A common refrain in the expat community here in England is the one that complains about poor British customer service and misses excellent and attentive American customer service. After today, I’m wondering if something about the poor economy of recent years is causing a major change, or if the gradual creep of the dreaded Americanism into British culture is the culprit. No matter the explanation, I experienced back-to-back brilliant customer service today, and I’m much the poorer for it as I tipped extravagantly to try and encourage the excellence.
First off, I had booked a much-needed haircut for today. I have long hair and am remarkably lazy about getting it cut regularly, which is funny because I love the hour of pampering that comes with a good haircut. It had been more than six months since I had managed to go for a trim, and my hair was really getting unruly so I booked an appointment (over the internet, of course) about two weeks ago, for today. Now I have frequented the same (admittedly upmarket) salon since I moved to England almost 5 years ago, but this was the first time I had quite purposefully booked to return to see the same person as I had had for the last haircut. (Normally since the haircut is such a rare event and yet when I finally relent and admit I need one I take what I can get.) His name is Luigi, which is awesomely memorable as he happens to be British (?) and is also perhaps the first heterosexual man to ever have cut my hair. I’ve had a long string of wonderful gay male hairdressers, and also a series of amazing and mostly rather young women, especially at Aveda salons in the US.
Luigi won his extravagant tip in a number of ways. He remembered me, even though I was last in his chair about six months ago. And no, he could not have been faking it. He remembered details. I was amazed. He must make notes. (I guess that’s a great tactic as a person in the service industry in general: if the person does come back you win by remembering them, and if not, you’ve only lost a few minutes jotting down a few thoughts.) Luigi is also clearly a professional flirt; he’s got that fantastic ability to chat you up without intent, as he drops stories about his girlfriend into the discussion. And even better from my perspective, he was willing to chat about his job. I find it fascinating to try and understand jobs that are different from my own. So from hearing about how he got into the hair business and how he stays “fresh,” I got some insight into something I find fascinating. And heard about how boring it is when there are hair trends, as when 80% of the people coming in during a given day want Victoria Beckham’s new bob. The other thing I learned about Luigi is just how seriously he takes his job–stories of going to watch live hair trends demonstrations in London, and how he watches videos of haircutting techniques when new ideas filter through the community. From my perspective, all of this makes Luigi a consummate professional and I was delighted to part with a significant number of pounds when I left. Oh and did I mention he gave me a voucher for £5 off my next haircut, delivered with a joke about how perhaps this will entice me to come back a little bit more often? Don’t worry, Luigi, I will.
It happened to be late shopping night in town (a phenomenon that must mystify Americans used to evening shopping on a regular basis) and I took advantage of being free as a bird a few hours before I normally leave the office to run some errands. I decided I was hungry, and that in the spirit of haircut-related pampering, I deserved a nice dinner. I popped over to the local branch of “Jamie’s Italian,” the Italian restaurant chain that has exploded across Britain in the last year thanks to the owner, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. I was skeptical when I heard this chain was coming to my town, but I’m now a real convert. And this is not the first time that I have dined there alone, with a flirtatious and thus extravagant tip-gaining waiter. The interesting thing about this restaurant, and I admit I’m a fan now, is that the food is surprisingly interesting but the prices are reasonable. For a while they had a pasta dish with truffles in a cream sauce, and eating the slices of truffles on the top was the first time I had really had the option to taste this delicacy. Every time I’ve been there, and it’s probably about a half-dozen times now, I’ve tried something that I had never had before. The truffles. Burrata cheese. Courgette blossoms. Always something. Tonight I had ordered a half-sized pasta portion as my main course (the half-sized portions are another reason I love this place, you can get a starter and pasta without being too full) and a plate of flash-fried greens with chili and garlic as my side dish. When the waiter came to take away my empty pasta plate, he noticed that I had only picked at the greens and asked if there was anything wrong. I admitted that they were a bit tough. He went away, and came back a few minutes later with the dessert menu and the following statement: he had tasted the greens (!) and agreed that they were both tough and had too much chili (which was true but I had not mentioned it) and so he had passed the information on to his manager and taken them off my bill.
I was gobsmacked. I dine out frequently when travelling, and I can’t actually remember the last time a waiter had noted my not finishing a dish and asked if there was a reason. I certainly can’t remember the last time something was taken off my bill when I did not vigorously complain about it. So again, I was in the position of adding a significant tip for the actions of a really good waiter who just happened to have picked out my displeasure at a restaurant, and in the environment in which I would not have normally said something as bad as to warrant action. I’ve changed, because I would normally have complained in the US, but the UK has changed, because they would not normally have noticed.
Oh the times, they are a’changing.