

    Bad service is all too common - and not just in food and beverage establishments. Very recently, I was shopping for a particular item in a drugstore - the sort of item that is not on display - you have to request it from a clerk. The clerk supposedly got me the correct item, rang up my purchase, and I paid her. After I left the store, I realized she had given me the wrong item, so I had to go back to the store for an exchange. She offered not so much as an "I'm sorry" - just a surly look on her face while she exchanged my item. I myself spent several years working in retail. We all make mistakes from time to time, but if I made a mistake that caused a customer to have to make a special trip back to the store - first of all, I felt bad for having inconvenienced the customer in such a way - and secondly, I sure as heck apologized to the person for my mistake.