Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Talking about water ... and what they expect to be free.

Good to see a discussion on free water (or the lack of) issue at restaurants being brought up in Straitstimes. Well I didn't quite read the article since I didn't subscribe to it, but someone told me about it and I was glad to hear about it. As some readers might know, I run a restaurant, and I do give free water. However, I wanna stress that if I am given a chance to open another restaurant, water will not be free.

And really why was water free in the beginning in my joint? Because of 1 factor, the Japanese curry which is my restaurant's mainstay, is deem to make pple "thirsty" and I was told by my Japanese Chef that Japanese would expect the water to be free at a Japanese restaurant. And since day one, we have pampered our customers with free water, or should I say, I've been paying for my customers to not purchase my other drinks. Ironically, it turns out many Japanese did end up ordering other drinks more often than not, usually beer. And Singaporeans, typicallly would be sitting there and looking annoyed if we did not serve them water while waiting for their friends. We typically even asked them "would you like a drink while waiting?" 8/10 times the answer would be "Can I just have ice water please?" Or "Warm water, not too hot". I refer to these customers as the "aquamen".

I do want to point out to customers in Singapore, who expects so many things to be free, that we are not running a charity. And they should see these "free" things not as a requirement but as an act of good will. Let us see what are the things that I provide for free in my restaurant and the hidden costs to me:

1) Free Water - Cold and warm.
Firstly we do have to pay for it. The fact that some huge restaurant have to hire staff specifically to handle these water issues, should serve as a wake up call that hey, we are already doing way beyond what we should. And secondly, again to point out, the cold water is cold because we have to pay for an ice maker and the electricity to run it. The same goes for warm/hot water. Water needs to be boiled, contained, and kept hot/warmed - and they all cost money.

2) "Service for extra 10-15 plates for my gang to celebrate birthday with a cake that I purchased elsewhere."
Guys, we lose sales for your "outside food". We're literally paying for you to buy your cake elsewhere and providing you with all the utencils and then also having to hire a staff to clean up your mess, and wash your plates after that. By the way, using a plate once for a stupid slice of cake and expecting us to clean it is a surefire way to make you look like an asshole. Sometimes this is a courtesy that we extend to customers who often overlook the kindness and see it as a requirement. Reminder, we are doing you a favor here, and you're not paying for it. We could jolly well charge you a "corkage" fee for your cake from outside instead of buying ours, but we had spoiled our own market.

3) "Extra seat - to put my precious bags cos they can't touch the floor." There are many, and I re-stress, many many customers who come into a restaurant and expecing to sit at a table for 4 when then there's only 2 of them. the reasons include 1) I want to put my bag on the chair 2) I want a bigger area to feel more comfortable 3) The restaurant is still empty what! You can afford to gimme that luxury! 4) I am a customer and I want to sit where I please!
Let me remind customers that, hey, when you are going to a restaurant, and especially those small family run types, they often don't have that many tables to provide you with such luxury. And a square or rectangular table can only provide combinations of table for 2 or 4, not 3. When you request to sit at a table for 4 when there's only 2 of you, you are effectively 1/2-ing the restaurant's capacity - as well as takings. If you call the restaurant petty for this, we call the customers unthoughful and selfish for this. And please don't make things worse by taking up a table for 4 and having 2 person sharing 1 dish. Final point, your freaking bag can be placed on the freaking floor.

Those who claim that "hey, I pay service charge, so water should be free". Sorry, if 10% of the service is to purely pay for the water or the drinks that you are buying, then I'd have to make the entire restaurant self service. Either that, I'll raise the service charge. For those who looks at the food and calculate how much margin we're making, please also put into perspective all the hidden costs that you can't see. If you think the 10% service charge that you pay can cover all of the above losses and expenses and opportunity costs, then you are seriously not being realistic. And truth be told, even if I provide you with free water and not charge you service charge, would you be kind enough to leave a 10-15% tip? Nope. Singaporeans are used to having things served on a silver platter to them and they think they deserve the best service in the world for every cent that they pay. But they also don't realize that, you shouldn't be expecting be served like a king, if you are not at a castle and if you are not paying like a king. We treat you like a customer and service you like a guest, not to be your slave. Expectations level have to be re-adjusted on both sides.

And if you realize, the above behaviors all point to being a rude and thoughtless person in general, not just a bad customer. And eventually, it is not just about being a a better or nicer customer, it is about being a nicer person. And any good restaurant love good customers - just as mine. ;) Actually just ask anyone who has run a restaurant, or worked as a waitress before, they will tell you that "angmohs" are better customers than Singaporean ones. And no, it is not because they spend more, but it because they are nicer people in general.


