This Is Not A Bus Stop

Teenagers are very confused people, so confused in fact that they often mistake our takeaway for a bus stop. At times I feel quite sorry for them because it normally takes them up to 15 minutes to realise that that room with the chairs they’re been waiting in all this time isn’t actually a bus shelter and that a bus hasn’t stopped outside once to take them home.

Like most places my takeaway quite conveniently has a bus stop outside, something of a lifesaver during my schooldays when I had to take the bus to work after school. However there is case of it being a bad thing in that people begin to treat the waiting area in the takeaway as an unofficial bus shelter, and the people who quite often abuse this “privilege” are large groups of teenagers.

They’ll come in here, check themselves out in the mirror making sure that the fake tan is in tact and that they remembered to put enough hairspray in that valley of dead ends caused by more than regular use of a hair straightener, are their trousers low enough. They’ll come and grab a menu and say “oh I haven’t decided what I want yet” and sit down and “read” the menu whilst their cohort of friends (I believe nowadays you’re meant to call it a “mandem”, the word in itself makes me laugh because I immediately think of tandem, and if you don’t know what that is).

(Seriously, I wanted an excuse to just put that video in a post).

Teenagers are funny creatures, we were all teenagers once of course, but as you get older you look at them making fools of themselves, thinking that they own the world and that they’ve somehow outsmarted you. It’s like how I sometimes laugh at “gap yah” kids despite the fact that at one time I went on a similar gap yah-esque type trip and was probably a bit like them.

But anyway back to the takeaway.

At this point I’m sneering at contempt at these teenagers thinking they’re clever and that I don’t know. I got out and ask them “are you going to order anything?”, at which point they go “I haven’t decided what I want yet” pffft.

Of course I know you’re not going to order anything. I’ve seen teenagers like you around. You always come in here at 10pm at night with that swagger of a rebel, grab a menu and gaze mindlessly at the contents pretending to decide what you want, oblivious to the fact that I’ve seen many people like you, I know that all you’re doing is waiting for a bus.

You look a bit lost love, you’re not going to get home waiting in here. If you go out and turn left around the corner, there’s the bus stop, can’t miss it because there is a big shelter and a sign that says “bus stop”. That will get you home, sitting here pretending to order something is not going to get you home, you might even miss the last bus if you hang around long enough.

Now under exceptional circumstances i.e. if it’s raining heavily, then that’s a fair enough reason to double up as a makeshift bus shelter. But what often really irks me is the amount of disrespect that they often show to the owners of the shop and the property.

They just sit there, sometimes they scare other customers from coming in or they make customers feel uncomfortable because there are so many of them, they block the door, they litter the area, they move the chairs around, they argue, they don’t close the door when they leave and then they continue to hang around outside the shop for a considerable amount of time and don’t leave for another 10 minutes.

This is the 21st century, why don’t you take card?

chip_and_pin_040413On a few occasions we have had a few customers come in asking if we accept card only to be met with disappointment that we don’t have a chip and pin system installed.

Fortunately across the road from our takeaway is a cash point and we often direct customers there if they need to withdraw cash, and most if not many do so without uttering a complaint.

Last night a customer came in and the first thing she asked me was if we accepted card. As usual I said no and politely directed her to the cash point across the road. She left the shop and went in the opposite direction, leading me to assume that either (a) she worked nearby and was going to take out some cash, or (b) she decided to find another food outlet that took cash.

A few minutes later she came back and brandished two crisp £10 notes and went into a bit of a huff about the fact she had to take out £20. She also did that thing that people do when they get annoyed, which is to repeat the same thing at least three times as if to prove a point (yes, I get it, you had to go and take out £20).

Whilst I accept the case for installing a chip and pin payment system, I also have to consider the case against and it isn’t simply because of pure laziness (which it isn’t).

Firstly consider the area the takeaway is based in: it’s in a relatively poor area near a council estate school and a couple of other small shops you’d normally find on your road (petrol stations, supermarket, newsagents and other bits and bobs). It’s not exactly in a city or high street and so you wouldn’t expect people to be queuing around the block for lunch. The normal demographic of our customers aren’t exactly the city slickers in a hurry, and even if they were they’d normally want sandwiches instead of a full blown greasy Chinese takeaway.

If we did deliveries we would install a chip and pin system but as we don’t do deliveries there is no reason to install one.

As many are aware a lot of small eateries will state a minimum spend on card payments for food, quite often this will be within the region of around £10, so even if said customer wanted to pay by card she wouldn’t have been able to as it was considerably less than £10.

It is widely known that banks will take two per cent commission from transactions made from card payments. As the business isn’t exactly at the height of its boom years two per cent is a considerable amount for a small business that can’t afford to keep the heating on.

