Sunday 16 February 2014

Don't whine over F word

I refer to Swear at customers? No way (SundayLife!, Feb 9).

What is it about the response "who the F*** do you think you are" that is so offensive to the patron? The F word? Or the insinuation that he is unimportant? Probably the latter. Would the patron be offended if it had been "who the hell do you think you are"? Probably yes.

So what do we have here? A patron who is unhappy for being told that he is unimportant and who managed to distract users of social media to pounce on the restaurant owner for using the F word.

We are all NS-trained and we should be able to handle a few expletives in our lives. We should not be too devastated by foul language.

We routinely accept being treated robustly by hawkers in Singapore and eateries when we are overseas, without giving it too much thought.

Why should we expect to be nannyhandled by eateries in Singapore? Have we become so thin-skinned?

Such private encounters as these serve no public interest. One should not use social media as a weapon to fight one's battles.

Chia Boon Teck
Life, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

Swear at customers? No way
Industry professionals say no complaint warrants the use of an expletive, following an e-mail exchange involving Don Quijote restaurant
By Rebecca Lynne Tan, The Sunday Times, 9 Feb 2014

The dining scene has been abuzz this week after an e-mail exchange between a restaurateur and a diner, a food and beverage professional who had sent in a complaint using his corporate account, signing off with his designation.

Mr Ken Lim, 42, of Spanish restaurant Don Quijote in Dempsey Hill, responded to the complaint by Mr Arun Ratnaa, head of marketing at Shiraz, a Persian restaurant chain, in an eight-word e-mail that included the use of the F-word.

Mr Ratnaa, 28, posted Mr Lim's response on Facebook last Monday, and it has been reposted on the network some 615 times, as of last Friday night. The topic has also been discussed on blogs and forums. Mr Lim's response: "Who the f*** do you think you are?" left many whom SundayLife! spoke to dumbfounded.

Restaurateurs, food and beverage industry professionals and diners say that no matter what the complaint is, it should never warrant the use of an expletive. Asked when and if profanities are appropriate, some, including Mr Andrew Ing, chief operating officer of the Lo & Behold Group, chef-owner Ryan Clift of Tippling Club, chef de cuisine Anthony Yeoh of Cocotte and hotelier-restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, among others, came out to say: "Never."

How, then, should one respond?

"Definitely not with a profanity", says Mr Loh, 41, who is behind restaurants such as Burnt Ends, Esquina and Pollen.

Restaurateurs and chefs admit that they might think it, but would never actually verbalise it, let alone use it in writing.

The exchange between Mr Ratnaa and Mr Lim happened over the Chinese New Year weekend. Mr Ratnaa went to Don Quijote on Feb 1, having been recommended the restaurant by friends. He did not have a reservation and was turned away. In his e-mail, he had complained of a "less than pleasant experience" and being attended to by a "less than helpful" waitstaff. He signed off saying that he was "disappointed by the service" he was given at the door of the restaurant.

Mr Lim, when asked why he had responded with an expletive on Feb 2, says: "I don't look at what happened as a customer complaint because he signed off with his company credentials and indicated that he was a food and beverage professional. He was a customer right up to the point that he was turned away from the restaurant because we were full."

He says that after Mr Ratnaa left, and proceeded to write a complaint signing off with his corporate designation and saying that he worked in the food and beverage industry, he no longer was a customer, but someone from the industry who was telling him how to run a business.

He likened Mr Ratnaa's complaint to, he says, the chief executive of an airline complaining about a competing airline's cabin crew.

Had Mr Ratnaa written in his personal capacity, he says he would have "bestowed upon him the courtesy that I would have any diner". According to Mr Lim, he had investigated what had happened and found that his staff had not been rude or unhelpful to the customer and had also been apologetic.

While many may disagree with the use of the expletive, they say they understand Mr Lim's standpoint and his reaction. Ms Andrea Lim, 26, a bank executive, says: "Kudos to Ken Lim. Many people might think about using profanities but wouldn't dare?... Complaining about bad service is one thing, but rubbing it in someone's face and being snarky about it is going a little too far, in my opinion."

When SundayLife! asked Mr Ratnaa why he did not e-mail the complaint using his personal e-mail account, he says had he waited until later, he would have been "too lazy to send it". He says he has access to only his corporate e-mail on his iPhone.

A number of food and beverage professionals whom SundayLife! spoke to, when they learnt that Mr Ratnaa had signed off with his designation, were appalled.

Even those from outside the industry were perplexed as to why a corporate account was used. Ms Amanda Lim, 34, a manager in a trading company, shook her head, saying it was "unprofessional of him to do so" because "by using a work e-mail, you represent the company".

Mr Ratnaa says his views do not reflect that of Shiraz. "I was shocked when I received the response and had to check it a few times just to make sure. I went to the restaurant as a consumer... I did not tell him how to run his business. I think no one deserves to be treated that way, but as the owner, he has the final say."

Asked why he did not bring up his displeasure at the time of the incident, he says that it was not appropriate to make a scene, and that often, service professionals are not the right people to address the complaint to, having worked the front-of-house himself.

But some restaurateurs insist there is a need to accord diners and patrons due respect, no matter who they are or what they have done.

Ryan Clift, 37, chef-owner of avant-garde restaurant Tippling Club in Tanjong Pagar, says: "Each person should be accorded the same respect and treated equally, be it a restaurant critic or a general member of the public. As a restaurateur, I think anyone who has a complaint should receive a valid response to his problem. Even if the tone of his e-mail is derogatory, the response should never be heated."

Restaurateurs say they receive complaints often, and some can be unreasonable. Examples include ones such as why portions are small, which a tapas restaurant that serves small sharing plates received; and "Why is the beef tartar raw", even though this is explicitly stated on the menu.

Even so, restaurateurs say they refrain from making rude remarks. And because complaints do happen, both via e-mail and in person, many restaurants train their staff to handle difficult situations. They also have standard operating procedures in place to deal with unpleasant situations.

The Spa Esprit Group, which runs restaurants such as Skinny Pizza and House@Dempsey, has a dedicated customer service team of about five people to attend to complaints. A spokesman for the group says: "Feedback is highly valued. We constantly take feedback and work to improve our service."

For restaurants including ones by Spa Esprit, and others such as those managed under the Saint Pierre group, a receipt of e-mail is sent once a complaint is received. Investigations are then conducted and a response sent to the customer. Mr Yuan Oeij, 44, chairman of the Prive Group, which runs restaurants such as Roadhouse and Prive Grill, says that it is about turning a negative experience into a positive one.

Restaurateurs believe that there needs to be a certain level of courtesy and mutual respect between diners and waitstaff. They often remind their staff to put themselves in the customers' shoes, but how often do customers put themselves in waitstaff's shoes?

Spa Esprit's spokesman says: "A great dining experience these days is not just about the food but also ambience and service. That said, it would be great if consumers are more understanding and more encouraging towards the service staff. A little encouragement goes a long way. As for the consumers, we need to treat the staff with respect. As consumers, we all need to make a conscious effort to be more patient and understanding. This will ensure a more pleasant dining experience as well as a work environment."

Diners says human interaction is two-way, and that good service should be received with pleasant reactions. Sales consultant David Lee, 37, says: "Sometimes people have bad days, waitstaff included. But it helps when both diner and staff put on a smile, don't you think? Say 'thank you' and ask for things nicely, don't demand - we all hate being ordered around."

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