Serve me right

It’s sum­mer, the stu­dents are wait­ing tables – and Jan gives them some tips

EADT Suffolk - - PROMOTION - Jan Ether­ing­ton is a jour­nal­ist and com­edy writer of ra­dio and TV se­ries. Now liv­ing in a vil­lage some­where in Suf­folk . . .

We can tell it’s Au­gust be­cause there are ‘Staff needed’ signs in cafes, bars and shops. Dozens of re­luc­tant stu­dents are be­ing pro­pelled through the doors of the Seav­iew Café or the Olde Gifte Shoppe, by a par­ent, de­ter­mined that the hol­i­days should be spent on gain­ful em­ploy­ment, rather than so­cial me­dia, surf or skate­boards. Let me just warn them that be­ing a good waiter/wait­ress is an ex­tremely un­der­rated skill and much harder than it looks.

Years ago, I was – briefly – a wait­ress. Briefly? Oh, alright. For 20 min­utes. I hung all the din­ers’ coats on one side of a coat stand and shouted ‘Tim­ber!’, when it fell onto the hors d’oeu­vres. Ap­par­ently, that’s not clever or funny. And I haven’t im­proved with time. Un­wisely, I vol­un­teered to serve drinks at our Vil­lage Hall Royal Wed­ding Event in May but queues formed, as I was riv­eted to the screen, in­stead of fill­ing glasses. “You’ll just have to wait a minute! Meghan’s go­ing up the aisle!”

I may never win a Miss Help­ful badge but when I see re­ally good cus­tomer ser­vice in ac­tion, I re­alise how rare it is and how much it lifts ev­ery­one’s spir­its. The Low­est­oft to Ip­swich train was late (no change there) and I stomped on, mood­ily, find­ing one empty seat. The woman next to me asked the guard: “Has my hus­band paid for me?” The guard re­sponded, dead­pan: “For­give me, madam, I don’t think I know your hus­band. But wait, I sus­pect he’s the gentle­man wav­ing his wal­let, over there?”

The next 30 min­utes passed en­ter­tain­ingly, with Stu­art, the guard, re­quest­ing: “Could

I see your Young Per­son’s Rail­card, sir?” to a pen­sioner with a walk­ing frame, adding: “And I see you have a Re­cy­cled Teenager con­ces­sion…” One reg­u­lar com­muter told Stu­art he hadn’t seen him lately. The re­sponse? “True love has taken me else­where, these last cou­ple of weeks, to­wards Diss . . .”

Every­body was smil­ing, as we pulled into Ip­swich, some­thing I’ve never seen be­fore, and there were lots of ‘After yous’. “It’s called the Stu­art ef­fect,” one pas­sen­ger told me.

Re­cently, I was in The Swan Ho­tel in South­wold, with a friend who was in the mid­dle of in­va­sive med­i­cal treat­ment.

“Just a small ham sand­wich,” she re­quested. Two min­utes later, the hap­less young wait­ress was back. “I’m afraid the chef can’t make a sand­wich.” “And he calls him­self a chef?” I snapped. It was teatime, but my friend couldn’t eat the full af­ter­noon tea, I ex­plained. No luck.

I went to the desk and asked for the man­ager. Re­cep­tion­ist Sam said: “Per­haps I can help?” I told her what hap­pened and off she went to the kitchen, re­turn­ing five min­utes later with a per­fect ham sand­wich. I sus­pect she made it her­self, al­though it wasn’t her job. But she knew, in­stinc­tively, about good cus­tomer ser­vice. I hope she will, very soon, be gen­eral man­ager. The chef is no longer work­ing there.

So, all you sons and daugh­ters, slouch­ing down from uni or col­lege, slightly re­sent­ing hav­ing to wait tables, just re­mem­ber – your at­ti­tude can make or ruin some­one’s day. Please do as I say, not as I did. Here’s what not to say.

1.‘Hey guys, what can I get you?’ Ser­vice with­out the ghastly matey­ness, please. And I am not a guy.

2.‘There you go!’ is an un­ac­cept­able an­nounce­ment, when plac­ing food on the ta­ble.

3. If we are talk­ing about Tus­cany, do not butt in and say ‘Oh, my par­ents have a place there’ and join in the con­ver­sa­tion. To­day, you are the waiter, not a friend. Go and get the starters.

4. If you ask ‘Is ev­ery­thing alright?’, look as if you care.

Fi­nally, I’m leav­ing you a big tip. The cus­tomer is al­ways right, even when they send back the steak tartare and say it’s not prop­erly cooked. N

‘I may never win a Miss Help­ful badge but when I see re­ally good cus­tomer ser­vice in ac­tion, I re­alise how rare it is and how much it lifts ev­ery­one’s spir­its.’

ABOVE: Jan, the failed wait­ress, at the Vil­lage Hall Royal Wed­ding Event.

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