Customer Encounters #10 – How Many Grains of Rice?

Now we are all obsessed with value for money, some more than others I suppose, but this often goes to the extent of asking how many prawns, pieces of sweet and sour pork there are, how many spare ribs is in one portion. I often get asked a lot how many spare ribs there are in one portion or how many prawns there are in a king prawn fried rice or king prawn chow mein.

My answer for spare ribs is normally “it depends on how many we can fit into the one box but normally four or five”. For king prawns it’s about eight in a regular dish and ten in a large or something along those lines.

For items that include things like prawn or squid people will normally ask how many prawns there are, which is a reasonable question to ask.

Just before the Christmas holidays a new  customer came in and after much deliberation asked for a large duck fried rice, and he asked me how was the duck served (as in was it one whole piece sliced and placed on top, sliced and then fried with the rice, or shredded like crispy aromatic duck and then mixed in).

He then asked me specifically how many slices of duck there are in a duck fried rice.

“erm… I’ve never personally counted but I can guarantee you that it is definitely duck in the duck fried rice.”

This seems like a bizarre question to ask, but I assume that when customers order anything they assume that some takeaways cheat their way by perhaps cutting the slices too thinly and passing them off as “more slices of duck” or cutting them too thick so there’s less but the slices are “meatier” so to speak.

That said one of our regular customers did complain that the duck in our duck chow mein is practically non-existent or too thin.

By far possibly the oddest customer question on how many slices of meat in a dish.


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.

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?

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.

For a while I genuinely believed that if a cigarette made contact with the human body that they would actually be consumed by a tobacco infused inferno and eventually die. Painfully.

However as I grew older I came to realise that that theory was rubbish. But anyway I digress.

Admittedly I have no objections to people smoking, but you cannot deny that seeing people trying to order a Chinese takeaway, cigarette in hand whilst trying to conform to the smoking ban can be an amusing spectacle.

The smoking ban was introduced in 2007 roughly two years after I started working at the takeaway and I admit when I first started I took much glee in seeing customers trying to make an order whilst conforming to the ban.

Like most takeaway food outlets our shop counter is conveniently placed some distance from the door (about two-three metres). The amount of amusement I used to get seeing people wedged in between a doorway, left-hand with a cigarette on one side of the door with the other half indoors but never knowing if they should come in or not and shouting across to the other side of the room:

“Yeah I’d like a chicken chow mein, an egg fried rice, a curry sauce, a bag of chips and a bag of prawn crackers… I’ll pay you in a minute I’ve just lit me fag.”

In the period before and just after the smoking ban I used to be very anti-smoking *coughlungcancercough* and I used to be one of those annoying people who would cough very loudly every time someone smoked in front of me or if someone who was smoking walked past me.

This was a habit I had maintained for much of my early teenage years up until I was 18, where I spent a month in China surrounded by people who did smoke and people who smoked cigarettes with an unbelievable amount of nicotine and tobacco. As a result I became used to it but still maintain that it is a nasty habit.

It was also an annoying habit I employed when serving customers who smoked in front of me as I served them and sometimes if it was a particularly long order I would fake cough in between. Looking back it was incredibly childish but I was 16 at the time.

Nowadays people order first before popping out for a quick ciggie. Normally this would include a rice and/or noodle dish with a side order (most of the time it’s chips) a sauce and a bag of crackers if they fancy it. This would take about five minutes to get ready. By the time it comes out the poor person has barely had time to smoke half the cigarette and throws it away. Now that just seems a waste of money.

Customer Encounters #6 – “Black people are always like that”

Earlier this week a woman came in and asked if we served a beef broth soup with noodles and a bowl of dried chilies (something we don’t actually have on the menu). I remembered being quite unimpressed with this particular person because she basically stormed in and left the door wide open, allowing this rush of cold air to come in.

I explained that we didn’t serve dried chilies but could do something about the soup so I went to relay this back to the kitchen to see if we could do anything, but she she left without even closing the door. I was already serving someone else before her, who shook his head at me in disbelief and went “black people are always like that, they’re always pushing it.”

Now I know this is a really provocative thing to say, but I couldn’t help but agree with him somewhat, because of all the customers I have encountered, I have found most black people to be quite fussy with their food. This isn’t something you can say out loud because it sounds so racist, and I’m not saying I hate serving black people (for the record I don’t).

Before you completely shoot me down at the comments section I encourage you to read this post from Madame Noire about black customers who don’t enjoy tipping an yes it was written by an African-American.

From my experience I think they are more open and make their distaste more well-known compared to Caucasian customers, and I suppose it’s fair to say that they know what they want; they want to know that what they’re buying is going to be value for money, so they ask questions like how many king prawns do we put in a king prawn fried rice.

They also have no problem with being upfront about whether or not something is too expensive. When I tell them how much a king prawn chow mein is for instance and the difference between a regular and a large, I get disapproving looks from them and they ask “why is it so expensive?”

I mean I know we’re out of recession now but times are still tough for small businesses.

One of my old housemates from university who is also black proof-read this post and said that she agreed with the post 100% and added that black people tend to be a lot more upfront and blunt about their dislikes.

Shortly after that encounter another black woman came in with her son and asked us about our duck fried rice an how we cooked it, did it come in slices, she didn’t want the duck mixed in, she wanted extra soy sauce and chili oil on the side. After telling us how we should cook her dinner we effectively spent the next five minutes explaining to this person how to cook her own dinner.

When her order was ready she proceeded to open the container in front of us and said “you haven’t put enough soy sauce”, but left with her order anyway.

Now I’m not saying she doesn’t have a right to know what she bought, because she did basically tell us how to cook her meal, but the thing that really annoyed me about it was the fact that because she made her distaste well-known and there just didn’t seem to be any appreciation of the time I gave into making her feel comfortable and trying to create a dish that closely resembled what she was describing.

There was that feeling that I don’t think she quite valued that I tried the best I could to give her the meal she wanted instead of simply saying “we don’t cook it like that so you can get lost”.