Wednesday, February 2, 2011

giving good customer service = slavery?

The Post's Tim Carman profiled chef Gillian Clark of the General Store restaurant in Forest Glen, who recently came under fire for making fun of her customers on YouTube, among other indiscretions. Clark, who grew up in an affluent town on Long Island and has been in the restaurant business for 15 years, says that people who don't understand are just racist:

"I'm led to ask, would you buy less pancakes if Aunt Jemima wasn't smiling on the box?" Clark says. "Is it because a black person that's doing the service industry [and] not smiling is offensive, because you feel that I'm not that much further from a slave? If I'm doing a domestic or a service job and I'm not smiling, is it triggering some impulse?"

Bullshit. No matter how many TV personalities you've met or how many books you've written or how many reviews you get, you work in the service industry. Your job is to please customers and to be polite and courteous to them. Poor service is to be expected at some restaurants, like The Wieners Circle in Chicago, where a predominantly-black staff dishes up hot dogs and racially-charged insults to a predominantly-white clientele. But I'd think that someone who purports to offer fine dining - and has the gall to compare themselves to Beethoven, no less - would know better.

As many of y'all know, I spent a year and a half working as an assistant manager at several locations of a (now-shuttered) ice cream shop in Montgomery County. (Not to compare myself to a semi-famous chef, of course.) I'd be lying if I said there weren't some rude customers with a bloated sense of entitlement, and that my coworkers and I might grumble about them later on. I even worried that some of my customers might look down on me for my youth or skin color or both. But that doesn't stop me from putting on a smile and leaving my problems at the door when I come to work. That should apply no matter what you do.

Almost every job I've ever held has involved some form of customer service, and I've learned that being rude doesn't solve anything. Sometimes, the person giving you a hard time has issues of their own.

Maybe Gillian Clark thinks that being a self-possessed bitch will get more people in the door of her restaurants which, I admit, serve wonderful food. After all, it works for Michael Landrum and, besides, maybe stuck-up diners need a taste of their own medicine. On the other hand, maybe I'll just eat at restaurants where the owners actually care about their customers.

It's not like she's the first woman (or black woman, or black lesbian, and so on) to ever fry a chicken. I'm pretty sure Aunt Jemima has a nice recipe for using pancake mix as breading.


Thomas Hardman said...

Dan wrote, in-part:

But that doesn't stop me from putting on a smile and leaving my problems at the door when I come to work. That should apply no matter what you do.

In my recent experience, over the last 5 years or so if not longer, the sort of attitude you express has become almost unheard-of.

Surliness and even violence are mostly what I get in any store or restaurant, to the point where I go out as little as possible. It's not just me who feels this way, but interestingly in recent weeks some of the larger and more ubiquitous chains such as Giant and CVS are starting to "get it". This is good for everyone, if the trend continues.

Casey A said...

I want to like the General Store, because I think we could with more interesting restaurant options east of Rock Creek Park. When I have eaten there, the service has not been rude, but "friendly" is not a word that comes to mind, either. The real problem, though, is that the food is just not that great, and it is mostly not even very interesting.

Woodsider said...

I'm so glad you wrote this piece. I've been to GSPOT (General Store and Post Office Tavern)many times and NEVER, EVER received friendly service. At best it's indifferent but often it's borderline rude. I don't need the chef to blow me a kiss or be friendly, but for crying out loud what about anyone who works at the front? Or the loopy people who bring you your food? They are oblivious--as if they have no clue how to run a restaurant or acknowledge that the customer is responsible for their being able to have a restaurant. Gillian makes damn good chicken and fish tacos, but I don't go back there anymore because it's just not a good experience. There are hundreds of us in the neighborhood who feel the same way and now probably thousands since the Post article showed just what she thinks of her customers. Gillian may get a lot of press now, but her retail establishments will go the way of the dodo if she doesn't pay attention.

Thayer-D said...

Poor lady is brimming with anger. You don't have to be suzzie cream cheese to still be civil. After reading that article I thought what a sad perspective on life she has. It's a similar attitude many blacks (and others) have and I think it's one of the things that keep many blacks from giving their 100%. Who cares what some ignorant racist thinks, don't let it limit your dreams. Tip to the wise, some people will hate you for any reason under the sun, your color is one of a million. I know the history, but you can't change that, what you can change is how the future will play out, at least a bit.

On a positive note, I did try her fried chicken, and damn it's good. Flaky, jucy, and flavorful with out overwhelming your palette. Here's wishing her all the best in working out her issues. It would be a shame to deny so many people the pleasure of her cooking because our world isn't perfect.

Thomas Hardman said...

I see how this is getting to be all about that one individual and their establishment, nothing wrong with that I suppose.

Still, once again I need to point out that difference between privately-owned/individually-owned service-industry establishments, and those owned and/or operated by large chains.

Sometimes the chains are better, because they have corporate concerns and want to make sure that their staff aren't going to embroil the parent corporation in expensive litigation.

On the other hand, in some of a chain's stores, they can let the staff get all nasty because they're the only outlet in their vicinity, and the competitors are staffed by the same sort carrying on in the same way. The customer can take their business elsewhere, but they'll get the same treatment.

I once stopped for gas in Dulce New Mexico. And they had a sign in the store that said: "Don't like my attitude? The next gas station is 90 miles thataway --->".

That sort of thing might work if you're so far out in the desert that they have to ship in water by taker truck, but in anyplace so massively over-supplied with restaurants as is Montgomery County, you have to sell service as much as you have to sell the menu. If your service is unacceptable, nobody's going to care about your menu unless the service is equally bad everywhere else.

retgroclk said...

Having been in the service industry for thirty years I must say that the issue of rudeness goes both ways.

Customrers are demanding more- and many establishments have spoiled them, and employees have become so indifferent to customers that customers will usually walk away from the counter.

Custormrs are always in a rush, and many try to network when placing orders or asking emoloyees for help.
I recall a customre asking nme for a locationn of a particular item and as I am explaing to her where the item is located- she is carrrying on a conversation on her cell phone.
She did not hear what I told her and when she asked me agin- I told her to hang up the phone- she did not and I did not repeat myself.

As for the food at the General Store-- never for me- three tries- three strikes your out.

Bob Fustero

kate said...

I think she has a fair point though - why do we accept it of Michael Landrum, but not of Gillian Clark? She gets much more sh*t for her attitude than he does that I can see, and I don't blame her for wondering if it is her sex or her race that contribute to that?

Unknown said...

"I think she has a fair point though - why do we accept it of Michael Landrum, but not of Gillian Clark? "

I think there is a big difference between being by default friendly, but suffering no fools gladly, and being indifferent (at best) right from the get go.

I have always felt welcome at Rays the Classics, as opposed to my one--and only-- experience at General Store where I felt like I was being stabbed with eye daggers the second I walked in the door.