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?


4 thoughts on “Try a Little Tenderness

  1. Reminds me of the time we went to Tasca in Newmarket for a meal, several years ago now. The manager asked what we thought of the food when we went to pay, so we told her, truthfully, that the haloumi was nice, but everything else was boring (lots of bland leeks and potatoes) and we could have cooked it ourselves at home. She became quite defensive and said that other people liked their food. Why ask if you don’t want to know? We would have happily walked out without complaint (though we would still have felt ripped off).

  2. Ha – love it. I often get the ‘no one else has complained about it’ response – er, yeah, no one has complained, because that’s how we are culturally, but how many customers will you have lost without even knowing it!

    The other night I watched a great Italian film, Quiet Chaos. In it, the main character berates the patron of the restaurant he lunches at daily for adding pecorino to the broccoli – something like ‘you’re always mucking round with the food, it doesn’t need to taste like anything else, just broccoli!’ The best thing is, the patron agrees with his complaint – why can’t we have that kind of open forum over here?!

  3. I guess people don’t generally say anything, firstly to minimise confrontation, but also because it takes time, and they would probably rather spend their evening doing something else than explaining why some food which they have already eaten is inferior.

    A couple of recent good customer service experiences though:

    1) I bought some haloumi from Turkish Cuisine on Dominion Road in the weekend, and was surprised to see I was given a block from the counter which felt like it had been kept at room temperature. When I opened the packet, it smelt fishy, but I rinsed it and cooked it anyway. The fishy smell was even more pronounced, and I took it back to the shop. After first pointing out that the cheese doesn’t expire until June, and that the counter top has a refrigeration unit underneath, the man tasted my haloumi and agreed that it was very fishy. He checked that I hadn’t cooked it with anything else (I only used olive oil), then he cut a piece from a recently opened packet and cooked it for me, so I knew what it should taste like. Then he opened a fresh packet, got me to check the smell, and gave it to me for free. I still thought it felt like the cheese was at room temperature, but at least I now have a packet that doesn’t smell suspect.

    2) I went to visit a goat farm yesterday, which you can read on my blog. Although we had made a booking for 11 people, only 10 were able to make it. They didn’t charge me for the missing person even though I was able to take away that person’s portion of cheese.

    Hopefully lots more good experiences to come!

    1. Right, I need to visit that goat farm – I’m obsessed with goat’s cheese! I had a good bit of cheesy customer service at Art of Produce recently, the owner didn’t charge me for the buffalo mozzarella as it was close to its expiry date – choice one!

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