Over many Reverse Martinis, I was quietly noticing how engaging Riyaaz (Amlani; NRAI President and King Supreme of Impresario) was with our server. Looking him in the eye, ending his order with a thanks and cheery smile, shaking his hand when we left the bar. It all sounds so mundane and regular, but this seemingly-obvious patron etiquette often seems rare in current times. We got talking about the interactive equation of service and he stated a simple yet powerful statement, “Serving your dinner table doesn’t imply servitude.” Prior apologies for the overarching generalisation, but to observe a community whose ancestors witnessed colonial subjugation to now practise an urban reverse variant of the similar behaviour is ironical.
Despite being an experimental foodie (there, I said it, I said the F word), my comfort spots are fairly obvious and well-documented. If I were the Jalebi-kid from the famous Dhara Oil commercial, the rents wouldn’t worry about me running away from home – they’d calmly send out a message to the five usual jaunts where Stevie always retreats. The service & managerial staff at these five places are now ol’ pals and their stories often reveal the ugly side of the Indian patron. After many a late night tipple, we managed to condense the information and bucket it into three types of bad baboons:
- The ones who snap their fingers at restaurant staff and expect to be treated like Beyoncé (but don’t necessarily dance like her).
- The ones who are downright patronising because holy-god-almighty, the server called it Pain-o-Chocolate and not Pain Au Chocolat *blasphemy*.
- The ones who treat them as invisible beings and beckon them only when they need 3.5 ice cubes in their Gin & Tonic.
Yes, you gathered correctly, it was yours truly who had to painfully sit through a date with the third kind, gleefully watching the bartender spit in this muggle’s drink (I jest. He only cursed him with the Bartenders Bamboozle, which essentially means 7 years of bad tipple. I know of nothing worse). Glazing over the mind-numbing chat, I wondered what makes us such an intolerable set of guests? What makes us so insensitive that whilst we dine, we let our brat’s nanny stand awkwardly in the corner with no glass of water in sight, forget food. What makes us this hierarchical idiot who talks down to the server but swiftly changes tune when the owner comes to exchange pleasantries.
Yes, there is a growing tribe that is more mindful and tone-sensitive, but there is a worryingly bigger set of guests whose condescending tone makes me grind my teeth. Courtesy the lovely rents, I’m a believer of the old-age saying of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (Guest is God). However, I’m quick to discard that belief when I see a schmuck bark out patronising orders at the server. Servers and managers don’t live in a lala-land where they are looking for a fulfilling friendship with the patron or for continual appreciation for their service. These seasoned professionals expect exactly what you expect from them – polite civility.
Hospitality is not a one way street and can not be blandly transactional, as the intrinsic element of this equation is human; which thereby demands all parties involved to display humanity. With a never-seen-before rise in culinary options in the capital, I wonder if our city is a rich case study for Behavioural Sciences. Does the current landscape’s economics support our behaviour because we know that we could take our culinary demand to the next place that will bend over backwards and treat us like the Beyoncé of their life.
Being a Management Consultant, I have built endless manuals and process-maps to help organisations address efficient and effective behaviour. Across the globe, extensive training sessions are held for restaurant staff, sensitising them to new-age customer requirements and behaviour. But how can one be trained to handle a guest who is elitist, racist, sexist, language-ist…you get the point. Contrary to my advisory reports in London, I’d be afraid to advise a service team in Delhi to call a guest’s behaviour out, because of the sh!t-storm that could ensue on social media.
I don’t think any restaurateur would mind a patron calling out appalling or (many a times) clueless service. Of course it’s annoying to be given a hefty bill after a night of badly-trained staff coughing up incompetent service. But what will make your feedback resonate with the future performance would be the tone you use. Constructive feedback seasoned with empathy and sprinkled with manners is much more impactful than the long-drawn rant on your social media handle*. And if I could continue giving unrequited advise, then the evergreen words “You don’t know who you’re messing with” really doesn’t stack things in your favour.
With a younger demographic being the active and dominant consumer, it’s time for a refreshed take on the rules of service. We live in an economy where the feedback loop doesn’t just stop at the consumer, but the provider has an active stake in closing that loop. We live in an economy where your Uber rating is considered your social currency. We live in an economy where a date will dodge a potential revoir because you were rude with the server.
We’ve all witnessed it. In our homes, in a cab, in a bar, on a date, at a family dinner. Being a more vocal and exposed generation, it’s time we put down our serviette of airs and treated our staff the same way (or as close as) we’d like to be served.
*One example that counters this logic was when a celebrated food journalist publicly wrote about how a restaurant manager bumped him up on the reservation list, thereby disrespecting the other groups who were patiently waiting for their turn. Not only did that make the city’s jaw drop (holy-moly, I would NOT want to be that manager the following Monday) but also made me understand the power of responsible media to correct thought patterns.
Stevie Scribbles is a monthly feature where Stevie a.k.a Monica a.k.a Tara a.k.a Naina a.k.a Shreya (you get the drift) feels the itch to share her (possibly) wonky observations about the cultural landscape of the city. Please note that all observations and opinions are strictly hers and the Company, affiliates and main boss, Zara, don’t always endorse.