The average spend of customers at our takeaway is quite often around the region of around of £10 and most customers will normally pay with a £20 note. We do occasionally get big orders around the £25 mark, sometimes more, but where that happens those customers will always pay by cash instead of card. In fact we found that customers who pay by cash often spend more, occasionally after giving change they will normally ask for a little bit extra to be added on.

And finally there hasn’t exactly been a huge demand for a cashless system, we hardly ever get complaints about the lack of a cashless system and we rarely get asked if we accept card. Maybe about once a month someone will brandish a card but let’s face it, cash is better.

Food Picture Envy

When you go into a fried chicken shop or a fish and chip shop you never ask the person behind the counter “what does your fried chicken look like?” or “what do your fish and chips look like?”. People will go into a chicken shop or a chippie and order things without kicking a fuss, because whether you are in Sheffield or Shenfield, Newport in Wales or Newport in Essex fish and chips or fried chicken will look pretty much the same irrespective of where you are in the country. 

This is only just slightly more complicated in a Chinese takeaway.

Now I know it seems unfair to compare a chippie or chicken shop with a takeaway because they serve different types of food (no kidding Sherlock), and it’s also the fact that the choice is greater in a Chinese takeaway compared to chippie, a chicken shop or a pie and mash shop (the hint is even in the title).

Ordering from a fish and chip shop is hardly a stretch of anyone’s imagination because because 99 per cent of the time fish and/or chips is normally what people what people buy from a fish and chip shop, and they will more-or-less look identical.

For a Chinese takeaway it’s a different story, and because of the variety on offer from one takeaway to the next, some will serve theirs differently. The best example being that a plain chow mein in one place will include beansprouts and onions while another won’t. In some places if you order a chicken curry you will get rice with it and in others you have to order a rice dish separately.

The problem this does cause however is discrepancies with pictures; in fried chicken shops there are stock images of what fried chicken and chips will look like. With a Chinese takeaway however stock images can sometimes cause problems.

I never rely on pictures as a hard and fast guide of what my meal will look like, I tend to have very low expectations of food, which means that when it comes out of the kitchen I’m less likely to be disappointed. Plus I pretty much eat anything.

I remember the day when Wetherspoons changed their menu and removed the pictures and my friend went into a fit of “Nooo! Why?! Now I don’t know what the food looks like!”

When you walk into our takeaway lining the walls are some faded stock images of the kind of food we serve.

A year ago we finally got round to changing our menu. Our original menu was simply a piece of coloured A4 photocopied and  folded in thirds;  this was cheaper for us because we have a photocopier at home. Now we have a glossier coloured menu and it comes with stock images of things that I’m pretty sure we don’t serve.

There is a close-up image of what looks like won ton noodles with pak choi (we have that but not with pak choi). Similarly there is something that looks a bit like a chicken curry, but there was also a dish that had baby corn and other exotic things which we clearly did not have on the menu.

We did have a customer at one point who spent a lot of time looking at the pictures instead of reading what was on offer. She kept staring at these pictures and then occasionally pointing and asking “is that picture that one?” This one went on for quite a while until I actually went “ok, let’s make this easier basically if you see a picture of a meal chances are we don’t have it.”

In hindsight it was a stupid thing to say, but she was spending so much time basing her decisions on pictures I didn’t know the source of I felt compelled to clear the air and be honest and say “I don’t know where these pictures come from! They just came with the menu!”

Customer Encounters #14 – The night I became a victim

Assault/Common assault – An unlawful infliction of force/violence, or a hostile act – for example, a threatening gesture – which causes another person to fear that immediate violence will occur.

When you’re working in a takeaway it is quite common to hear stories of assaults, violence, anti-social behaviour and so on being inflicted on businesses either nearby or who are similar to you. Indeed I heard of stories of altercations taking place at my takeaway, but I was never a victim of them until one evening a few weeks ago.

It is very common to get the odd juvenile trying to act like a smart arse and cause a nuisance, but you never quite imagine it to end up in that individual actually assaulting you.

How it all happened was a guy of about 15 years old came in, navy blue hoody with the strings on the hood pulled down so that you couldn’t see the colour of his hair let alone see any distinguishing features.

He said he was hungry and had no money and if I could give him a saveloy with that smug “aren’t I cool” smirk. Immediately I was having flashbacks of the time a guy came in asking for a chicken tikka masala or a korma and I wondered if it was the same guy but I can’t confidently say it was. But my professionalism prevailed and I chose to ignore him and assumed he would leave.

