Gone are the days when middle-class families would dine out for the “deshi” version of Chinese or Thai cuisines after intervals as long as a month or two, dressed in their best while trying to improve their table etiquette.
Though I was too young to remember, customer services at restaurants must have been satisfactory back in the day, given that eating out was considered a luxury. I recall no bad experiences at restaurants in 21st century Dhaka, as I grew up.
Now that the frequency of all social classes to enjoy meals at restaurants has increased, restaurants and cafes (eateries, herein under) of all types grew like mushrooms in Dhaka, and so did the price range with it.
Having been a regular at certain eateries in Banani 11 as a university student, I admit not to have been bothered about customer service, as much as my friends and I do now at our late 20s, working in different sectors.
Having said that, it is also true that the “years ago memories” on Facebook are at places we hardly ever check-in at present -- not only because we can now afford better places, but also because we seek to be at the receiving end of good service.
It is important that readers understand what I mean by “customer service.” Well, having researched a little, I find that the definition includes much more than I ever imagined.
Rules and regulations
There are regulations in the US, from the labour laws of employees working, to food supplies, thawing and cooking potentially hazardous food, storage, maintenance of general equipment to utensils, water supply and plumbing system, hand-wash lavatories, times when they can refuse service to customers, etc -- all of these are written down in detail.
While food adulteration is punishable in accordance to our Penal Code 1860 and the Customers’ Right Protection Act of 2009 -- a detailed food service code is possibly desired at present due to the boom in food business. I noticed the other day that a restaurant in Dhanmondi did not have a place to wash-up for customers.
It is true that prior to being introduced to the foreign regulations above, all I understood by customer service was the behaviour from their end. Breaking it down, how welcoming they tend to be when I enter the place, how accommodating they are in serving the menu of my choice, whether they are good listeners of my complaints or desires of how I want my food to be served, how they respond when I ask them to direct me to the washroom or ask for more tissue paper, whether they are apologetic enough for not being able to serve a particular dish, if they are trying to get me out or hand me the bill before I asked, if they are being rude for no reason, I would notice their choice of words and gestures to judge customer service.
If readers think likewise, I believe it is safe to state that as Bangladeshis, politeness is all we ask for when we are eating out. It is not much, and restaurateurs ought not to worry about.
I was pleasantly surprised when the waiter came up to me to check on whether my order was alright. Perhaps, smiling and being nice to customers is all that is needed in some cases
For a posh eatery in Banani, while many would kill for their dim sums, I thought taking a reservation at 2:30pm and asking me to order prior to 3pm (before my guests made themselves comfortable upon arrival) because their kitchen would close, and handing me the bill right after my meal (before I asked) due to their scheduled staff party, was the recent most poor customer service I have experienced.
Not too many years ago, when a small coffee shop opened at Jamuna Future Park, I was pleasantly surprised when the waiter came up to me to check on whether my order was alright. Perhaps, smiling and being nice to customers is all that is needed in some cases.
That would save us time from recommending an enactment of a food service law altogether, or suggest an amendment in the Consumers’ Protection Act at least, solely to ensure decent behaviour on the part of waiters or anyone representing the eateries.
All said and done, one may argue that my definition of customer behaviour or service is as subjective as one’s taste-bud. Your definition of good service may simply be when waiters address you as “sir” or “madam” -- while only that may fall short of my expectation. Plus, I would probably be fine with how staff at a place behaved if the prices were OK.
Just like Facebook pages with the option of “reviews,” eateries can maintain a book, each page containing numbers from one to five, and the customers can tick their choices, and provide with names and contact numbers below.
Each week, they must update and post their ratings outside the eatery doors as per the feedback, so that prospective customers get an overall idea about their service before entering, and expect to receive nothing less.
In order to ensure whether restaurants are maintaining their ratings properly, officials from the District Consumers’ Right Protection Committee (with reference to Sections 10 and 11 of the Consumers’ Right Protection Act) may visit the eateries, check the books, and randomly consider calling a customer or two for authenticity if need be.
This would make the eateries cautious and accountable not only to government officials, but the public in general, while a drastic improvement in service and even quality of food would follow.
Saquib Rahman is a lecturer of law at North South University and an advocate of the District Court, Dhaka.