The customer is always right. That is the phrase we drill into our staff, time and time again. But there are definitely exceptions to this mantra, and while they are hopefully few and far between, every once in a while you come across a situation where you decide to take the risk of losing that one customer for the benefit of other customers or for the mental health of your staff. Mrs. MM was once on a plane where an unruly and inebriated passenger was bound to his chair with strapping tape (yes, strong tape works better than handcuffs) and warned if he was noisy his mouth would be taped shut as well (all this done by a burly American air marshall on board the transpacific flight). I know of situations were restaurant clients have placed items in their food, in order to try and get the meal comped (for free), but their actions were clearly recorded on CCTV cameras in-store, yet other situations where diners steal silver and crystal and are caught red-handed, or saddled with a massive charge on the bill for the missing items… but sometimes, it isn’t something so blatant or evil, it just falls into the “thick” or “clueless” category as I like to call these encounters.
Example # 1:
A few months ago, I arrived at the airport at around 545pm for a 725pm flight. When I got through security checks, I sat in front of the Zubuchon airport stall, and noticed a customer sitting at one of 10 stools for dine-in clients, and his computer and phone were plugged into our wall socket some 5-6 feet away. The cord, a thick wire and battery or charge pack was mostly on the floor, and a portion of it raised off the floor (the socket is a foot or more above floor level). It was directly across the line for customers who order food, as well as the area for them to exit the cashier. In other words, it was in the way and could cause someone to trip if they weren’t very mindful of what was underfoot. The dining table was only partially filled, and there was a bit of lull in the number of passengers in the departure lounge at the time. I just let this be, and it’s not the first time we have accommodated a request to use our electrical outlets. I spoke with our Manager and it turns out the customer had asked permission to charge his phone briefly, but instead plugged his computer in, plugged his phone into his computer and had stayed for quite some time. Clearly, if charging one’s phone just enough to get to Manila were required, 15-20 minutes of charging would have sufficed. The customer ordered a drink and sat doodling on his computer.
Dozens of customers came and went, and a line started to form, and our small table was rather full. One of our waiters told the customer that guests may trip on his wires but the customer ignored our staff member, paying him no mind, continuing on as though there was no care in world. I observed a lot of this for say a good 15 minutes or so. And when at least two other customers got semi-tangled or had to lift suitcases over the wire, I approached the customer and told him to please remove his plug and wire as it was getting in the way of other customers and a potential risk. When he didn’t react or even appear to be aware of the inconvenience he was causing, I pulled out his plug, handed it to him and told him I was shocked he was so oblivious and inconsiderate. I offered to charge his phone behind the counter but he declined (obviously it had enough charge by now). He protested that he had ordered a drink, and that he had asked permission, and I countered that he had asked permission for a phone, not a thick computer cord, and that 20-30 minutes should have been sufficient time, and besides, it was now quite clearly a bother to other clients. And buying a drink DOES NOT entitle a customer to free charging of electrical equipment, period. It was a courtesy extended by staff, that now was clearly being taken advantage of. Clearly, being called out in public is an unpleasant situation, but honestly, you can only suffer idiotic behavior to a point. And this is the first time I have ever told a customer I would be happy to reimburse the cost of his soda if he would just skeedadle out of there.
WHERE DO PEOPLE learn this type of behavior? Inconveniencing others is clearly obnoxious. And when it’s clear you are doing something like that, isn’t that enough reason to stop it? Does playing a deaf ear to a waiter’s polite request mean you are safe from ridicule? Thinking this is over, the gentleman approached me and tried to explain himself further. And I made it clear to him that it was a simple matter of right or wrong. Is it right to inconvenience others or put them at risk for your own benefit? Is it right to expect that you can charge your appliances at a food store in exchange for the purchase of a beverage or food item? Is it right to ignore a polite request from a waiter, but only get shocked when the owner tells you off? Wasn’t it sufficient charge for 30 minutes for the person to have enough juice on his toys? Finally, he walked off, and I had a word with our staff — yes, the customer is often right, but not when they abuse common sense in this manner. The plug has since been condemned and now NO ONE gets to ever use it. It’s idiots like this who screw up the polite world for the rest of normal diners. And just in case you are wondering, we continue to accommodate folks who need a charge, but their phones are placed behind the counters for 10-20 minutes or so.
Example # 2:
A customer called or emailed to complain that they thought they had left their phone on their table after dining in one of our outlets, and when they returned, it was no where to be found. There was a suggestion that our staff had perhaps taken it, or maybe someone else had… We take such complaints seriously, and we asked the client to describe the phone, the approximate time of dining in (it’s on their receipt as well) and table/server (that’s on the receipt as well). Thankfully, we have CCTV cameras and keep several days of data saved. A review of the table in question showed the client did in fact dine in, used his phone during his stay, and as they got up to leave the restaurant, we had a clear shot of the table, and there was no phone on it (or on the chairs). The servers cleared the table, and there did not appear to be a phone anywhere near their table. When told we had a tape of meal, the client backed off his strong assertion our crew may have taken the phone…
Example # 3:
This is one for the “books”… Early one morning, at our airport snack bar, a group of clients arrived and ordered a dish that typically takes 8-10 mins to prepare. They were advised of this and agreed. Several of the dishes were delivered in the order that they were purchased at say 6-8 minutes, and one last order was being prepared. One of the clients, a large male, asked the waiter to follow-up but the waiter was already holding the last order, and served it seconds later. The customer was apparently quite drunk, got angry, and without warning punched our server in the chest! The waiter was put behind the counter (he did not hit back) by our diminutive female manager, other customers were stunned, and the client remained aggressive. Airport police were summoned, witnesses spoken to, and to make a long story short, our server decided to file assault charges. As a company, we supported this move, given the situation that had taken place. Medical tests, liquor tests, and many, many hours later (the customer missed his flight and tried to throw his weight around and giving his “gun license id” as his identification) and they were in front of the Mactan Fiscal and a case was being raffled off to a judge so that bail could be set. After say 11 hours, the client finally settled the case, providing a written apology and a very modest cash settlement. Our lawyers got involved, several of our managers went to support the employee, and all ended as well as it could. There are details I have left out, but you would only cringe more if I enumerated them. The client missed his flight, a later booked flight, had to sleep over one night, pay his lawyer, write an apology, and pay a settlement fee and hang his head temporarily in shame. All that because he couldn’t wait the ten minutes he had earlier agreed to wait… Ridiculous, I know.
So while customers are almost “always right” or treated as such, there are a few real doozies out there that are just WRONG, period.