7 Oct 2009

An Unpalatable Truth (Part 2)

With the lawsuit frenzy sweeping the nation since the 1990s, customers have made sure they would become more vocal about their complaints, and some have pushed the envelope further by making sure they would complain about everything and anything crossing their minds in order to get that extra freebie, or a refund on a perfectly good meal or room! I wish I was exaggerating but personal experience as front-of-house taught me otherwise…

In parallel to this, consumers have been entrusted with more statutory rights over the last 15 years, and big branded chains have put in place refund policies as satisfaction guarantee back-ups, which have adversely undermined staff authority, blurred the barriers of acceptable customer behaviour, and in effect given more power to the public. It wasn’t long before the system was abused: customers would remove a light bulb or mess up the TV settings to claim their money back at the end of their hotel stay, in the same vein that a shopper would return an item of clothing to the store that they had worn but then decided they didn’t want anymore. A case of having your cake and eating it!

Blackpool's Coral Island

With customers of all ages, class and creeds ‘playing the game’ and ‘trying it on’, one has to bear in mind that the universal unspoken rule still prevails: you basically get what you give, and the staff give what they get (within their remit and within reason). To put it simply, the more pleasant a customer is, the better service they will get. If they are awkward and start pushing all your buttons, you will seethe inside, despite remaining professional, cool, calm and collected, but when they overstep the mark, you will have to use your judgement to either let your superior deal with the situation or get firm with them yourself and get the situation back under control. Customers are like kids, they test your limits, see how far they can push you and try to get more out of you.

This may not be the customers’ prerogative as they are out having a good time, but hospitality staff work tough hours and long shifts (12/ 14 hour-shifts are not uncommon for full timers) that completely wreak havoc with the normality of daily life and their own social lives. In addition, from entry-level jobs to middle management, the pay and incentives are dire – to say the least - and working conditions can be tough (constantly on your feet and hey presto dealing with the general public!).


Although there will be some exceptions, I have witnessed first hand that morale is low, and the industry (especially the bar and restaurant side of it) suffers from the old stigma that outsiders believe its work opportunities cater for the in-between-jobs stopgap market, students, second jobbers, and therefore not necessarily associated with a career in its own right.

I do not aim to discourage those of you who are thinking of joining hospitality or who have had a good experience of it as workforce. Some places will look after their staff better than others, much of the general ambience and working conditions being dictated by the quality of management and the company foundations. There will also be some invaluable perks that will make the job memorable: the friendly customers (they do exist!), the good tips, the staff camaraderie, a bit of glitz and glamour even.

At the end of the day, we all want to have a good time as customers and this should include the fact that we don’t abuse our statutory rights, or become arrogant and treat the bar, restaurant or hotel staff like servants from a bygone age. Respect might be an over-used word, but it has never been so relevant to the hospitality industry than now! Ladies and gentlemen, have a nice day.

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