Customer Encounters #20 – Pick’n’Mix Takeaways

One of my favourite romantic comedies is When Harry Met Sally. I remember laughing at this particular scene (unfortunately it’s not that orgasm scene), and then I realised that it’s not funny because I’m actually the person with the notepad taking the order, and that Sally would be every restaurateur’s customer nightmare.

Now I don’t mind picky eaters on the best of days, other times I do get really annoyed. Anyone who has been a waiter or waitress will know this feeling only too well, and the minute someone starts rattling off a very specific order, with very specific instructions on where to put things in a box or on a plate, the first thing you want to say is “I hate you.”

Occasionally we will get the odd customer that comes in and ask for a special fried rice without shrimp or without egg and it could be because they’re allergic, that’s perfectly fine. It could be things like taking out the beansprouts and onions from the chow mein because they don’t like eating their vegetables, that’s also fine as well. Instead of sweet and sour sauce they may want curry sauce with their chicken balls, no problem at all.

Then there are items where certain ingredients are just non-negotiable because they’ve already been prepared beforehand or it just wouldn’t work as a dish if you took one thing out.. A popular request I get is for sweet and sour chicken balls but without the batter, egg fried rice but half cooked so that the rice is a bit crunchy, pancake rolls without the pork but replaced with shrimp.

Where it gets really complicated is when some people take the pick’n’mix thing a bit too far and start treating it like a buffet but without the food cart, reciting a long-winded order and forcing me into a corner to play a helter-skelter-esque game of “guess what I want to eat and how I would like it cooked”.

It’s not that we don’t want to give the customer what they want but more out of the fear of the potential repercussions of how that customer will react when the final product isn’t exactly what they envisaged. This is why all restaurants have something called a menu,

Asking a restaurant to concoct a dish especially for you is the same as going to McDonalds, asking the person behind the counter to rip the batter off the chicken nuggets, put it into a Big Mac, take out the pickle and ketchup, putting fries in it on top of the nuggets, then taking the sauce from a fillet-o-fish and putting it on the side, and not on the burger.

It is also on par of going into Zizzi’s and asking them to create a dish especially for you because you decided you didn’t like what you had last time. In fact it’s also probably the same as going into Zizzi’s, deciding that you don’t really like Italian food and asking them to cook you a Chinese meal instead.

Ok maybe I’m exaggerating you get the idea.

I had something of a nightmare encounter with one customer, David, who decided that nothing on the menu was good enough so asked us to create a spicy prawn dish especially for him.

David said the last time he came here he ordered deep fried king prawn with chilli salt and pepper (king prawns deep fried in a light batter, with red and green chillies and pepper, and it is effectively a dry dish). He said he didn’t like it because of the batter and asked if we could take the batter off. Unfortunately the batter was non-negotiable because it’s actually difficult to cook without the batter and partly because dad gets very annoyed about having people tell him how to cook their meal.

David even argued that his local chippie take off the batter from his fish and chips for him so couldn’t understand why we couldn’t do the same for him. I’m just wondering if he does the same whenever he’s in a fried chicken shop.

We eventually settled on squid with spring onion and ginger, and he seemed happy enough and went home without a complaint, even sampling the dish in front of us and saying it tasted good.

So it came as a surprise when he turned up the following day telling us that he didn’t like the squid dish he had yesterday. He basically decided he didn’t like any of the alternatives I suggested on the menu and asked if he could have a prawn dish with just onions and chilli i.e. an item that doesn’t exist on the menu that we basically had to make up.

A customer who comes in asking for a vague to specific combination of ingredients are very difficult to deal with because you don’t know if the customer is going to come back and complain about the dish because we didn’t cook it right, and no one likes seeing unhappy customers.

At the end of the day we can only prepare meals within the confines of something we distribute called a menu, and 99% of the people who come in work within that confine quite happily.

So David, I have a suggestion for you: why don’t you cook your own meal? This would effectively eradicate the problem of me having to guess how you want your meal and where you can at least have all the creative control in the world of what your dream dish should look like. As much as we’d like to be your personal chefs do acknowledge that we are also serving other people as well and that you waste my time trying to figure out what you want when I could be helping the other customers who are standing behind you in the queue.

Advertisements

Customer Encounters #18 – Does that come with free prawn crackers take two

If I learnt anything about life it is to lower my expectations, the logic being that when something good happens – say a 10% discount on my next purchase, a free bag of Haribo sours or even a free bag of prawn crackers – then I appreciate it a lot more than I would’ve done had I gone in with really high expectations.

