My friends and loved ones all comment on the same thing when they’re out and about with me. And no, it’s not that I’ve got my skirt tucked into my pants or have been trailing toilet paper on my shoe for the last ten minutes, although one or the other things is likely happening at the time. It’s that wherever I go I always manage to get the best service. For a long time I wasn’t sure why, and when I started thinking about it, I dismissed it as a kind of sixth sense of hospitality workers; like they somehow knew I was one of them. But I’ve thought about it a lot since, and realized that it’s a combination of attitude and insider skills that lead to my behaviour in establishments getting me great service and little extras like free drinks with the bill, hotel upgrades, or priority booking on events. It’s got nothing to do with spending a lot (I can’t), looking the part (I often don’t, as ‘smart’ is not my buzzword as I get dressed of a day), or flirting my way to freebies (I just can’t, when put on the spot to flirt I am useless). Some of these are more obvious than others, but I thought I would compile my top tips anyway, and soon hopefully soon you’ll be privy to the full-on great service experience, too.
1. Become a regular
okay, so this one doesn’t initially sound all that quick, right? But it’s actually a no brainer. it comes down to two factors; and that is, human beings are creatures who take great comfort in habits, and people are great believers in the power of the pound. Meaning everybody has businesses they frequent more regularly than others, sometimes out of preference, sometimes out of proximity, sometimes out of sheer habit. And also that people, that’s you and I, want to make sure we are spending money we have worked for on experiences that we consider worthwhile, and will therefore naturally return more often to businesses where we have had a good experience. if you think about it, there are probably already a tonne of businesses where you are a regular; your bank, your ‘local’ (let’s face it, not so many of us choose literally the nearest pub to us), the restaurant you default to when you’ve got friends visiting, the supermarket you visit once a week, your hairdressers. I could go on. You’ve chosen all of these businesses for a reason, and already use their services often. Regular custom is a real plus point in implementing all the other points on the list. It has the added bonus for you, that you always know what and who you’re dealing with, and shows the people working in said establishment that you favour it, making them feel important and like they are doing a good job, which will reflect on how they treat you. I find as a customer that it is enjoyable and flattering to be welcomed back to places I have had a good time in, and on the flipside, as a hospitality industry worker, regular customers are a highlight of my job; it’s pleasant to talk to people about their lives and makes the whole thing seem less like work, which means I can relax and make sure the experience is all about them.
I feel like somebody’s nagging grandmother saying this, but it really is important. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to terms with the fact that my default state is optimism. I am always smiling, and you know how I know this? because people majorly notice if I’m not. It’s like if I turned up with half my hair cut off, that’s the kind of reaction I get. And I’ve found that smiling is a great tool to start off an interaction on the right foot. Even if the person you are approaching is not smiling, they will be when greeted with yours, and that sets the tone for the whole conversation. I have lost count of how many local shops I have befriended the shopkeeper in, just through virtue of smiling of a morning when getting my cigarettes on the way to uni/work/my latest adventure. In fact, when I was living further out in North London, one of the shopkeepers in the train station, who started talking to me because I was ‘always so happy’ called me little red, and used to joke about me being on my way to my big life, inadvertently inspired the name of this blog. If you smile through the basic interactions, even if it’s god knows what time of the morning and you’ve got sod-all energy, people will remember you as a pleasant customer. On the flipside, at work I find it harder to maintain being happy and bouncy if I am greeted by a stonefaced customer who barks out their requests as if I was a machine. While I try to give my best service at all times I am sure even if it is slight, there’s a noticeable difference in how I interact if I am being spoken to as if I might as well not be there. people like being smiled at, and they’ll treat you accordingly.
3. Engage in conversation
I lose count of the amount of times I have been out to dinner or drinks with friends or family and they have looked at me like an alien creature for chatting away like an overstimulated five year old to the person serving me. The child reference here is key; as adults I feel like we learn to focus on ourselves in conversation, whereas kids seem to ask more questions, and make more observations about what’s going on around them. if you want people to be more interested in attending to your needs, that’s basically the behaviour that will get you there. it helps that I’m naturally quite a nosey, or to be polite, inquisitive, person. I like to know what’s going on all the time. So I’ll start chats with someone serving me by noticing something and asking about it, for example, the bank I visit for work is always busy on the second Friday of every month, and by chatting to one of the staff members about why, I found out it was because a local hotel pays all of its staff that day. The conversation progressed further along as I sympathised with their rush, on a Friday of all days, and was the key to me building up a relationship with the staff there that now means I get fast tracked almost every time I go in, and led to me being given a piece of cake on one of my favourite server’s birthdays. It doesn’t even always need to be as complicated as that; I have had hotel upgrades before from asking the receptionist about her nail polish, or chatting to staff about the best place they know to get thai food, and been given free drinks and desserts for asking a rushed waiter if he was alright and then finding out he was the only one covering the whole restaurant that day and sympathizing. And I didn’t do any of this to gain anything other than a more interesting service experience. I am very much of the opinion that an interaction can only be the sum of what two people make it; and as a result I ask questions to make my service experiences feel more like an interaction and less like a transaction. It has occasionally led to freebies, but more importantly to me, it makes the whole thing more conversational and I go about my day feeling like I have had an interesting encounter. On the flipside, at work, I do the same thing, but I am also hugely flattered when customers show an interest in me, for example asking where I bought my glittery tights or asking how long I’ve worked at the whippet. It makes me feel like I have been noticed as a person, and I tend to interact accordingly.
