Anyone in a front of house job at a restaurant always remembers their first complaint, and the first time they have to refund an order.
I started work at the takeaway when I was 15 years old, and this was possibly a few months after I was allowed to properly man the counter on my own.
At the time it was me and my older sister working the weekend shift with the parents, so both of us would collect orders between us. In this instance I didn’t collect the order, she did. I couldn’t remember much about the order except that it was at least £40, and that she had ordered sesame prawn on toast and sweet and sour pork balls.
I remembered this customer was female with curly to frizzy shoulder-length hair, was wearing a black leather jacket with a black leather skirt and black high-heeled boots. The lasting memory I had of this customer was a cross between someone who wanted to ride a motorcycle and a dominatrix.
The exchange was made and we carried on as normal until about 10 minutes later I picked up the phone to hear an angry customer complaining that her food was overcooked, and said that she wanted a refund and that she would be coming over to bring her order back.
A few minutes later the said angry woman stormed in with a plastic bag full of takeaway boxes thrown in with chow mein, rice and sauce leaking out, oil sticking to the sides (is it too much to ask to put the lids back on the boxes?
What was more, said leather-clad angry lady threw the bag onto the counter and started pulling the contents out one by one, stating specifically what was wrong with each item.
“prawn toas’ was disgustin’, the pork balls were overcooked, the beef chow mein was overcooked…”
One of the worst things about the altercation was the fact that we were serving two other customers who were regulars to the takeaway, and I felt genuinely embarrassed that they had to bear witness to all of this.
The only option really was to just deal with it as quietly as possible; in this instance it meant just refund the money, the sooner she leaves the better.
Money refunded and snatched from my hand, she walked towards the door without taking her eyes off me and shouted: “I ‘ope I don’t ge’ food poisoning tonigh’!”
(Can you get food poisoning from overcooked food?)
I was feeling quite shaken, I had never been in that situation before. all I could do was clean up the mess that she left as the two customers who were witnessing the drama went “don’t worry, I like your food”.
No one can every really prepare for something like that, and when something like that does happen you have to somehow do it without causing a scene depending on how much money a customer, which translates into how angry that customer is.
One of the things that really upset me about that particular evening (other than it being the first time I ever received a complaint at that level of anger) was the fact that we all got a telling off from the boss: my dad. It’s never fun when a customer is unhappy, and it’s never fun knowing that you have to face your dad afterwards.
As I say with all difficult customers at least I’ll never have to seem them again.