Andy said...

There's also the fact that water is the single most important thing necessary for human life. Access to clean water is important no matter where you are, and no matter what culture you're in. Moreso in a hot environment where dehydration can easily occur.

But I guess you're talking more from the courtesy standpoint, which, unfortunately, in Asian cultures are rarely given, nor appreciated. Asians aren't exactly known for their generous nature and appreciation, which, I have to admit, probably comes from the lack of organizations that teach such values. (i.e. CHURCH)

Not that I necessarily agree with large organizations that promote church values (i.e. the Bush Administration, the Vatican). But the pervasiveness of such organizations in the West definitely create a level of awareness and empathy unfamiliar in the East.

Bitchy Witchy said...

Sad to say, I am one of those idiots who is guilty of the cake thing. Thanks for pointing that out...

But then again, I always feel that it could be a basic service to serve water to the customers who ask for it. Especially if you serve alcohol - and you do. It's not great to see drunk customers lolling about and making a nuisance of themselves. Some people have no consitution even for beer.

Andy - That comment about Church and big organizations is uncalled for! What happens in restaurants or in any service environment and how customers act has more to do with basic courtesy rather than what is taught in any institution! It boils down to parental guidance as well as an individual's character. Everyone is taught to be polite but somehow there are people out there who think that they are far better than others, regardless of where they came from.

Anonymous said...

I believe you've read Guy Kawasaki's blog since you blogroll him. You may like to take a look at, point 6 of The Art of Customer Service:

Don't be paranoid. One of the most common justifications for anti-service is "What if everyone did this?" For example, what if everyone bought a new wardrobe when we lost their luggage? Or, to cite the often-told, perhaps apocryphal, story of a customer returning a tire to Nordstrom even though everyone knows Nordstrom doesn't sell tires, what if everyone started returning tires to Nordstrom? The point is: Don't assume that the worst case is going to be the common case. There will be outlier abusers, yes, but generally people are reasonable. If you put in a policy to take care of the worst case, bad people, it will antagonize and insult the bulk of your customers.

Anonymous said...

No one said it was going to be easy running a restaurant. Your grouses are not uncommon either.

My point is, no one is sticking a gun to your head making you offer these things free. Your hidden costs are not specific to just you either. The larger person sucks it up, finds a way around it and move on.

Others just whine about it on their blogs, as if they've never heard about the cost of doing business.

Yee-Wei Chai said...

Well, I am just reflecting a point of view from the restaurateurs'. And thankfully, bad customers are the minority still.

However, there's a reason why generally, Singapore businesses are more "protective" against nasty customers and why many businesses here do not have things like 30 days money back guarantee services. Cos the people here are just generally "smarter" (ahem, more nasty?) to find ways to cheat the system and spoil the market. And too many people had spoilt the market for themselves. Especially in Singapore.

The thing is, you want to play nasty, you will end up creating a system that will find a way to protect itself. The reason more and more restaurants are going to stop serving free water, is because they have found out that they can't afford to anymore. It's just about business and dollars and cents, really.

Anonymous said...

I'm the first anonymous poster who wrote about Guy Kawasaki. I understand your point.

You are running your own business so you would know better. But are there really more bad customers than good? Just because of some bad customers, you may end up ostracising the good customers. I mean, just take a look at Miyagi's recent posting.

By choosing not to serve water, you are giving an edge to your competitors who still serve water freely.

Yee-Wei Chai said...

aiyoh anonymous ... why do u pple not read properly one ....

I wrote "luckily, there are more good customers than bad" ...

and i also wrote, yes i do serve free water.

I am just saying, Singaporeans who complain about no free water, should really not be so pampered anymore - Miyagi or not. He's just another ordinary folk like you and me. And really, he's a bad example to cite for examples like this. And, if your business is gonna thrive based on free water alone, you better re-think your business stategy.

Of course I am not stupid to not give what the customers want. I am in Singapore after all. But it still doesn't change the fact that Singaporean customers are pampered.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Yee-Wei, from your blog, I thought you were going to stop offering water to your diners. My error.

I highlighted Miyagi's post as he sums up my feeling, not because he is a celebrity blogger. For me, I respect the decision of individual establishments regarding whether to serve water. However, if a customer has spent sufficiently, the least is to give the customer a glass of water if requested nicely? No?