Customer Encounters #5 – My Flat has Burnt Down

In the times I have served in the takeaway I have only ever come across two people who have asked for food but have no money on them. The first time we turned them down outright and they left. The second time however was a slightly interesting story.

This person who came in was a woman who I had served previously and I remembered her last time being really quite rude. She wore a grey tracksuit with pink trimming, had a voice that croaked from too many cigarettes, a complexion that was red and quite unhealthy, and a miasma of alcohol.

She came in one evening and said that her flat had burnt down and that she had nothing on her except the clothes she was wearing, she’s lost her money, her ID her home and she absolutely nothing on her. All she wanted was a bag of chips because she was hungry.

Your first inclination is to be really reluctant to help people because you don’t know them well enough to know if they’re telling the truth or not. It’s something you get taught from an early age: “never give money to random people because they’re going to spend it on drugs.”

A bag of chips at the time was £1.20 and not a heart breaking amount, but I did have questions over how genuine her claim was that this person’s flat had burnt down (if my house burnt down I would call the fire brigade and buying a takeaway would be the least of my worries).

She looked quite distressed and about to cry (but with a voice that was coated in nicotine it was hard to tell if there were genuine tears). I found it quite unusual for a person whose flat burnt down to just run away from the flat without a fireman/woman comforting her surely?

She said she lived just around the corner yet I did not recall hearing any sirens since the shop opening. Plus there aren’t any flats around the corner, the nearest flat is within clear shot of the shop window and that didn’t seem to be burning down. Added to this she didn’t smell of smoke.

This was all going all going on in my head and she was causing something of a scene and there were people waiting for their food to be served, and just to get her out of the shop we eventually just gave her the chips.

I asked one of the regular customers if he knows if there was a fire nearby. He said: “oh that woman is always causing trouble, she hangs around bus stops asking people for cigarettes and things.”

I then went on to ask a few customers if they heard about a fire nearby. No one did.

Since then said customer hasn’t come back to the shop since but I do wonder what has happened to her.

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Customer Encounters #4 – Not enough money 2.0

Common sense normally dictates to you that if you don’t have enough money to buy something, you don’t buy it.

I once sold food to a chav girl who was about my age or older at the time (I was about 16 and was growing into the job). I remember her ordering a rice dish and then calling me out twice to add more things to her order. The last thing she ordered was a pancake roll and she was about 10p short, and like every good shopgirl I pointed out that I was 10p short, to which this person went: “so wha? It’s only 10p innit?”

Now I know it seems irrational to kick up a fuss over 10p so I was told to just let her off (she was giving us money and if that means that she can’t get a bus home then that’s her problem).

Although I was 16 at the time, you can’t help but think “if I let you get away with not paying the full amount now then you’re going to do it again the next time you come here.”

Had this happened in a bigger shop (let’s say McDonalds for instance) then she wouldn’t get away with it and she would pay the full amount and not give any of her attitude to the staff there. But because we’re a small business (and don’t have a team of security to escort troublemakers out) that somehow means that she can get away with not paying up the full amount or even get away with not treating us with the same respect as you probably would with someone from a bigger food outlet.

Customer Encounters #3 – Not enough money

A few nights ago a teenage girl of about 15 years old came in with her friend and asked for a chicken chow mein with duck and sauce on top. Not an unusual request but one I knew that dad would take issue with serving in a regular container and would have to serve it in a large.

I then explained the situation to said customer who took issue with it and gave me a dirty look and so settled for having just a simple duck chow mein. She just about had the right money and asked if she could have sauce with it.

That would be an extra 50p.

She threw me another dirty look and just left. She didn’t even lok to see if there was a cheaper alternative.

Sometimes in life you can’t always get or buy what you want and you just have to live within your means. Not everyone can afford to eat duck all the time.

Does that come with Free Prawn Crackers?

Before

They say that the best things in life comes free, and prawn crackers are one of them… provided you’re willing to spend £15+ on your order.

Prawn crackers aren’t specifically speaking a Chinese dish; it’s regularly served as a snack or appetizer in a lot of Chinese eateries in the UK, but it’s origins are actually Indonesian where they are called krupuk.

Since then they have become synonymous with Oriental cuisine as an appetiser. As a suggestion try dipping them in either a curry, sweet and sour or barbecque sauce, and they have also taken on many forms from the Calbee shrimp chips with barbecque seasoning varieties to fish crackers.

Who doesn’t love prawn crackers? (those allergic to prawns as it happens as they do contain shrimp or shrimp extract). Those little white discs deep fried in oil blooming into big white fluffy petals of crispiness, left to cool for a few minutes before being lovingly packaged into plastic bags ready for you to enjoy at the price of £1.10 per bag (they used to be £1. I don’t know why there’s been an extra 10p added.).

If only I had £1.10 for every single time anyone asked me if prawn crackers came free.

Admittedly I used to get irritated that everyone would demand free prawn crackers (“Everyone else is doing it!”). To be fair, it’s not an unreasonable question to ask because prawn crackers aren’t exactly expensive and are normally bought in a box (£3.99 for a 2kg box) and we charge up to £1.10 per bag, and that makes just a little bit of money for an otherwise ailing business (as the saying goes: every little helps). Admittedly prawn crackers aren’t exactly our menu best sellers and is not necessarily the snack of choice when you’re on a bus home because the packaging is quite awkward compared to traditional crisp packets (a plastic bag sealed with a one inch strip of tape).

Ideally I would like to give away prawn crackers for free, but unfortunately it isn’t something that my boss (aka dad) would allow.

Safety in Numbers

Customer: Hi can I order a takeaway please?

Me: Yes what would you like?

C: Right, well I’d like a number 35… a number 60… a number 27… a 53… a 46… and a number 3 please.

***

One of the pet peeves I used to have when doing phone orders is when people order by numbers. Like most Chinese takeaway menus (or indeed most menus for any food outlet) everything tends to be numbered, I have no idea why, maybe it’s just easier for some people to remember in some shops.

I remember being quite irritated the first time I encountered a customer that thought it was easier to order by numbers over the phone: it’s a peak time on a Friday night, there are four or five other orders ahead of you that need to be ready as well, I’m really pressed for time here, would it kill you to at least read out the names of the order?

When I did phone orders from about 17 years onwards when I was looking for a number on the menu I used to keep hem hanging there for a little while longer by making it sound like I was having trouble finding the number… I don’t do it anymore of course.

I still get annoyed by it but you just have to grin an bear it; it’s not the customer’s fault that they don’t know I don’t do numbers (which is ironic for a Chinese person), similarly I don’t know if ordering by numbers is easier for them because maybe someone else wrote down a list of numbers on a piece of paper and didn’t think to include what the actual order was, maybe it’s just faster for them to write it down and they must think that it’s easier for me to write it down as a number.

To throw a question out there, does anone working in a Chinese takeaway prefer it when people order by numbers or do they prefer it when the name of the dish is read out loud?