He had his clan of friends with him watching, about two, maybe three waiting outside. He hung around for about a minute and I told my parents that he was just messing around, just ignore him. He began to head towards the door but instead of going out he grabbed two chairs (which were joined together) and threw it towards the counter my first reaction was to cry out “oh my God!” and I screamed. I don’t know if he was intending to throw it over the counter, but the only damage caused was that he chipped a bit of the chair, which collided with the counter.

Dad told mum to call the police but she was slightly hesitant because whenever the police were called they would never turn up and she knew in this case they wouldn’t. I mean lets face it, nothing was severely damaged and no one was injured, we wouldn’t have been a priority case.

Dad was getting agitated and progressively angrier and was demanding to call the police. He then took out his anger on me and said that if I stayed at the counter and watched them instead of ignoring them then this would not have happened. He then said that I should have seen it coming and then made an irrelevant comment about me playing Tetris on my phone and somehow linking it to what had just happened.

The police said they would come in 15 minutes but they never did. Before closing time the owner of the grocers around the corner said the same group had been throwing fruit and vegetables at the counter. He said that this was the fourth time this happened in a month and he called the police several times and no one helped him.

My dad assumed the attack must have been racially motivated given that the guy who owned the grocery shop around the corner was also Asian and similar attacks like this happened in the past. Also the fish and chip shop were right next door to us and there didn’t appear to be an attack on them, and I have trouble imagining that the same group would incite a similar act against a fish and chip shop or even a pie and mash shop.

I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting the attack was racially motivated, there was nothing that they said that suggested it was, but that is a possibility. I spoke to my friend about it afterwards and he suggested that they assumed I must have just been some immigrant who couldn’t speak English and thought I was an easy target.

I know I sound silly suggesting that what just happened was in any way serious, much worse things happened during the summer riots in 2011. As I said before no one was physically hurt, the only thing that was damaged was my pride and confidence really. But it all happened so quickly and I was quite shaken after that and I had to act normal as though nothing had happened, a customer came in and I couldn’t even hold a pen properly and I was even struggling to open up plastic bags, I had never been assaulted before so the was quite shaken that it happened so quickly.

My dad was angry at me and mum and I felt like I was being made to feel that it was my fault this happened, and I went to escape to the bathroom upstairs and actually burst out crying feeling vulnerable, weak and angry that I couldn’t even stop a 15 year-old from hurling a chair.

Gong Hei Fat Choi!

Happy Chinese New Year!

Now I could say that to welcome the year of the snake me and the family went out to Chinatown, had an epic meal of dim sum and other sweet treats and watched the dragon dancing in Trafalgar Square.

Alas I may have to bore you a little bit and admit that we spent Chinese New Year at home (mainly because on Sundays my younger siblings have to go to Chinese school and weekend tutoring).

My old housemate from university was quite perplexed when she phoned me up and asking what I was doing at that moment on Sunday and had to admit that I was actually ironing school uniforms.

But anyway, the family lunch (tuen yuen fan), was a simple meal; mussels steamed with garlic and ginger for starters and for mains deep fried king prawns with sweet and sour sauce, steamed salmon with blackbean sauce, roast duck and kai lan (it’s a type of vegetable by the way). To end the meal we had lotus root and water chestnuts soup.

Whilst our Chinese New Year was something of an understated and simple affair it doesn’t detract from it being that time of year for family.

Customer Encounters #11 – Learning to queue

To quote a line from Martin Freeman’s character in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (yes I know it is blasphemous to see that first and not the original) “I am British, I know how to queue.” That is unless you are this man.

Last night I was in the middle of taking an order from one of our more regular customers and this man comes in, slightly scruffy, young-ish (I’d say mid to late twenties, possibly older), woolen jumper, munching on a bag of chips from the fish and chip shop next door.

Seeing that he already had food I imagined he would just want a bowl of curry sauce or soft drink. But instead of waiting for the man I was in the middle of serving to finish placing his order, this man just barges in, tosses a pound on the counter and goes “can of coke, please.”

I carried on serving the gentleman I was in the middle of serving, and chip man just kept going “can of coke” pushing the pound coin just a little bit closer by a few milimetres in a bid to get my attention because apparently he is the most important person in the room because he just wants a can of coke.

Once I finished the order and said “can of coke.” To which I put my hand up and went “yes I know”

“For goodness sake calm down, did you not know that someone invented something called a queue?”

To be fair to him at least he said please.

The day Giles Coren tweeted me

So in early January journalist and Times columnist Giles Coren tweeted me. Not just because he felt like it, but more because he tweeted something, and I responded and we had a brief Twitter conversation from then on.

He tweeted out “If someone describes a Chinese restaurant as ‘a good local Chink’, is that bad?” I replied, and a brief conversation followed.giles_coren_twitter_0114

If Giles Coren ever happens to read this then the offer of free prawn crackers (and maybe some vegetable spring rolls) still stands.