Or to put it in another way, I never expect shops to give me freebies when I go in. When I do get them then it’s a pleasant surprise, and that’s often the best kind of customer. The worst kind of customer you can get in a Chinese takeaway of course are the people who always expect free things.

It’s sometimes quite amusing to see grown-ups act like children when they don’t get free prawn crackers, and on some occasions they do throw tantrums in the shop, which at first can be awkward to watch, but you have to admit is also quite funny.

The other night someone came in, male, old, very skinny, and a tattoo on his neck that was partly obscured by his shoulder-length sandy blond hair. He looked like a new customer.

He ordered three dishes amounting to about £10 and looked startled when I came out without a bag of prawn crackers.

“Where’s my prawn crackers?” He asks, “why don’t I get free prawn crackers? Everyone else around here does it!”

I was half expecting him to behave like the kid and/or the mum in the Vicks advert at one point.

He then grabs his belongings like an angry child storming off to his bedroom in a “no Xbox until you’ve done your homework” kind of way, and takes the time to shout across the counter “well I ain’t coming back here ever again!”

Me hardly ever being the one to answer back to customers simply replied: “Fine”.

Customer Encounters #16 – Counterfeits

Now this week you may have heard of the brilliant news that Sir Winston Churchill will replace Emily Fry as the new face of the back of the £5 note (personally I’m surprised that they didn’t ride the Thatcher wave but then again that would be pretty controversial).

Whilst being the face of the £5 carries some cultural significance the main reason why it’s done is so that the Bank of England can update some of the security features of the £5. As they are more widely circulated compared to other notes they have their fair share of battering and bruising. I’ve even received notes that have actually been sellotaped together and some people have even asked to swap notes because the one I’ve just given them was too worn out.

I received my first counterfeit when I was about 15 years old, it was quite late in the evening and the customer in question came in and asked for a can of coke. A perfectly innocent request. He then pulled out a £20. I understand that under some circumstances that can be normal when someone doesn’t have any loose change to hand, but where that happens you have to be cautious, and as I understood at the time this person was coming into the shop for the first time.

I took the note and instantly knew something was wrong, it didn’t feel like a note. I went inside to tell my mum and said that it was a fake, checked it under the light and returned it to the customer and said we couldn’t accept the note because it was fake.

There are two ways in which people can react to this: one is where you will go “really? Oh my goodness I can’t believe I was fooled, it had to be the guys from McDonalds”. The second is where you start to get angry, insist that the note is real and go “I just got it from the cash point just now, why would I lie?” If your reaction comes under the latter, the inclination for me would be to think that someone is intentionally using a counterfeit note to sneakily nab some real money off us.

In this instance the man opted for the latter. What I would’ve done differently was to check the note in front of him as opposed to taking it inside and then coming out with the same note to avoid any suspicions that I may have swapped notes (which I haven’t and never will do).

The previous night (I wasn’t there at the time), a pregnant woman came in and ordered a bag of chips, she paid for it with a £20 and in this case the note was real, and £18.70 or something around that value was paid back as change by my mum. Later that evening however a man came in and brandished a £10 going “my wife just came in and ordered a bag of chips, you gave her a fake £10 note.”

He demanded a refund for the chips (but from my dad’s account actually specifically demanded for the return of the £20 that his wife used to buy the bag of chips), he then accused my mum of being a liar, said that the shop was conning them out of money, demanded to see our CCTV footage and even threatened to call the police. He then left and said that he will bring the bag of chips back for a refund. He never came back.

Customer Encounters #15 – Usual?

It’s nice when you frequent a place so often that the person behind the counter knows what you’re going to order before you even say it, and it does make you feel a bit special

I used to work for in Westminster and every week I would go into the Starbucks near the station and order a caramel macchiato. One day I went in, quickly popped into the loos, came out and decided to order something different until the guy behind the counter pulled out a cup and said “I just prepared your usual” (”ooooh the Starbucks guy fancies you!” Squealed my friend).

Like every takeaway we have our regulars, and I’d say about 80% of the time they will order the same thing over and over again. 

Rob always orders a king prawn chow mein, chicken with cashew nuts and egg fried rice. Judy always has a king prawn curry with egg fried rice. Lucy always wants the special chow mein without beansprouts, green beans and pork and so on and so forth.

The funny thing is that the “usual” orders I normally forget are from the people who expect you to remember what their usual is, and when I don’t remember it makes me feel awful, but at the same time you cannot help but feel somewhat irritated that they somehow feel special. “How dare you forget my usual? Don’t you know who I am?” their expression will read once they register the blank look on my face.

