It Takes Two Hands To Clap

Almost every other day, some form of study, report and/or interview would yield results which reflect unhappiness and/or dissatisfaction among those who encounter people who work in the service industry. Singapore is no exception. I think I speak for all Singaporeans when I say that we are a hard bunch to please. More so with the various forms of technological gizmos and gadgets at our disposal in these modern times; news (official and/or unofficial), tweets and citizen journalism “reports” can easily spread like wildfire.

The following are fictitious (but similar sounding) headlines and/or status updates within the realm of social media and the likes (some also include pictures and/or short video clips of the “perpetrator” in action);

“Bad experience at XYZ Cafe”.

“Incompetent staff at 123 Restaurant”.

“Rowdy man causes a scene at A&Z Eatery”.

And the list goes on.

Two Sides to Every Story

I’ve been on both sides of the picture and I’m sure some would be surprised when I say that both parties (which shall henceforth be known as the “customer” and the “staff/service staff” respectively) have their own rights and wrongs. Picking up from a previous post dedicated to the never-ending discussion on service and service standards in Singapore, I hope to further enlighten the majority of clueless ignoramuses (majority of which fall under the “customer” tier) who are quick to point the finger at others when it comes to “poor standards of service” (primarily in the food and beverage industry).

For customers:

  • Contrary to popular belief, the customer is NOT always right
  • Telling staff members that you, the customer, are “the ones paying the staff’s salary” only embodies  and amplifies your selfish and shallow-minded mentality
  • Try putting yourself in the shoes of the service staff
    • They are human beings after all and, therefore, have feelings too
    • Treat them the way you wish to be treated
    • If he/she has apologised for a mistake, accept it graciously instead of issuing threats and hurling obscenities (claiming to have knowledge of the law won’t make you look any smarter)
    • The eatery’s management can ultimately order you to leave their premises if they deem that you are causing discomfort and unrest to other customers (don’t get me started on the – uncommon, but still probable – possibility of having the men in blue in the whole picture)
  • If you have certain requests, REQUEST instead of demand (try using terms such as “Can I…?“, “May I…?“, “Is it OK if I/Would it be OK if I…?“, instead of “Give me a…“, “I want a…“.)
  • NEVER set expectations whenever you visit an eatery (that “famous” food blogger’s opinion and/or experience may, in one way or another, differ from yours)
    • Undertake the whole experience as your own, instead of piggy-backing or relying solely on the reviews/opinions of others
  • Don’t be afraid to raise your concerns to the manager(s) in an ethical manner
    • Raising your voice and making a scene will only bring embarrassment to both the staff as well as yourself
  • Leave a tip if you feel that you’ve been well taken care of during your meal
    • Try to ensure that the tip goes DIRECTLY into the pocket of the individual you intend to reward, instead of the (ubiquitous and often controversy-laden) “tip jar/pool”
  • If it is really gets so bad and/or upsetting;
    • (If you have yet to be served/attended to) Just get up and leave – chances are, the staff won’t even notice
    • (If you have already been served/attended to and/or are in the midst of the most torturous dining experience of your life) Just treat it as an unfortunate experience and a lesson learnt; and vow never to return to the place again – you win some, you lose some.

For staff and employers/managers:

  • Try as best as possible to hire “A-grade” staff members
    • Don’t expect much from cheap and/or poorly-skilled labour
      • The business may initially save by relying on staff who are willing to work for lower wages, but the long term effect will be much more devastating when you have incompetent staff members (of which you, a.k.a. THE BOSS, ultimately made the decision to hire) to represent, promote and sell your brand
  • Ensure that you have sufficient manpower to run the place smoothly (especially on weekends, eve of public holidays and/or holidays and during festive periods)
    • At the same time, ensure that you are not overstaffed
    • Look out for each other and render assistance when needed; especially during meal times – you’re part of a team after all
    • Ensure that your staff are physically and mentally fit to work
      • Plan your staff’s schedules/roster fairly and accordingly
  • Ensure that your staff are properly trained and constantly updated (daily briefings, weekly/monthly sharing sessions, etc.)
    • Make it a point to have them be kept up to date with facts and figures; which may include, but not limited to:
      • Knowledge of the potential number of guests (to get them mentally prepared for the abundance or lack of customers for a particular day/season)
      • Key ingredients in a dish (especially those which are commonly associated with religious/dietary restrictions and/or allergies)
      • Items which are unavailable/running low, etc.
  • Don’t be overly accommodating and/or “yes” people
    • NEVER agree to anything before checking with other staff members (special orders/requests, extension of operating hours, etc.)
    • Don’t be afraid to consult senior staff members and/or the manager if you are uncertain about anything
    • Give some room to the customers; not everyone likes to be interrupted every few minutes while sipping their soup with questions such as “How’s the food?” or “Is there anything else I can help you with?“. A simple “Just let me know if you need anything else…” would suffice, and let them enjoy the meal they paid for
  • NEVER practice/encourage double standards
    • Every customer (regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, financial status, etc.) is a paying one and should be treated equally
  • Treat your staff the way you would treat your friends and family – this will likely ensure:
    • Staff turnover rates being kept to a minimal
    • A naturally happy working environment
  • Motivate your staff with incentives such as (but not restricted to):
    • Giving pay increments
    • “Employee of the Month” awards
    • Organising staff retreats
  • NEVER embarrass your staff in front of the customers
    • If he/she has done something wrong, move in and rectify the mistake as soon as possible in a calm manner
    • Proceed to the back of the house (or somewhere away from the view of the customers) and inform him/her that she has made a mistake
    • Tell him/her the proper way to do it and ensure that he/she doesn’t repeat the same mistake again
  • Make it a habit to smile, as it’s one of the few types of contagion worth spreading

Though it seems pretty simply and straight-forward, not everyone is cut out to work in the service industry. So, don’t fret if you feel like you’ve let yourself and/or your others down. Your true calling may not be within the service industry – but other doors are still open and waiting for you.

Other points worth noting:

  • Nobody and nothing is perfect
  • Don’t be selfish and behave as if the world revolves around you (this goes to both of the aforementioned parties)
    • Getting angry will only do more harm than good
    • Address problems, concerns and issues in a civil manner
    • Always keep calm, especially during troubling and difficult times
  • Happy customers will result in equally happy staff, as well as a happy work environment

It’s never nice to have anyone from either side of the picture to be distressed, shamed and humiliated; especially so when it involves trivial matters. It is suffice to say that the whole “service experience” is a two-way process. As much as some people may hate or be ashamed to admit it; one party cannot survive without the other – ultimately; staff need customers need each other – whether they like it or not.

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