I’ve written about customers before.
About how I never really warmed to most of mine, and about how I know that we need them more than they need us, and how they’re the bedrock of every business and blah, blah, blah etc.
So I know that being mean to them doesn’t work too well unless you’ve got an amazing product and exist within a fictional universe, like a certain soup salesman (soupmonger? Soupist? I dunno) we’ve all grown to love.
So, to combat this imbalance, we customer-facing professionals have to come up with ways in which to both keep our patrons happy by not offending them, but also keep our sanity by calling them names.
Every business is its own version of Mean Girls, and we all go full Regina George sometimes.
Where should I start?
“At the beginning!”
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
My beginning wasn’t actually in hospo, it was in (gags a little bit)…retail: hospo’s dorky younger cousin.
But I worked in cool retail, not one of those soulless clothing stores or a supermarket or anything like that. I worked in the epitome of 90’s cool: Blockbuster Video!
It was just as cool as you think it was, plus I got to tell people I worked in the movie business without it being 100% a lie.
And it was here that I was first introduced to just how terrible a customer can treat an employee, but also where I learned the dark arts I needed to negate their behaviour. Regular customers soon earned themselves nicknames based on their behaviours, looks, voice, anything really.
One time we wrote down every customer nickname we could remember and it filled two sides of A4 paper. A lot of them were too risqué to repeat here but know that if I had three wishes, I’d use one to get my hands back on that list because it was solid gold.I also learned how to play games with customers during my time working in the movie business (see? Sounds cool, right?), and this was a skill that I would take to every job I had since.
So, let’s fast-forward (little VHS lingo for you there) to my time in hospo, and I’ll try to think of some of the better nicknames, and some of the games I would play with them.
The first was a lady I nicknamed Rod Stewart.
But Graeme, why would you give a lady a nickname that belongs to a man? Simple: she ticked every box in the ‘Rod Stewart Character-Trait’ questionnaire.
Firstly, she had a head of short, spiky hair with frosted tips in what I think was an homage to the popular emo haircuts of the time. Next, she looked like she spent every waking hour sun-baking, and when she did wear clothes, her style was a mix between present-day Stephen Tyler and Peggy Bundy from Married With Children (think lots of leopard and multiple scarves and you’re on the right track). Finally, and most-crucial, she favoured partners that were about five generations younger than her.
She would sit at my bar about four nights a week and get absolutely plastered, and this wasn’t even a ‘bar’ bar, it was a restaurant bar. RSA kind of went out of the window with her because she very-rarely caused any trouble. In fact, she was lovely.
But gradually, throughout the night, she’d get friskier and friskier. With every tequila downed, or margarita emptied (it was a Mexican restaurant) she’d get more outgoing with the gentlemen who came up to order. Almost all of these gentlemen were young enough to be her children, and I’m pretty sure she scared the living daylights out of most of them, but God bless her, she kept shooting her shot.
She even had a fair few runs at me which was traditionally the indicator that she’d had too much.
I still think about her often and I genuinely hope that she found that special someone because she was a wonderful human who made my work life so much better.
Another customer who earned themselves a nickname was Yoga Bear except she was not smarter than the average.
This was a girl who came for coffees straight from the yoga school around the corner, and always acted as if our cafe was a health food joint.
We weren’t. Half of our offerings were desserts. I mean, we even sold name-brand Coke.
But that didn’t stop her trying to order every little fad Gwenyth Paltrow, or whoever else, had said was the answer to all of your mind & body woes.
And she was mean too, I mean, properly mean. When we didn’t have something (which was almost always), she’d stare at me with pure hatred. Like when I told her that we didn’t have activated charcoal, but I could burn some toast really bad for her if that would work?One time (I guess she’d heard about bulletproof coffee) she asked for a decaf espresso with a spoon of butter in it. No matter how much I tried to tell her that that would not be enjoyable for her, she insisted on ordering it. Then she sent it back because it tasted funny and she kept asking what I did to it. No joke.
She was constantly complaining about everything (including the sun being in her eyes), and asked for the manager almost daily like a barefoot Karen.
I guess she finally had enough of being terrible to me and my team because one day she suddenly stopped coming. If I could remember the exact date, I’d submit it to the government to make that day a national holiday.
Now, onto the games.
Working hospo can be boring at times, so we need something to fill our time that isn’t scrolling through Instagram or setting up a game of football behind the counter.
I’d never play games that messed with any of our products, because standards, but I’d always find something to cure the mundane that occurred daily.
My favourite game to play was called ‘Small Talk Bingo’, and the rules were quite simple.
You’d created a sheet with squares on it (like normal bingo), but instead of numbers, you’d put little bits of small talk into them. The key was predicting the most popular small talk of the day, and there was an art to this.
The most obvious was the weather. If it was wet you’d put something like ‘it’s wet out there’, if it was cold you’d put ‘it’s freezing’, but it was an especially good game to play around public holidays. Then you’d get to add squares like ‘are you open on..?’, or ‘doing anything over <insert occasion here>?’ and this boosted your chances of winning exponentially.
But I’d always put a wildcard into mine on the off chance that somebody’s small talk was a bit left of field. These were things like ‘there’s a hectic junkie in the laneway outside’, or ‘I got hit on by Rod Stewart at a Mexican restaurant last night’, and if I managed to cross off any of these it felt like I’d won the Champions League.
When a customer said one of my squares, I wouldn’t even try to hide it. I’d let them see that they were predictable and I’d stare them dead in the eye as I crossed it off. It made me feel like goddamned Clint Eastwood.
So next time you’re in a bar, or a restaurant, or a cafe, and you feel like becoming immortalised amongst the staff, try cultivating some behavioural traits and hit the repeat button. But keep it positive; the world doesn’t need anymore Yoga Bears, but I wouldn’t say no to an extra Rod Stewart or two.