It even happens over the phone, some people even get offended that I sometimes can’t remember their usual based on the sound of their voice.

The only reason why I forget someone’s usual is because I see God knows how many faces at any one time in the takeaway that I often forget. The main reason really is the fact that I don’t work at the takeaway every day, only the weekends, and whenever a customer asks me for a usual it normally is because the days they normally come in are the days when I’m not actually there on shift.

Last night we had a guy who came in, don’t know what his  name is, but let’s just call him Ian for now. Ian had a worn out tracksuit with a baseball cap sporting a logo of some form, grey stubble and looked quite tired.

I served Ian before probably a month or so ago, and that was the first time I served him. He just simply said “usual”. I just looked at him blankly and said “sorry?”

“You don’t know what I want do you?”

He then realised he was confusing me for my mum who normally knows what Ian’s regular is. He then asked for my mum to serve him instead because she knows what he wants. I’m kinda stuck here because mum has her hands tied preparing the order of another customer, so I can’t exactly pull her away from the kitchen.

But he was so adamant that my mum serve him that he wouldn’t even tell me what his regular was – which was spare ribs with sauce, two pancake rolls and king prawn on skewers, the latter item is something we don’t have on the menu.

Another customer, also carried about him this air of self importance and “don’t you know who I am?”-ness. We’ll call him Keith. The first time I served Keith he did the same thing and assumed I knew what he was going to order the minute he walked into the door and spent a lot of time giving me a weird look when I didn’t know what his usual was. After a few minutes he eventually told me he wanted a spicy king prawn fried rice.

“That’s £5.50.” I said.

He tossed a £5 note onto the table.

I asked where the 50p was and he gave me a strange look and simply said he always paid £5 for his order. I went back in feeling slightly confused and discovered that my mum offered it to him for £5. She would just give him fewer prawns.

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.

Customer Encounters #9 – Get off your phone, do you want to order or not?

About a month ago there was an LBC phone-in about County Stores in Taunton, which has banned customers from using their phones in the shop and will refuse service to anyone who makes a call.

I must confess that quite recently I was guilty of doing this myself whilst buying a Starbucks. Quite naturally it’s a habit that irks quite a lot of people behind the counter, and it is genuinely bad manners. But if it’s an emergency phone call to find out what your pregnant missus wants to eat or if you’ve just come in and you’re still on the phone and you tell the other person: “just hang on one minute I just need to order a Chinese”.

But it is incredibly rude not just to the queue of five people standing behind you waiting to be served (and I would’ve served all five of them and have their orders prepared before you even hang up on your phone conversation), but it’s also quite frustrating for the person behind the counter, particularly in a place like the takeaway where I work because the chances are that someone else would’ve put in a big order before you and the longer you spend on your phone means that you delay the preparation time not just for that order but possibly for anyone else.

Get off the phone! You’re messing up the system!

And it is very frustrating that even ten minutes later, they are still on the phone and then just go “yeah a chicken chow mein”. Seriously? You couldn’t bear to bring yourself away from a phone conversation to order a meal that just took you 10 seconds?

A few weeks ago a guy came and he was on the phone for 20 minutes and it would appear that he was buying something. He took his card out and was reading the card number quite a few times (whilst I copied it down). He was getting annoyed that something he ordered costing £57 he was being charged £57.20 and he was demanding that 20p back and was asking why they were charging him 20p extra for something? (Maybe you should’ve read the terms and conditions before pressing buy?)

Anyway spent a great deal of time getting unnecesarily irked by this mystery 20p, and then finally got round to ordering… a chicken chow mein.

Another common habit is when a customer is on their phone and then for them to tell the person on the other end “right, you tell the lady what you want to eat” and then they will pass the phone on to me, they will order, then I will hand the phone back and then go to the person on the phone “is that all you want?” and a mini conversation will ensue before they actually pay.

Smoking Ban Woes

Smoking Ban Woes.

I can remember the first time I decided that cigarettes were evil; I was probably five or six years old at the time we were on one of our regular annual visits to Hong Kong where we would stay at my aunt’s flat and in the evenings we’d watch whatever Canto-drama was on.

In this particular episode there was a dead body with a woman crying over it. One of the baddies lit a cigarette, took a whiff, discarded it and drove off abandoning the crying woman and presumed dead man. Then the cigarette lit a trail leading to the dead body, which was then engulfed in flames causing the woman to jump back screaming in a fit of hysterics.

via Smoking Ban Woes.