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 #8 – Refunding food because you don’t like it

A few months ago a customer from the day before came in with one of our trays and said that he bought a portion of our spare ribs last night and said he wanted a refund simply because “he didn’t like the taste”.

For the time being lets call this man Steve; now Steve looks very much like your typical white guy from Essex; a bit stocky, bit of a beer belly, shaved skinhead, dried skin that was quite raw from the cold, worn out polo shirt, battered jeans and trainers that were probably white once upon a time.

We’re going to name this man Steve because he makes another appearance in this blog in a future post.

Anyway, Steve didn’t go any further into explaining why it tasted horrible, just that it didn’t taste as good as it used to. But as we do with difficult customers, we just gave him the money without another word, and hope that he doesn’t come back.

You would think that that would be the end of him but we were wrong; the next day he came back and asked for spare ribs.

Spare ribs at the takeaway are soaking it in herb infused juices and then storing it in the fridge. Dad would do this in large batches say every week to every two weeks. In other words the spare ribs that he ordered just now would have been no different to the ones he refunded the day before.

We tried explaining this to him yet he remained adamant that he wanted spare ribs from our takeaway. We simply said “you didn’t like it yesterday, and the ones we serve you now will be no different to the ones you refunded, so it’s best we save you the trouble of coming back again to complain.”

Quite naturally he left very much dissatisfied, and to be fair to him, you would be. But given the account I have just given you, would you have taken his order knowing that he was likely to come back and file the same complaint again?

Customer Encounters #7 – My First Complaint

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.