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Around the Table | DineOut Articles


The customer is not always right

by CJD, Wed 16th Sep 2009 08:36am

It's an old adage, first coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge's department store in London in 1909. In those days it was intended to show that the service delivered to the customer would be the best it could be, and the customer would leave happy and contented.

In the very early 1900's this may well have been a good thing, but today, it's not so much the case. An adage that meant to say "we will endeavor to meet your every need" has instead been turned around and used against the very people trying to do their best for you.

From a purely business point of view, "the customer is always right" means the restaurant staff never are! Yes, the chef is wrong, the sommelier is wrong, the maître d' is wrong, even the guy who delivers the freshest free range pork available to the kitchen is wrong. How can all these people be wrong just because one person is right?

If restaurants allow their staff to believe they will always be in the wrong when a customer has an issue, then they will not feel supported and valued. They will operate as an individual, not as part of a team, and that is when things fall apart. The owners/managers of restaurants should trust and believe in their staff. These are the people who they hired to be their face to the masses. When they operate as a team, knowing they have the support of their managers and employers, then they will work harder knowing that if an issue should arise, their judgment will be backed up and unreasonable requests can be dealt with.

Some customers really are the bad apples. Frankly, they are jerks. They are poison, and bad for business. Owners/management should not condone any abuse of their staff by customers; verbal, physical or otherwise.

For minor issues (a dropped knife, a dirty glass) then it is easily fixed, and a "sorry about that" from the waiter is usually followed with a "no problem, thank you" from the customer once it's resolved. This I would assume is 90% of the ‘issues' customers have.

Occasionally a steak is not cooked as requested, or the wrong wine is delivered, or a hair is found in the food. This is when your wait staff earn their bikkies. The customer may be right, or they may be wrong, and this is when it becomes real – is the adage correct? What if the medium-rare steak is actually medium-rare and the customer is a jerk? What if the point noir that was delivered is not the pinot gris they were thinking it was when they ordered it, and the customer is a jerk? What if the hair in the food is the customers hair? None of these situations mean the customer is automatically right, simply that an issue needs resolving. The wait staff makes the call, and management backs them up. It is therefore at the discretion of the management as to how this is fully resolved, and if the customer really is a jerk, then the customer is wrong. If the hair is not theirs, or the steak is not as requested, then it's taken away and resolved. Simple.

As a customer, I like to think that the people cooking for me, serving me, pouring my wine and preparing my bill are professionals. I treat them as I would expect to be treated myself. If I knock over a glass of wine on my table, I do not expect the restaurant to replace it free of charge. If they do, then I am exceedingly happy, but I don't expect it. If the waiter spills my glass of wine however, yes, this time I am in the right!

I rarely ever find the need to complain while I'm out. Maybe I strike it lucky more often than most, or maybe I'm just a nice guy and therefore the people I deal with relax and interact and care more about me?

So, if you are a restaurant owner/manager, trust in your staff and they will reward you with superior service. If you are a customer, stop being such a bloody jerk! It takes little to no effort to be conscientious to those around you. These people are not your slaves, they are people who are working so that you may enjoy yourself. If you find yourself having to complain all the time, maybe you should look in the mirror a little more often.

Right, rant over. Spring has sprung and I'm looking forward to drinks & tapas on the deck as the sun sets in the clear blue sky, or a glass of pinot noir in front of a roaring fire as the rain hammers the windows. Such is the season, the good & the bad, enjoy them in equal measures.

Your Comments


Mon 28th Sep 2009 09:05pm

hear hear CJD...



Sun 1st Nov 2009 08:09pm

Yes I do agree slightly with this but in my opinion if a person is paying "Good" money for a meal,then we deserve the best not crap food or service.



Tue 2nd Mar 2010 09:11am

I have just joined up, but I agree with the comments above. Great!


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