Tuesday, 3 August 2004

Are you being served?

Gavin Esler writes about the experience of his American friends who have been visiting Britain:
But it also summed up the problem that tourists still find in tea-rooms, pubs and restaurants from one end of Britain to the other. It’s a simple confusion between service and servile. And what a difference that one letter makes.
Esler continues:
Which brings us back to the difference between service and servile. Foreign waiters - Americans, French, Spanish, Portuguese - seem capable of providing service without feeling that the job they do is demeaning. British waiters - and I think Scots are particularly guilty of this - sometimes act as if being a waiter or waitress is not a proper job.
I wonder what's behind this problem. Sadly, I have to agree that service is much worse in Scotland than it should be. I see this almost every day here in Edinburgh. Bus drivers, bar staff and shop assistants often treat customers with complete disdain. Why snarl angrily at tourists who get on their first bus here without realising that "we don't give any change"? When a foreigner is sitting for ten minutes in a pub would it harm a staff member to tell the visitor that they need to go up to the bar to get served? I've done it myself enough times - maybe I should get free beer. We have a well-deserved reputation for friendliness but there's a real problem when it comes to customer "service". Is it worse here in Scotland because of the widespread socialist mindset? I think that's part of the explanation but I don't notice the same problem in other European countries. On the other hand, Scotland is now more socialist then even Sweden. Tourism is said to be our biggest industry. How do we fix this problem?


David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

John Ray
Brits generally think that they are wonderful and that the world owes them a living without them working for it. It is just more visible in service jobs.  
My fellow Australians commonly say that "A Pom wouldn't work in an iron lung". A bit obscure but it reflects what we see of Brits both in Australia and in Britain.  
I find it a bit amusing, actually. If I am not being served in Britain, I just say in a VERY loud voice. "I really hate being invisible" -- or some such. By "creating a scene" I get immediate attention!  
What a typical brash loud-mouthed Australian bastard I must be! 
Better than being a lily-livered Pom would be my reply

16 August 2004, 12:27:20 GMT+01:00
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Stuart Dickson
Tipping is a sign of market failure, much as queueing is. 
I am unpersuaded by London, Paris or Buenos Airies examples. We are talking about Scotland. Please get your country right.

11 August 2004, 07:21:12 GMT+01:00
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David Gillies
I do know that if you get it right you can make a mint as a waiter in a big city in the UK. A friend's daughter used to waitress in London at a high class restaurant. She took home £700-1000 a week in tips, and lived in a flat in St John's Wood.

10 August 2004, 22:37:47 GMT+01:00
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steve shackleton
two basic reasons i think 
If you "serve" someone you are percieved to be a servant and therefore exploited to an even greater degree than us normal mortals doing a proper job. 
Allied to the burger bar / call centre syndrome jobs that are considered as poor relations to proper jobs. 
The left have lost site that there are no bad jobs, there may be difficult, unwanted, dangerous or any other description but a job is a job and working you are deemed more employable than long term unemployed

4 August 2004, 13:07:09 GMT+01:00
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Squander Two
I find Scottish service to veer between extremes. About half the shop assistants, waiters, etc one encounters in Scotland are absolutely appalling, while the rest are really extremely good. And, typically of Scotland, there's nothing in between; you hardly ever just get average service. And it has nothing to do with how much you're paying: there are posh expensive restaurants in Glasgow staffed entirely by surly self-important ineffective lazy gits, while all the staff at the Pizza Hut at Parkhead are just lovely. Go figure.

4 August 2004, 09:09:44 GMT+01:00
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David Farrer said...

Stuart Dickson
They weren't charming before the minimum wage was introduced! 
It is a cultural phenomenum, not an economic one. Whatever attributes may be attributed to the Scots, "charm" is rarely one of them. I'm afraid that "charm" in a US context too often means "smarm". 
Sweden's tourist industry is tiny in comparison with Scotland's. Customer service there is generally to a very high standard. Tipping is pretty much non-existent. 
Sweden is far more left-wing than Scotland. Eg, the trades unions are incredibly powerful and public-sector monopolies dominate many sectors, including the leisure industry. Every single tourist attraction in Gothenburg, including Liseberg, "the Nordic countries largest amusement park", is owned by the council. 
Liseberg, and the other facilities, are run excellently, and extremely profitably. Of course they do crowd out private investment. But I think that the reason that personnel in Sweden are so much more skilled at customer service is partly natural talent ("cultural") and partly excellent training ("economic"). 
It is impossible to work behind a bar in Sweden without a basic 3 week, full-time, expensive training course. Many catering employers insist on even higher training.

4 August 2004, 07:30:04 GMT+01:00
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The Yanks et all give good service because they rely on the tips they earn to bolster their low wages. Get rid of the minimum wage and see how charming the ignorati in most Edinburgh bars etc become!

3 August 2004, 20:34:15 GMT+01:00