I went to a cafe at Friesenplatz couple of days ago, where I had to wait an hour and seven minutes to get my pancakes. Fortunately, I had no following appointments and emails to catch up on. I mentioned the delay in service twice, and then a manager-looking guy came up to me to apologise for the delay. I casually enquired about the hold up and he said that one of the staff had called in sick, so they were running short-staffed. In my head, that didn’t justify a hour-long delay but I was not upset, because this gentleman was kind enough to acknowledge my inconvenience and explain the situation.

There was a similar hold up at this Turkish eatery near Hansaring, where N and I had dined earlier last week. It was 7PM, prime dinner time, and the waiters were literally running around  between tables and kitchen. Post meal, I asked one of them for directions to the toilet but he ran off, mouthing sorry. I was annoyed, but then reasoned that he probably would have forgotten what the customer he just spoke to wanted, had he stopped to chat with me. It made perfect sense.

Cologne has a culture of personalised service, where your barista smiles when handing you coffee and even cracks a joke or two if there aren’t many folks waiting for their caffeine fix. So, the recent incidents made me think – what do I really know about a day in the life of a waitress? And what should people know when dealing with inconvenient situations, like order mix-up, delays, or spilled cherry sauce on your new white skirt.

It’s not personal.

If there is a delay or a mix up, remember that it is not personal. You are entitled to a decent service but human errs, and stressing the staff out with persistent demands and rude responses is not going to help anyone. If you are pressed for time, communicate that, so that they may offer an alternate that is readily available or manage your expectations. Work on it together, and please be empathetic.

Service industry is difficult.

Standing all day, carrying beautifully plated food on ceramic plates that weight a ton, cleaning after, dealing with nasty as well as pleasant customers, and potentially putting up with a less than nice supervisor, is a lot to take in a day. They can’t just take time off in the middle of the day like people who work in offices. It’s a tough job, so please be empathetic.  

Smile.

I find flirting over cash counters the cutest. A thoughtful compliment, asking about your day, suggesting a particular roast because you think the customer might like it – cute little accents to an interaction make all the difference. As a server, their job is to take your order, deliver it, and then bill it, in a courteous manner. Everything else and above should be on both the customer and the server. So generously offer your share of smiles, and please be empathetic.

As I write this, I am thinking of Mazhar – this man who was our favourite server, who always brought smiles and sometimes extra fries to our table, and whipped up something if our order was out of stock. We smiled as often as he did. It’s been 6 years since I last saw him, but I still remember him. If someone sees him (last I heard, he was working at Hakka Chine in Dolmen Mall, Clifton), please forward my regards.

NEVER raise your voice.

While waiting to be seated at the Turkish restaurant that I mentioned earlier, I saw a man scream at a waiter running by him, and demanded that he take his order now. The serving staff, clearly done with being hassled all day, responded curtly with “I am coming shortly” and whizzed away. I shouldn’t have, but I smiled. I understand the frustration of waiting but that does not make it okay to raise your voice. The staff is not lounging around, as is visible to all and sundry. Also, raising your voice at staff is representation of the man and his poor upbringing. Leave, if your must, but never raise your voice. And please be empathetic.

Tipping is your call.

I was taught that you should tip at least 16% of your bill. I also saw my dad being a generous tipper, much to Mother India’s dismay (plug in Kajol-Shahrukh scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham when she punctures his tyre and asks him to ride with Hrithik.  You are so cheap!). Anyway. As an adult, I think tipping is a customer’s way of communicating their feedback and need not be compulsory. For example, I did not tip at the cafe but I did tip at the Turkish place. Both had me waiting, cafe more than Turks, but I found the serving girl unperturbed by the fact that I had not been served. So, remember that your server has worked hard but if you are unhappy with the service, social constructs shouldn’t dictate your feedback. Be mindful, and yes, please be empathetic.