How to be a better customer

It's bloody cheeky at best for a retailer to offer advice about how to be a better customer. Actually, the real title should be "how to achieve more from your encounter". We regularly send our shop staff to the customer's side of the counter to see what it looks like from their view. I have often toyed with the thought of having really impossible customers around to the service side to enable them to see what they are doing.


In essence that is the mantra of any successful business. give the customer what they want, as they are paying your wage. What they want, however, may not be what they need. As a service person, one can only know that if it is clearly articulated.

Service people are always taught to smile at the customer with a cheery greeting. After that it is in your park. smile back, explain what you would like, have a little patience, and it will bring it's own reward. If you are short of temper (not in stature), aggressive, angry or just mutter, you have not got off to a good start. And if you answer your cellphone while we are serving you, we will adjourn the service to assist the next customer waiting.

At On Trays our Saturday servers are all bright youngsters starting their way into the world of tertiary education. They really are fast learners, and very good with regular customers. When engaging with them, it is valuable to explain that your partner has a dinner party for sixteen people, and would like some cheese to accompany the bubbly before the meal. The resulting cheese, and accompaniments will be far different from the cheese that your server would suggest for after the meal!

Information is the crux of this encounter, so telling the server about the food at the dinner party will help them to direct you to the best choices. For instance, more about the guests attending. Knowledge is the best way for your server to guide you to find what the guests are more likely to enjoy. Are they staid and conservative? Outgoing, adventurous, likely to try something new? The same goes for quantities. Your server will be able to calculate how much of each you are likely to need. Too little makes you look like a scrooge, and a huge excess just looks vulgar!

At this point you will have established a friendly rapport with the server, and they will start empowering you with tidbits about the product. In our case, for instance "this cheese was adjudged the best in the world at..." or "this was served to the Royals at the last visit." They will provide more information about the cheese, where it was made, from the milk of which animal, affinage, and so forth.


Often on tasting a product you will find that it is not appealing, but feel that there are others waiting to be served, and may be judged for that. This is wrong. The very reason we give to taste is so that the customer may acquaint themselves with the myriad products available. The beautiful thing about artisan products is the fact that each one is so different. By rejecting what you did not like, and tasting until you hone in on what you do, you will walk out with a far more pleasing purchase, a better knowledge of your own likes and dislikes, and you will have armed your server with the information to give you better service at your next visit.

The same approach works well in restaurants, and a few minutes well spent with the wait-person will help you make your choices. Ask them what their favourite dishes are, and why. Ask where the fish comes from, how it is cooked, and even about the sustainability. You will be pleasantly surprised. The sommelier can be equally engaging, and will be likely to know some of the local winemakers, which vintages are best, and which wine will best match the dishes your table have ordered. Once again, it pays to give feedback. By saying which styles of wine you did and do not enjoy, you will be guided in the direction of wines that you will come to love.

By necessity some service takes a little longer than others, and it is important to exercise a little patience. We have a trio of meat slices lined up, and even with three active slicers on a busy Saturday the queue easily builds up. Prepare yourself for a five or ten minute wait, it could be worth it. You will probably be able to have a few more tastes along the way, and perhaps an enlightening conversation with the next customer at the same time. Slicing meats perfectly takes skill, time, and care. At busy Australian outlets the slicing queue on a Saturday is often 45 minutes. If you place your server is under extreme pressure it is likely that they may slice a little thicker to be faster which is never a good end result.

Ditto for your restaurant experience. A risotto takes between 14 - 18 minutes to cook, so allow that time, and understand that the kitchen is under pressure to get your food out. If your wait person has told the pass that the guests at table 5 are really impatient and demanding, you may get your food five minutes quicker, but most likely undercooked! If it does seem to be taking too long, engage with your wait person about it. The wait person may be under considerable stress because of it, so asking in a friendly manner will most likely yield good results. You may even get your food before the table who ordered ahead of you.

Communication, a friendly demeanour,  and willingness to learn will always help, on both sides of the counter, and make your shopping, or dining, experience that much better. Give it some thought, be a better customer, and reap the rewards.