Neil Rankin says it's time to make hospitality a little less hospitable

06 October 2020 by
Neil Rankin says it's time to make hospitality a little less hospitable

Nice guys always finish last, says Neil Rankin, so let's just take it easy and cash in.

A few years ago I got roped into a disagreement with a difficult customer, who wanted to see the owner. The correct owner (the diplomatic and professional one) was nowhere to be seen, and as this customer was creating a scene and upsetting my staff members – and I'd had a few sizeable margaritas – I decided to grant his wish.

His complaint was about the chicken, which he asserted was undercooked due to a slight redness. My first attempt to appease him was to explain the science behind why oxygenated myoglobin creates a red colour in smoked meat, but it fell short. I then offered a different meat on us, as every chicken we produced would be as red as the last, but this idea also lacked appeal. It wasn't until after four suggestions that he finally killed the debate when he said: "I pay your wages".

He was not entirely wrong, but what he was missing was that he paid roughly one millionth of my wages. Everyone pays everyone else's wages – that's what an economy is. I could just as easily say I pay Jeff Bezos's wages and, to some extent, I do. Seeing how many dumb things I ordered during lockdown, I've probably bought him a yacht, too.

I thought that the pandemic might make this sort of entitled behaviour die down, but stories from Eat Out to Help Out seem to suggest that things have got worse, not better.

We've become a public company in people's eyes – or at least we will be when they realise that the billions spent on the hospitality industry didn't come from the government. I can already hear that chicken idiot in my head, pulling me aside to tell me that he "bailed us out". We've moved up a level to Entitlement 2.0. The future is terrifying for everyone front of house.

We can do something to curb this if we take inspiration from the budget aviation industry, who ran the perfect hospitality model pre-Covid. They pretty much did nothing. You book well in advance and prices change at random for exactly the same product. They treat everyone indifferently, serve the worst food imaginable for a massive mark-up, are constantly late, don't try and hide for a second how little effort they're making, and make (or used to) massive profits each year.

We need to turn the tables, to return to the old school, stereotypical French ways of being a little bit snooty to the customer. We need to be a bit more like Lenny Henry in Chef and bit less like Danny Meyer. We need to start giving less and charging more. We need to stop being hospitable and so bloody nice. We're just too nice, and nice people don't get yachts – or get treated with much respect.

Guests are too whiny and they need to be put in their place. Let's try turning away guests for their fashion choices or try not allowing them to order certain dishes that the table next to them is clearly enjoying. Maybe we could score out some of the menu items and write "not for you!".

We could try taking away their chairs halfway though their meal and making them stand up. We could try telling them to get their own food from the pass. We could try adding random charges for things, like cutlery, or a fee for each time they use the loo.

Let's get creatively discourteous. What I'm calling for is a total shutdown of quality hospitality – let's just take it easy and cash in. It works for every other industry in the world – and even some in our industry: the banks, the builders, the retailers, the travel industry, the entertainment industry and the customer service industry.

The question we should be asking is not what can we do for our customers, but what can they do for us?

The question we should be asking is not what can we do for our customers, but what can they do for us? It's time for change, it's time for revolution and it's time to sit back, drink margaritas and let them realise why they used to pay our wages. Who's with me?

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