Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Customer is Always Right?

Common courtesy. In the Hospitality Industry this is vital, especially if you want to keep your job. Always have a smile and nod and serve your customers' every need.

Pretty much we have to bend over and take it like well seasoned porn stars.

But why is it more and more customers don't feel the need to show politeness back? Where is this "look down my nose at you" attitude coming from?

Is it rich versus poor? No, plenty of middle and lower class customers come in with a stick up their ass and a coupon in hand, determined to get as much food as they can for free. They'll even cry over nothing, intent on getting a complimentary meal.

Some customers will have the nerve to complain about the prices to your face, insulting the quality of your product. Never mind if it's made with all natural ingredients and baked fresh that very morning, they can't wrap their minds around why our products may cost a bit more than CostCo. Bottom line, CostCo uses shortening in their prefabricated products that can be reheated by an untrained high school drop out. We use butter in pastries made from scratch by a trained professional, and butter keeps getting more fucking expensive everyday. A bakery is not a used car lot, don't you dare try to negotiate price.

Funny how they never complain about the cost of coffee. A cup of coffee really only costs us pennies wholesale, but they don't complain when we charge $3. But try charging $3 for a cupcake? Oh now we're ripping them off. So what if the cupcake and the frosting are made from scratch and decorated by a trained chef who's trying to pay off loans for the years of schooling to learn how to serve your unkind ass.

Price really becomes an issue when a customer is ordering a specialty cake for the first time. Side note: It really frustrates me that many cake shows (that will go unnamed) don't discuss the prices of their cakes. More times than I care to count, the customer will come in, mention a cake they saw on a certain show, and want us to replicate it for them. We tell them the price for such a cake, and, more times than I care to count, the customer says they will "think about it", leave and never return. Now, let me help the reader understand how a specialty cake can cost hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. The cake by itself is not what makes it expensive, it's the decoration. And depending on how elaborate you want your decoration to be, what you really start paying for is the labor cost. So if you want your birthday or wedding cake covered in dozens of gumpaste flowers, you have to consider the cost for the people who will spend hours upon hours molding, constructing, and painting those flowers. Pastry Chefs have bills to pay too.

Another side note, I always laugh that I have to pay at least a hundred dollars for a plumber to come pay a visit before he's even looked at or fixed anything. Then the bill jumps to $300 or more for a job that took him an hour. So, I don't feel guilty for charging $300 for a cake that takes at least 10 hours to make and decorate. If anything I feel ripped off.

My worst experience over a cake happened last year. In the beginning the customer could not have been nicer. The wife's husband was celebrating his 50th Birthday and her son was going to pay for the cake. Now, the son was in high school and I could tell right away he was doing this against his will but with his mother's persistence. She wanted the cake to be big and elaborate, in fact she wanted us to replicate the boat her husband owned. She gave us photos of the boat from all angles, and to top it off, we would replicate the husband in the boat. We were all really excited about this project. The week before the big birthday the wife kept checking in with us on the progress (not the son paying for it however). The day before delivery the cake and boat were 90% done and the wife came in with her son to pay for it fully. Even though it was incomplete she was thrilled with what had been done so far and couldn't wait to see the finished product. Day of delivery, finished cake/boat with replicated husband included, the wife, husband and kids were ecstatic! I left feeling so happy and proud.

Three days later the wife emailed us. Suddenly the cake was not up to her standards. Her friends at the party said the boat didn't look exactly proportioned to the real boat. Oh yes, and her friends said the cake was stale and dry and the buttercream was greasy. She suggested if the cake should have been baked, filled, carved, and decorated all in the same day to prevent this (no bakery in their right mind would be able, nor attempt to do this. We had baked the cake two days before delivery and had plenty of the scraps with the buttercream for her to taste when she came in with her son to pay for it, they loved it.)

I could go on and on with the emails sent back and forth trying to explain all this to her. She at least agreed about the cake not being done in one day after she had asked several other bakeries about it. They all said the same thing we were trying to tell her. Bottom line she (or rather her son) wanted money back, we didn't give it to her. Some customers are worth losing.

So, after examining the evidence, whether its about price, quality, the customer always right?

Or, more than likely, is the customer just an asshole?