Coming back to the domestic agenda, it was also a great weekend for common sense.
Having owned pub, hotel, restaurant and catering outlets for the last ten years, I am well aware of the benefits and disadvantages of Trip Advisor and, on balance, I think it’s a bad thing.
In Saturday’s The Times, Andrew Ellson exposed some of its faults, while also touching on the way customers can seek to hold outlets to ransom. It can be far worse than that. In the hospitality business you do get to meet some wonderful people and make great friends, but, as in so much of life, the minority spoil it for the majority.
Andrew’s article talked rightly about the way the unscrupulous operators pile praise on themselves and slag off their competitors. I met a young man at a reception some years ago who proudly told me about “his people in the East” who worked tirelessly on fake reviews for anything and everything. We never indulged in such things but did suffer from it. We always knew who was doing it, but never bothered to challenge it. We were better than that, better than them in what we did and I looked at it as a form of flattery, but I know how damaging it can be.
The worst kind though, are those customers who come in with the express intention of not paying. The threat of bad reviews is always part of that. I remember one instance when two couples were eating and one of the ladies didn’t like her starter. Nothing wrong with it, just didn’t like it. When I visited the table, she complained bitterly about the way the Restaurant Manager had handled it. “But we changed it without charge?” I responded and, seeing the dirty plates, knew one of the others had had the same starter and so I asked him how it was, “Lovely!” he replied.
Recognising the type and speaking to the Restaurant Manager, I told him to be careful and – sure enough – later the same complainant told him how wonderful he was and that, this time, “his boss” needed to learn how to treat people! The whole story is too long for here but the lady later offered to tell me how to run a “really good catering establishment” (all while stroking my hand) as she had “experience” and had “won a lot prizes”.
I had to leave about 9.30pm that evening as my wife had just come out of hospital, but people who knew us and who had happened to be sitting at the next table that night, later told me that the table of 4 who had been complaining had said to each other, “We’re not going to get away with it here” – so it was clearly a regular trick of theirs, but one that wasn’t working with us.
All small business is tough, but when customers set out to steal from you – because that’s what it is – it just makes it that much harder.
And it’s not just restaurants, either. I’ve owned a dry cleaners as well, where some people (again, a minority) try to blame the cleaners for damage which was missed when the garments were brought in. Sathnam Sanghera delved into dry cleaners in The Times on Saturday as well, but the bit I liked best in his Notebook referred to sell-by dates and cavemen! The tide is, thankfully, turning towards doing what my old Nan did; if it smells alright, eat it!