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”.

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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.

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.

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 #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.

 

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.

Customer Encounters #5 – My Flat has Burnt Down

In the times I have served in the takeaway I have only ever come across two people who have asked for food but have no money on them. The first time we turned them down outright and they left. The second time however was a slightly interesting story.

This person who came in was a woman who I had served previously and I remembered her last time being really quite rude. She wore a grey tracksuit with pink trimming, had a voice that croaked from too many cigarettes, a complexion that was red and quite unhealthy, and a miasma of alcohol.

She came in one evening and said that her flat had burnt down and that she had nothing on her except the clothes she was wearing, she’s lost her money, her ID her home and she absolutely nothing on her. All she wanted was a bag of chips because she was hungry.

Your first inclination is to be really reluctant to help people because you don’t know them well enough to know if they’re telling the truth or not. It’s something you get taught from an early age: “never give money to random people because they’re going to spend it on drugs.”

A bag of chips at the time was £1.20 and not a heart breaking amount, but I did have questions over how genuine her claim was that this person’s flat had burnt down (if my house burnt down I would call the fire brigade and buying a takeaway would be the least of my worries).

She looked quite distressed and about to cry (but with a voice that was coated in nicotine it was hard to tell if there were genuine tears). I found it quite unusual for a person whose flat burnt down to just run away from the flat without a fireman/woman comforting her surely?

She said she lived just around the corner yet I did not recall hearing any sirens since the shop opening. Plus there aren’t any flats around the corner, the nearest flat is within clear shot of the shop window and that didn’t seem to be burning down. Added to this she didn’t smell of smoke.

This was all going all going on in my head and she was causing something of a scene and there were people waiting for their food to be served, and just to get her out of the shop we eventually just gave her the chips.

I asked one of the regular customers if he knows if there was a fire nearby. He said: “oh that woman is always causing trouble, she hangs around bus stops asking people for cigarettes and things.”

I then went on to ask a few customers if they heard about a fire nearby. No one did.

Since then said customer hasn’t come back to the shop since but I do wonder what has happened to her.