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.

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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.

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?

Customer encounters #2 – Drunk customers

It’s Friday night, it’s the weekend, everyone’s out getting liquored up and what better cure for an inebriated state than a takeaway?

Last night a woman came in clearly quite drunk and was also a bit shaky. I think she may have possibly taken something else other than alcohol (I wouldn’t know).

Dealing with a drunk person probably has to be a shop worker’s worst nightmare: you don’t know the person across the counter, what they’ll do, if they’ll lash out at you, if they’ll throw up or even if they need help getting back home.

This particular woman was on her own and had her head down a lot of the time. She said “I think I’m gonna throw up” (“don’t you dare!” I internally monologue to myself). We tried to reason with this person that she should go home and asked if she needed a cab or an ambulance.

“No! I’m alright! I just want some plain chow mein! I’ve got the money and all!”

It’s frightening when they leave because you don’t know if the minute they’ll get attacked the minute they leave, and it’s difficult when they argue with you that they don’t want police help.

Fortunately mum recognised this person and knew that she lives quite close by. Just hope she’s ok.

Why you no deliver?

“Right, I would like a chicken curry, egg fried rice, chips, chicken balls but instead of the sweet and sour can I have a curry sauce instead?”

“Yep, that’s fine, can I take a name for that please?”

“Yes it’s Dave.”

“Ok that should take about 10 minutes?”

“Great, my address is 19 Green-“

“Oh no sorry we don’t deliver, you have to pick it up and it’s ready in 10 minutes.”

“Oh-right, don’t worry about it then.”

This is probably one of many phone orders where I have to explain to the customer that we don’t do home deliveries. In one instance someone literally laughed down the phone and went “ha, you’re not gonna believe this, they don’t do deliveries!” (Ok, now the right etiquette for that is you’re meant to cover the receiving end…).

Unfortunately our takeaway is one of the few places that never quite caught onto the 21st century where a home delivery for a takeaway is just as normal as everyone owning an iPhone. A takeaway that doesn’t offer deliveries is treated like the person that owns a Nokia 3310; reliable and long-lasting but so not in touch with the 21st century.

In my defence, I only passed my driving test when I was 19 during what must have been my first or second year at university and my parents wouldn’t insure me as I was away from home five days of the week and therefore had no need for a car because I was taking the train home instead of driving.

On the advice of my parents doing driving deliveries just wasn’t feasible because you would have to factor in the cost of petrol as well and also because we are understaffed back at the takeaway. Were I to leave to run an errand during a peak time that things will get a bit disorganised, people will have the wrong bags and so on. In a way I’m a glue of some form that helps hold it together?

The normal person would be willing to get off their backside for a McDonalds and no one seems to mind the fact that McDonalds don’t deliver in the UK (I mean why would you? The objective of McDonalds is that it is fast food and doesn’t take that long to prepare).

Making the effort to travel a slightly shorter distance to a Chinese Takeaway isn’t that much to ask for now is it?

So why not employ a driver then? You ask. That option was never really a serious consideration given that it’s a family business. In a way there is a bit of a reluctance to take on someone we don’t know. Plus there is also the opinion that there might not be a need for a takeaway given that in five years time I won’t exactly be standing behind wok tossing egg fried rice as a full-time job anyway. In other words why waste time on a place that is going to be a dying business when the next generation are not going to be running a takeaway as a full time job?