x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Is the customer always right?

Is the customer always right? Well, no. The customer is often misguided, misled and mistaken. But in whose realm lies the right to say 'no' first?

Whoever had been appointed to answer the restaurant's phone was gracious enough. "I've got your table for 14 reserved for next Tuesday - would you prefer outside or in?" It was a raging New York City pizzeria, popular for large bookings, and management was accustomed to out-of-towners like me who didn't know the protocol. "Patio it is. And just to let you know in advance, we don't accept any menu changes or substitutions. See you next week." My stomach flip-flopped after she hung up the phone, having digested the impact of her parting words. Not five seconds later, I hit redial. "I'm so sorry," I moped, "but in that case, I'll need to cancel." Fourteen people's tastes, terms and turn-offs are a lot to manage, and I wasn't about to sign up for the job of negotiator, even if the pizza on the restaurant's limited menu promised to be best that any of us would ever eat. I'd be doomed to try subjecting a group that size to the rigidity of such a doctrine. For a moment, I understood the appeal of The Cheesecake Factory. Mediocrity: any way you slice, but just how you like it.

For some people, the right to choose is everything, whether motivated by necessity (such as an allergy), philosophy (such as a moral or religious principle), or comfort (such as an aversion to cheese because it's fattening). There are, of course, the occasional entitled prima donnas who fabricate disfavours just to be antagonistic. But while I might not relate to the need for special requests, I totally support it.

Superiority can embitter even the sweetest nectar. I recently spent time in a great little city that generally lacks pretension and ended up in an underground "speakeasy". It was literally underground; the building's plumbing hovered inches over our heads. I was nauseous from the drive and thirsty for a ginger ale, and the barman chipped ice that flew into my face while I tried to gauge what was available. "Maybe you don't realize what we do here," he ambled, already bored with me, "But we consider drinking an art form. We don't serve cranberry juice. And we don't serve soda pop. And we definitely don't serve diet soda pop, if that's what you're after," like I was an 18-year-old co-ed looking for a virtuous way to kick off a Friday night. I'd have taken a shot of motor oil over water from his gilded tap.

Is the customer always right? Well, no. The customer is often misguided, misled and mistaken. But in whose realm lies the right to say "no" first? It's not the restaurant's job to play judge or jury. I used to be pretty good at ordering pizza for a crowd, until my crowd consisted of people with conflicting tastes. If I catalogued my friends' likes and dislikes, I'd end up with something as useless and ever-evolving as a phonebook. Getting someone to suspend disbelief for just one bite of something they claim to hate has about as high of a success rate as forcing a 5-year-old to clean her plate. You might survive the kicking and screaming, but good luck getting the injured party to pay for it.