Try a Little Tenderness

In theory, if you’re a cafe, restaurant or bar owner, you want to treat your customers pretty well or risk losing them. In New Zealand, this is particularly apt: We’re a small place – word gets around. Also, we tend not to complain to staff about poor service or product – we just moan about it to our friends afterwards (or in online forums), and avoid the place ever after. Some time ago I changed from accepting the odd crap coffee as one of life’s inevitables to becoming the customer who (politely) asks if it can be remade, better. And now, if a dish of food is seriously lacking, I’ll mention it to the staff. After all, I want to walk away from a place feeling I’ve given them a fair chance, and vice versa. Here are a few examples of good and poor customer service I’ve come across in the past few weeks in Auckland:

At Ironique in Mt Eden (not a place I frequent, but husband wanted their steak sandwich), I knew I was making a mistake ordering a chermoula lamb salad. In general I avoid salads from cafe menus – they’re invariably a stingy offering, a few interesting things, if you’re lucky, plumped out with cheap, tasteless salad leaves. God knows what I was thinking, I just wasn’t in the greasy breakfast or steak sandwich zone, so the salad it was. I should’ve known. About 5 seriously tiny pieces of lamb – not a whiff of  chermoula about them – atop a few scraps of possibly once-crispy, now soggy, kumara, plumped out with a mound of yellowing, bitter iceberg lettuce leaves. I took it back. The girl at the counter was apologetic and said she’d talk to the chef, and yes, I could order something else instead. The manager came out and thanked me for letting them know how crap the salad was, not enough New Zealanders voice their disappointment, he said, and they need to know if improvement is called for. A good response, then.

At Hard Luck Cafe on K’Rd I received a lukewarm flat white. Took it back and asked if they could either heat it up (I always give cafes this option, if they’re really dumb they will actually just heat it up in a microwave) or make me a fresh one. Girl at counter nervously passed on request to barista who snapped his head in my direction and asked “Do you mean you want a burnt coffee?” Um… “No”, I replied. “Just better than tepid would be nice, thanks”. “You know the milk mustn’t be heated past 60 degrees?”, he persisted, as he reluctantly made me another, as he said “warm – not hot – coffee”. I couldn’t be bothered with the debate, I just wanted a decent coffee. I could’ve told him I wasn’t completely ignorant on the matter, I did make coffee in cafes once upon a time and had been through a barista course. It wasn’t just the barista. There was a live band playing that day at the cafe, and several people had complained about the volume – all they needed to do was turn it down a wee bit, right? But no, complainers – all of whom were paying customers – were told they could get lost if they didn’t like it. Nice one.

Rant over. Have you experienced any dire, or wondrous customer service moments in Auckland recently?