PERSPECTIVE: "Service charge doesn’t mean that you are excused of basic courtesy."
Working in the food and beverage industry can be trying at times, especially where difficult customers are concerned. Mothership speaks to several F&B owners and staff to find out the different types of customers they've encountered during their work, and how they deal with them.
Irving* (not his real name), the founder of a steakhouse of three years, had directed me to an anonymous confession page of sorts for people in the F&B industry, Instagram page @fnbsays.sg.
A quick glance shows that the bulk of the submissions mostly regale experiences of nasty customers of all shades.
It is also a page where a number of the posts are "insider" comments from industry peers and supposedly counts a number of major chefs in Singapore among its followers, according to Irving.
But how far do these posts reflect the reality on the ground?
When Mothership reached out to several people who had worked in the F&B industry for a few years, some common elements that ran through their stories were a lack of courtesy and an overblown sense of entitlement in the attitudes of certain customers towards service staff.
Seeing a different side of people as service staff
While most customers "are pretty nice and understanding", it is possible to see a different side to people once you "wear an apron".
Steven*(not his real name), the founder of a four-year-old restaurant told Mothership that people have treated him differently based on how he dressed:
"I have approached them as either the founder or owner of the restaurant. So most people generally treat me differently. But sometimes, when I am helping my guys out on the ground, and I dress normally and wear an apron, that is when you perhaps start to see a different side of people come out."
There are customers, Steven said, who "don't give you eye contact, they don't even bother to look up at you, they don't even bother to look at you. They don't even turn in your direction."
"You're serving them food, they carry on as if you are invisible," he said.
Customer allegedly looked down on elderly staff
In relating a case of how people can be judged based on their jobs, Steven shared an instance of how an elderly-man, who worked part-time at his restaurant, was allegedly told off by a "young professional."
"Sometimes we employ some older-aged folks to do cleaning of the area, and helping to take the soiled dishes to the kitchen and all that. (In the case of this) uncle, he attempted to clear the plates and bowls from this table and he kind of interrupted this group of two to three people having a conversation.
One of the persons snapped at him and said, 'Uncle, can you please not clear the dishes when we are having a talk?" And further remarked, 'You will not understand such a high-level talk we are having!" in a very rude, entitled manner.
At that time I was at the outlet, but I wasn't witness to the incident. The uncle who recounted this to me said he felt very maligned and badly treated as he felt he was looked down upon.
You don't really see (such behaviour) as much when you present yourself as either the boss or the manager. You see it more when you pretend that you are just a deliveryman or service staff."
Steven went on and said, "This uncle doesn't really need a job. He just came to work for us because his two sons are working in the area and he likes to meet them after lunch. He just comes to help us during lunchtime as a part-timer."
"When you grow up, I hope you don't have to be like him"
In another incident, one of Irving's staff, Edwin*(not his real name), shared an incident in 2017 regarding some parents who used him as an example to warn to their child about not studying hard enough.
In Edwin's own words:
"This was before Covid. I was cleaning up the table and this particular family who were seated down, I served them food and cleared their empty plates, and gave them cutlery. Then the parents told their kid, loudly, 'When you grow up, I hope you don't have to be like him. Please study hard.'
I felt like an idiot in a bad job. It was said in a way that was very demoralising.
Of course, I kept a straight face because I did not want not to create a whole scene that causes my restaurant to face the consequences. At the end of the day, you have to be professional. That is our job scope. Happy or not, we still have to serve them.
There's no point in arguing, there's no point in trying to change their mindset.
To some people, they think that F&B is an easy job or that it's a job whereby their kids shouldn't be part of in the future. You shouldn't be teaching your kids all these. You are embarrassing somebody in the public, not just in front of your family but in front of other customers as well."
Giving a customer a free main dish despite allegations of poor service
Edwin then brought up a second example involving an "entitled" family with elderly parents who came to their restaurant:
"This family came at the last few minutes towards our closing time, last order for food. A family of five, earlier this month (November 2020). They came with two elderly persons, their parents.
We told them that we might not be able to get them a seat because it's towards the last few minutes, and the cafe is full. But if they can wait for a while more, let's say at least five minutes, and they still don't get a seat, we'll get your order first and get you seated.
And one of them stared at a table (which had other customers) and said, 'They're leaving.' But before them, there's actually two to three customers in front of them (in the queue). Just because they had family with them, they felt they should be seated first. They felt they were very entitled to a seat."
At this point, Edwin clarifies that on his restaurant's end, the restaurant serves people on a first-come first-serve basis and that there's a time limit for serving customers.
In any case, the family proceeded to make a "whole scene" and even wrote a complaint on their site saying that they allowed people behind them to be seated first, even though this was not the case.
"But at the end of the day, the family was still seated and I came to them personally to apologise. But the family was still not happy... From our side, we tried to give them chairs to sit while waiting for a table, for the two elderly, but they did not want to.
We still gave them complimentary drink and food to apologise for the miscommunication and whatnot. We didn't want to argue with them. They had already told us they were unhappy with us and our service sucks."
I know everyone is waiting in the line for a long-time and they have old parents, which we understand. So out of goodwill, we gave them one of our mains as complimentary food. They rejected the drink but took the food."
Receiving one-star reviews over rule disallowing dogs to poop or pee in the restaurant
Darren*(not his real name), who has been in the F&B business for eight years, heads a restaurant that allows dogs inside.
His biggest gripe? Unreasonable customers who take offence at the restaurant's rule of not allowing dogs to poop or pee in the restaurant.
"They want to bring dogs in, we tell them at the door that the dogs cannot poop or pee in the restaurant. Then they got very indignant and said, 'How can I promise you my dog will not poop or pee?'
And they expect us to let their dogs poop or pee in the restaurant? A lot of pet cafes they do that, they don't care, they just clean up. But for us, we try to prevent it. And there are a few things you can do. You can walk your dog first, first of all, if your dog is toilet-trained, it won't do it anyhow all over the place. Or if you cannot control the pee or poop, you put a diaper on your dog.
Even at home, when you're eating, where your dog lives in your own home, you don't want it to be pooping or peeing when you're eating right?
We told them the rules, they got fed up, told us off, stormed off and gave us a one-star review. They got so indignant, like their dog has the right to poop and pee in our restaurant and I'm crazy for telling them that we cannot allow that."
"I'm just trying to maintain hygiene and they tell us off for maintaining hygiene," he highlighted.
Showing basic courtesy to F&B service staff goes a long way
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when we asked the staff about a piece of advice for customers, a common refrain was for customers to show some basic courtesy and respect.
According to Steven:
"Small things like looking up, looking them (F&B service staff) in the eye, saying thank you, or after you make payment for the bill, saying thank you, even a simple thing like addressing service staff by their name, which is on their name tag, these things matter to them a lot because they feel human doing their job."
A similar sentiment was voiced by Darren in the context of last-minute cancellations.
"We can incur significant costs arranging for manpower, bringing in more ingredients," he pointed out.
As such, "it's very rude and shows a total lack of respect," if a customer either cancels at the last minute or doesn't show up at all, he added.
He also called out the practice of customers booking multiple restaurants — supposedly a significant reason for last-minute cancellations and no-shows — then simply choosing one, on the grounds of "on that day, see what my mood is like, feel like eating, or where am I near to, which one am I nearer to, you know?"
Which is, as one can imagine, terribly inconsiderate to staff at F&B outlets, who are trying to earn a living from an honest day's work.
"Service charge doesn’t mean that you are excused of basic courtesy," Steven said.
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