Several months ago I visited The Three Broomsticks, a cafeteria style eatery in Harry Potter World in Orlando’s Universal Islands of Adventure. After waiting in long lines, customers reach the food distributors, most of whom were scowling in general annoyance and impatience as they handed over trays of Cornish pasties and Butterbeer. The cafeteria workers’ lack of customer service skills, especially compared to the other park employees was huge. The next day, at another Orlando theme park, I witnessed cafeteria workers radiate exasperation as they distributed burgers and pasta to an admittedly indecisive group of customers (“I’ll have the hamburger. No wait, I’ll have the pasta instead. Does that come with fries...I can’t do that? Then, I’ll take the burger, you said that does come with fries right?”).
Interestingly, the customers at both theme parks seemed oblivious to the servers’ nasty attitude.
For comparison, I also dined in several theme park restaurants where the waiters were always extremely friendly. Indeed, if any of them had been sullen and impatient, I would have found it offensive and complained, as would many restaurant goers. In other words, while we all expect decent service in restaurants, apparently in cafeterias—anything goes.
And yet, from the customer’s point of view, waiters and cafeteria workers have more in common than not. In both cases we ask them questions about the menu, tell them what we want to eat, and wait for them to give us our food. The only difference is the location of the transaction (a counter as opposed to tableside) and the mechanism of food delivery—in cafeterias we bring our trays to our tables rather than a waiter doing so for us.
So, why we are so accepting of poor customer service in cafeterias? Why is our consumer psychology such that we’ve given cafeteria workers a pass on customer service?
Have our collective experiences in middle and high school cafeterias left us emotionally scarred? Seeing as we’re unable to set reasonable expectations when faced with food technicians wearing hairnets, it’s certainly possible. Maybe being separated by a counter creates some kind of imaginary privacy shield in our minds that renders scowls inoffensive. Perhaps we take the self-service aspect of cafeterias too literally and expect customer service to be self-served as well.
In The Squeaky Wheel, I explain how our complaining psychology is often characterized by a learned helplessness that renders us unlikely to speak up when dissatisfied. But our acceptance of poor customer service in cafeterias is not an artifact of learned helplessness it is a consequence of unjustifiably low expectations on our part. The good news is where we place our expectations is up to us, it is in our conscious control.
If we expected better customer service in cafeterias, more of us would complain when someone in a hairnet scowled at us with impatience from across the counter. And if more of us complained to cafeteria management, cafeterias would have fewer impatient scowlers serving us food.
Those who have yet to visit Harry Potter World will have to take this on faith, but trust me, the flavor profiles of Cornish pasties and Butterbeer could only be significantly improved—if they were served with a smile.
Copyright 2011 Guy Winch
Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch
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