The customer is always right.
I’ve no doubt it’s a principle most of us strive to keep foremost in our minds every time we have to deal with the latest bumptious, bolshie or just plain brainless challenge to test the standard of our customer service response.
But is there anybody in this hospitality trade of ours who actually believes it?
If there is, then whoever you are you might have had your faith rocked the other day if you’d been in my shoes.
One particular genius held up the pint in his hand and declared: “This beer doesn’t taste right – LOOK!” I guess you can imagine the totally unsarcastic manner in which I tried to explain that flavour isn’t a visual sense.
In many respects I’m sure I’ve mellowed over the years, and have now returned to bartending and punter-handling with a far less uptight and perhaps even slightly less arrogant manner.
I never was that good at the “customer” maxim, even after Tynemill (my long-time employer) had amended it for the employee induction to read: “We know the customer is not always right, but wherever possible she must be allowed to think she is.” (Giving the customer a female identity was deliberate for reasons I probably don’t need to explain to male readers!)
The customer who wants a pint of “snakebite” has never been allowed even to think he’s right in any pub I’ve run, and I’ve always been inclined to resist the adulteration of meticulously kept real ale with any substance other than lemonade – although I was once so bemused by an elderly gentleman’s unearthly request for half a beer mixed with a tomato juice that I served it. “It’s very common where I used to live,” he assured me. “Where’s that, Venus?” I asked. “No, Chicago,” was his deadpan reply.
Last week someone ordered a “black and blue” steak. Assuming this meant charred on the outside and raw in the middle, which you can probably only achieve at a Texas cowboy cook-out by plunging a slab of beef into a vat of boiling oil for a couple of seconds, Leon the chef did his best on the griddle in his Leicestershire kitchen. Fifteen minutes later half the meat – plainly still very rare – came back with the comment, “This is actually only medium rare, I’ll take it home for my dog.”
Her male consort asked for a chocolate torte, and then they left their table and moved to the bar. The dessert was delivered and promptly returned on the grounds that, “I’ve no time to eat that now”. Then he ordered another round of drinks.
Does some sadistic watchdog parachute customers like these into our pubs to test our resolve to believe they’re always right?
And for the record I offered to replace that beer that looked a funny flavour. The genius declined the offer and thought his second pint of the same stuff was fine. Perhaps with a little coaxing it’s possible to train the customer to be right.… some of the time.
Julian Grocock is the licensee of The Rose and Crown in Hose, Leiestershire and the chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers