Sunday, August 06, 2006

What is Customer Service?

Shortage of short Greeks ruining us
By Mike Royko
Editor's note: The Chicago Daily News published this column on Dec. 5, year unknown.

The moment we sat down for lunch, I knew it was a mistake. It was one of those cute new yuppie-poo restaurants with ferns and a menu that listed calories. I knew it was an even bigger mistake when five minutes passed before the busboy dropped the silverware and napkins in front of us. About 10 minutes later, I snared a waitress as she was hurrying by and asked: "Is there any chance we can see a menu?" "I'm so sorry," she said. "We're short-handed. One of the girls didn't show up today." When she finally brought the food it wasn't what I had ordered. "There are some problems in the kitchen," she said. "We have a new cook." "Never mind," I said. "I'll eat it, whatever it is. But what about the beer? "Oh, I forgot, you wanted a beer," she said. The beer arrived just in time to wash down the last bite of the sandwich. When she brought the check, which was wrong because she charged me for what I ordered instead of what I got, I asked: "Who runs this place?" "The manager?" she said. "He's in the end booth having lunch." On the way out, I stopped at the manager's booth. He was a yuppie in a business suit. He and a clone were leisurely sipping their coffee and looking at a computer print-out. "Nice place you have here," I lied. "Do you own it?" The young man shook his head. It was owned by one of those big corporations that operates restaurants in far-flung office buildings and health clubs. He also proudly told me that he had recently left college with a degree in restaurant and hotel management. That explained it all. His waitresses were short-handed, his cook was goofing up the orders, the customers were fuming, and what was he doing? He was having lunch. Or, as he'd probably say, he was doing lunch. I don't want to be an alarmist, but when this nation collapses, he and those like him will be the cause. First, we had the MBA - especially the Harvard MBA - who came along after World War II and took over American industry. With his bottom-line approach, the MBA did such a brilliant job that the Japanese might soon buy the whole country and evict us. But we're told not to worry. Now that we don't manufacture as much as we used to, we'll be saved by the growing service industry. The problem is that the service industry is being taken over by people like the restaurant manager and his corporation. They go to college and study service. Then they install computers programmed for service. And they have meetings and look at service charts and graphs and talk about service. But what they don't do is provide service. That's because they are not short Greeks. You probably wonder what that means. I'll explain. If that corporation expects the restaurant to succeed, it should fire the young restaurant-hotel degree holder. Or demote him to cleaning washrooms. It should then go to my friend Sam Sianis, who owns Billy Goat's Tavern, and say: "Do you know a short Greek that wants to manage a restaurant?" Sam will say: "Shoo. I send you one my cousins. Jus' got here from the old country." Then he'd go to Greek Town and tell his cousin, who works as a waiter, that his big chance had come. When the next lunch hour rolled around, and a waitress failed to show up for work, Sam's cousin would not sit down to do lunch. He would put on an apron and wait tables himself. If the cook goofed up orders, Sam's cousin would go into the kitchen, pick up a cleaver, and say, "You want I keel you?" He wouldn't know how to read a computer printout, but he'd get drinks in the glasses, food on the table, and money in the cash register. That simple approach is why restaurants run by short Greeks stay in business and make money. And why restaurants that are run by corporations and managed by young men who are educated beyond their intelligence come and go. And mostly go. So if you are ever approached by a stockbroker who wants to sell you shares in any of the giant service corporations, tell him not to bother showing you the annual report. Just ask him one question. "Is it run by short Greeks?" If he says no, leave your money under the mattress.


At 3:51 AM, Blogger Hoots said...

Great find. Seems to me we knew another place that had the same disease, didn't we?

I recalled recently the first time a newly-hatched trainee said too me, with no sense of irony, "Oh, I don't like vegetables." We had been talking about food flavors and I was trying to impress on her the imporance of tasting everything every day. I was floored, to say the least.

Not too much later another newbie got all the way through the system despite the fact that his religion made it impossible for him to taste pork! He went to work in a Southern cafeteria and didn't eat pork, for crying out loud!

I knew then that all the problems I had imagined up to that point were trivial. After that the writing was on the wall. It was time to start looking for Plan B.

At 5:42 PM, Anonymous A passerby. said...

Asking if it's run by a husky Polack is also acceptable. I'm sure you've heard the jokes about our impeccable work ethic.

One of the best bosses I ever had was a short, cranky, old man with 7 fingers. I'm not sure what kind of education he had, but he had many years of experience under his belt. He had an awful temper and was prone to cursing, slamming the counter and throwing furniture. Nonetheless, he got the job done and never hesitated to get his hands dirty. He didn't care what you did for a living, as long as you did a good job, you deserved some respect.

During this time I worked in customer service. The pay wasn't good and the customers were often inconsiderate and vacuous. (God bless the construction workers, they made me laugh.) Nonetheless, it was nice to have a manager that actually knew what he was doing and could do the job. When you hear and see so many examples in which a manager or superior has no idea what their staff does, it was rather refreshing.


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