Some of you may know that I have a bee in my bonnet about service: in pubs, restaurants, shops and cafes. I will argue that you can have the best beer, the best food, the best merchandising in the world, but what really sets the bar is the people who work in and run these places. They are service industries where people like you and I spend our hard earned cash.
We can choose where we spend our money and there’s lots of competition out there – especially amongst pubs.
I’m also a serial letter writer when I feel a place has failed to deliver basic service. I don’t post on Trip Advisor, or other review sites, because I think it’s only fair to give the owner/retailer the opportunity to respond directly, rather than have their business trashed in the spotlight of hundreds of keyboard warriors.
I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago I was in one of the major supermarkets, and within the space of three minutes at the deli counter I was told not to touch anything (I didn’t realise it wasn’t a self service counter because they WEREN’T ANY STAFF THERE); was remonstrated with because my basket was resting on the counter; and had a member of staff roll their eyes at me because I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted when they did eventually stroll over. How did this make me feel? Stupid, embarrassed, angry and utterly furious. It may seem childish, but I put my basket on the floor and walked out. It incensed me enough to write a letter to their head office and what did I get back? A template letter, with whole paragraphs copied and pasted (badly) from my original letter, saying they would ‘look’ at their customer service training.
Which brings me onto pubs. Late last year, my beer husband organised a ‘Horbury and Ossett Pub Crawl’. He identified there were 40 pubs in the area (there were 50 ten years ago when he last did this), and we would cover them all on three consecutive Friday nights. They encompassed spit and sawdust back street boozers, stylish wine bars, town centre bars and food-led pubs.
I’ll hold my hand up here, and say there were some on the list that wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me into. In fact, I was the one person in the group who nearly bailed out at the last moment. But in the end it was enlightening.
Some of the most stylish, best looking pubs which I had looked forward to visiting, confident about walking into, delivered the worst customer service experiences. Almost as though we were doing them a favour by walking across the threshold. No greeting, no beer recommendations, no farewell as we left and most importantly, no ‘thank you’ as we passed a considerable amount of money across the bar.
On the other hand, many of the pubs I had refused to enter for years gave us the best welcome ever. The staff wanted to find out what we were up to (we all had ‘Horbury and Ossett Challenge’ T-shirts on), they asked questions, were welcoming, and expressed their gratitude for our custom. These were the busiest pubs we went into, and many of the customers got chatting to us and wanted to vote for their pub as the best on the challenge. Moreover, in these pubs, the most commonly asked question was from the landlord or landlady was “Which charity are you doing this for?”
We weren’t. We did it purely for fun. But it did make me think that the best pubs, the best welcomes, the best service providers, are those who think of others. That’s service at its absolute best, and it costs absolutely nothing.