There’s a commonly held belief that the British just don’t know how to complain. This is not quite true, in spite of it being used to good effect by Monty Python in numerous sketches. The reality is that the British can whinge with the best of them, and frequently do. Not much else you can do when it comes to the weather. And the government. And the Opposition. And the latest plans for a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham.
But, when it comes to service, they tend not to break out into that sort of anti-social behaviour too often. “I say, old chap – what-ho! Don’t want to make a scene, you know!” Coffee too cold? All the quicker to drink it! Meat too tough? Extra exercise for the jaw!
Some of this must have rubbed off on me (and not just in the past year, either), as I’d much rather just take it on the chin and bear it than to complain. We were unfaithful to our regular Friday coffee spot a few weeks ago, trying out the new place in the village, and the froth on the cappuccino was scorched. And the coffee was a little colder than I like it (which is between 65° and 70°, for the pedants among you). My response to this was resignation – I’m never going to go there again, so I might as well leave quietly and watch them go under from the comfort of my leather lounge in Morton’s across the road. And I think that a lot of Brits do the same – quietly leave and never come back.
I think that the result of this is that restaurants become unused to dealing with complaints, and aren’t quite sure how to go about it. Especially when dealing with a complainant, such as myself, who isn’t really sure about how to complain either.
This all leads up to an event at the Handmade Burger Co in town this past Friday. I’d ordered the two hamburgers, a lemonade and a milkshake and two glasses of water. And two sides – one of chips, and one of grilled vegetables. The water came, as did the lemonade. A while later, the two burgers made their appearance (which, due to their notable size, and mentionable quality, was observed throughout the restaurant by a moment of silence). These were shortly followed by the sides, and we got down to the serious task of eating, while engaging in pleasant conversation.
After a few minutes, I suddenly realised that my milkshake was what I call ‘missing’. I managed to attract the eye of a waiter, and once he’d trundled over, I let him know that I’d ordered a milkshake, but it hadn’t yet arrived. He said he’d check on it for me. Within three minutes, I had an alarmingly official-looking fellow at my left shoulder, and his sidekick at my right shoulder. “Is everything alright, sir? Are you enjoying your meal?” Deciding to take the measurable risk of getting a knife in the back at this show of dissent, I informed him that I’d ordered a milkshake that hadn’t arrived. He said he’d check on it for me, and exited to the left, pursued by his sidekick. I wasn’t altogether sure whether he was the normal “How’s your meal, then?” guy who always arrives just after you’ve taken a bite, or whether he was the manager coming to deal with the complaint.
Whichever it was, my waiter soon returned with the milkshake. And a till slip, with the milkshake price prominently displayed. Then he asked if he could have a look at my receipt, so he could see whether I’d already paid for it. At which point I was about to splurt out “Look, I just want a milkshake! I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!”… but I didn’t, because it was the sort of place where Cardinal Ximenez could easily have jumped out from behind the padded walls, with a cry of “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and a disturbing scarcity of Milkshakes!”
So I showed him the receipt, and he was rather nice about leaving the milkshake without wrenching any more of my personal belongings from me. And the rest of the meal was completed without any extraordinary elements. Except for me taking notice of the card standing in the condiment holder, which proclaimed their penchant for fantastic service, and inviting me to write to Chris, the owner of the business, and let him know about any bad experience. At which point we departed, not really being sure whether that was a set-up, and whether Chris is really just a front for a duo of lumpily-built heavies with an unhealthy interest in baseball bats. Maybe I’ll get the gumption to write to Chris one day, and find out.
Until then, I might just stay away from the Handmade Burger Co.