Customer Service

We’re a tad more laid back about customer service in the UK. Politeness is generally required, except in those up-market venues when snootiness is mysteriously not only accepted but expected. We don’t do American levels of “have a nice day!” and calling people “m’am” or “sir”, and I’ve also noticed my South African friends have higher levels of expectation with regard to customer service than most UK natives.

Me? I’m pretty relaxed, I prefer friendliness to grunts, but so long as someone isn’t rude, obstructive or downright inefficient, I tend to be content. What I notice is when it’s something exceptional.

When my daughter was approaching her 21st birthday, she lived in a rather nice part of central London. I asked for suggestions of a nice restaurant where we could celebrate, and she suggested one in walking distance of her shared flat, as the menu offered a good selection for non-meat eaters – which both she and her boyfriend were at the time. I duly booked, and an excellent evening was had by all. The food was superb – nouvelle cuisine at it’s finest, the wine magnificent, and the service without measure. The evening was brought to a perfect close when the chef patron did his rounds, chatting to all the diners with charm and good humour.

We went back again. Twice a year, in fact. Eating out wasn’t something we did much, so this was a rare and real treat. My daughter and my boyfriend had birthdays within 2 weeks of each other, as did her boyfriend and I. Those joint birthdays came 6 months apart, so we had May and December dining dates. We never saw any reason to go elsewhere, and we were never disappointed.

The maître d’ was also the sommelier and, although small, the wine list was exceptional; we took to following his recommendations without question. For my brother & sister-in-law’s 40th birthday celebration, we pushed the boat out – having multiple courses each accompanied by the recommended wine (and yes, stayed in a hotel nearby). I don’t drink white wine but was persuaded to have a white dessert wine, despite my fellow diners having a red dessert wine recommended. Although I gazed at their glasses with envy, he was spot on – it was superb & a perfect match.

But none of this was the reason why it tops my customer service experience. It was the fact that both the maître d’ and the chef patron made us believe they remembered us at each visit. Yet, we only went twice a year. You could call them consummate professionals – and indeed they were. But small details about previous conversations were recalled, sporting teams followed were casually dropped into the conversation, there was gentle teasing, witty banter and lots of laughter. When I observed their interactions with other guests, they smoothly varied it to suit each customer’s personality.

Sadly it did close – and what a day to mourn. The chef patron relocated to Scandinavia with his girlfriend, and while he’s back now, COVID has delayed the opening of his new place. I hope he’s retained his maître d’, but regardless, this is one place which appears on my bucket list for when this is all behind us. My daughter’s boyfriend is now her husband, my boyfriend at that time has been (happily) replaced by Himself, and we’d have to find a babysitter for the two grandchildren – but it would be worth it.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve ever had as a customer?

© Debra Carey, 2021

14 thoughts on “Customer Service

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  1. Hmmm…I tend to remember the bad experiences…but on the whole, I’ve been treated well more times than not. I had a really nice tech at hospital yesterday when I had a test. Grocery store person was nice when my cherries rang up twice at self checkout…

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  2. We were taking a red eye flight from San Diego to Cincinnati. We checked in about 5 hours early because we had to return in our rental car & had nowhere to go. The Delta ticketing gate agent told us that he always gave the first people to check in the best seats. He gave us each a run of three seats across the aisle from each other AND he put no one else around us on the seats even though the rest of the plane was filled shoulder to shoulder. Bottom line we arrived home Monday morning after a good night’s sleep on a long flight. Love that man!

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  3. The barista at the Starbucks across the street from one of my former workplaces was very good at remembering names and drinks. Usually, by the time I got to the register she already had my drink started for me. When I would on occasion go in later due to a meeting they would always ask about what changed. It was a sad day when they left.

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  4. Isn’t it amazing when you encounter superior customer service? Kind of a sad commentary on the fact of how rare it is. I remember going to the Royal York hotel in Toronto for my company’s annual general meeting. This is a famous, historic hotel…and the service there is impeccable. The head bellman, despite having to deal with hundreds of customers on any given day, remembered my name and called me by it after only meeting me briefly the day before. I was astounded.


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  5. That sounds like a really great place. Obviously they took the time to make notes on all the diners, which made the next upcoming dining experience hopefully rewarding for everyone involved. You don’t find places who make that kind of effort much anymore.

    My own restaurant memory is of a place very similar to that one in San Francisco. It was my boss’s favorite place, and once or twice a year we went there to celebrate something either work-related or personal. My boss always requested the same waiter, an old friend of his; he always had a habit of letting this friend choose the wine. Most of the time my boss paid, so it ultimately never really mattered. But a few times I picked up the check and followed the same protocol out of respect to my boss. But what I found was that his friend — the waiter — always chose the most expensive wines on the menu. If I asked him to choose a white and a red, he would pick two of the priciest. In front of my boss, I never wanted to appear to haggle. So I sucked it up. The food was always delicious, the service was actually quite professional. In fact the wine was top-notch too. I just resented putting myself in that position! – Marty

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  6. LA, I’d not consider medical personnel in the category of customer service as I have an expectation of good care in such a profession. Of course that isn’t always the case, but it’s my belief that we should. However, this does remind me to speak in glowing terms about the exceptional care my father received during his final months.

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  7. Ally, that is truly excellent service 🙂 especially when compared with my sole experience of checking in that early. I requested non-smoking, indicating my 5 year old, yet we were placed in the aisle immediately in front of smokers and had to endure cigar smoke all the way back across the Atlantic. Although I asked the cabin crew about the decision, they simply shrugged & made no offer to seek an exchange. We didn’t fly that airline again.

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  8. Oh I love that tater, proper old fashioned service of the sort you more usually find in independents. No wonder you were sad when they left.

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  9. What a lovely tale Deb. While I’ve no doubt you were utterly lovely to him & so deserved it, I’m sure he did have a spectacular memory and attitude to service.

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  10. Ouch Marty! Fortunately I can say that this guy didn’t just pick the top priced items. That must’ve soured the experience for you somewhat.

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  11. I think front office medical personnel are customer service. If you’ve ever had a bad nurse or tech, it’s a way worse medical experience.

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  12. Oh I concur with that entirely LA, they just hadn’t formed part of my thinking until you mentioned it.

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  13. Jane, your story brought a tear to my eye – thank you so much for sharing it. Truly an example of the very best customer service at a sensitive time.

    Thank you so much for complimenting the positivity of my post. I type out many a rant (I am human after all), but I find that’s enough to get them out of my system, whereas publishing could have the unfortunate effect of those negative emotions hanging around longer.


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