4. Be genuine
This one is probably a companion to engaging in conversation, and probably why I get weird looks from my loved ones about how I chat away to people who are serving me. I could be all stiff and formal and chat away about the weather, but that’s no fun, is it? I’d be pretending I cared and so would the person serving me. It’s much easier to ask about stuff that is interesting, like whether the shouty obnoxious man who got served before you talks to his family like that, or where your server got the idea for their tattoo, or even, let’s break it down right now; how their day is going. I’d far rather hear about that than the rain, unless of course there’s some crazy freak weather like *gasp* three inches of snow in London, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to swap war stories of how you made it into work. By the same token, this ‘being genuine’ idea applies to the mandatory interactions, too. Staff in the service industry are often trained to ask questions, like when I worked for a big pubco and had to go ask everyone how they liked their meal no less than three minutes after they had it. There’s only so many ways a server can make this exciting on their own, so coming out with something more interesting than ‘fine thanks’ will often lead to an exchange that makes it more interesting for you and them. Again, I’m nosy about food, so I almost always have a question, like ‘this is good,what chillies did they use in this salsa?’ or ‘do you know how they deboned and stuffed this?’. It usually ends in a long old chat where I learn something and the staff get to talk about something they’re passionate about, and everybody leaves happy. It’s like at work, whatever you do, wherever, and however you do it; if somebody you deal with has a genuine human conversation with you and shows actual interest in something, you feel happy, right? hospitality industry workers are just the same and will often go out of their way afterward to make sure you have a great time. At work, if somebody is interested in finding out about the beer they’re drinking, I’ll happily stand and chat to them about it for as long as I can get away with it. i’m passionate about the beers I sell, and I enjoy it when people express an interest in learning about it, so I’ll go into great detail and they’ll feel like they got something valuable out of it. Everybody totally wins.
5. Finish ‘er off!
And we come full circle. This one definitely benefits from being worked in tandem with being a regular customer, but the two are not dependent. The end of the interaction is just as important as the beginning. Some of this is basic stuff, like saying ‘thankyou’, and ‘have a nice day/weekend/trip to south america’ (depending on how far into conversation you got), but other stuff is a little more tricksy. In a restaurant it is always appropriate to tip. There is a controversial and destructive cycle of debate around tipping, the old ‘well they should be paid enough in the first place’ argument that everybody trots out to show just how liberal they are, but the fact of the matter is, most basic-level hospitality employees are not. And since I’ve never seen the people trotting out this pseudo-socialist guff going on a living wage march, or handing out pro-unionization paraphernalia, I’m gonna suggest that it pretty much is the rationalization of the tightwad, and a way to feel smug and knowing. In a restaurant, or any other situation in which I have received table service, I will leave at least a ten percent tip. it rarely ever comes up that I have had bad service, so the issue of not tipping does not come up. One of my highest earning friends in marketing has cottoned on to the fact that even if a place is fancy, the person serving you is probably earning peanuts, and it’s a fact that while ugly, stands. I am also fairly militant about making sure my tip will go to the person serving me. if it’s a service charge on card, I’ll be open about asking how it is distributed; and either tip cash instead of, or on top of, if I’m not satisfied with where that money is going to go. There shouldn’t be shame in directly wanting to know where the money you earned, and you are paying, is going to go; and trust me, your server won’t be embarrassed if you ask. Believe me, there are still some downright shady pooling practices with tips, so you should always ask, no matter how big the company. Anyway, awkward money chat aside (British people are so not good at talking about tipping; which is weird, I tip anybody I feel has performed me a service, hairdressers, taxi drivers, barstaff, your mileage may vary but mine does not), there are other things to bear in mind. I am notorious for filling out feedback forms. I mean, they usually come with an incentive, like winning a free dinner or whatever, but I don’t care about that. If I have received a great experience, and I nigh-on always do, I want to make sure that the person who provided it is in some way rewarded. I’m not sure how far I agree with feedback form schemes, because in my experience on the flipside it’s usually people with an axe to grind who use them to sound off, but what I do believe is that if there is a system in place for acknowledging good service, it should be used. I have even, in the case of one restaurant, been so impressed with the exceptional service I received, that upon finding out there was no official scheme to feed back through, I asked for a head office email, went home, and rattled off a paean of praise about the guy who served me. The next time I was there, he practically ran over to me to thank me, I’d made his day, and all I was doing was acknowledging that he’d made mine. The whole experience left me glowing; I think it does good to spread good. Anyway, the point is, if you finish off the interaction with aplomb, the next one will be even better.
Anyways, this is just my tuppence bit on how to get good service, something I believe leads to a more enjoyable day to day experience. it’s just what has worked for me, and since I like my life to be full of conversation and smiles and little moments that make everything feel great, like my local shopkeeper telling me he missed me while I was away for Christmas, or the bank staff I deal with every day shooting the breeze with me about their weekends, or the pub staff from my local sitting with me and chatting on the nightbus as we all make our way home, I follow this doctrine to the letter. And from the other side of the bar, I’m pretty sure the people who make serving them a pleasure get the full, 1000 kilowatt service experience beamed right back to them, and I am pretty sure they know it and appreciate it when I go out of my way without even thinking twice. And if this kind of chatter-filled human experience sounds like your idea of hell, well, you sit tight and wait for the rise of the machines, and when that happens the rest of us will be on an island somewhere, talking about what chillies were used in the salsa and finding out how exactly the receptionist got silver leopard print nails, and having a bloody good time doing it without you.