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May 3, 2009 07:25 AM

Cape Cod and poor service

In a separate thread, hungrycc complained that when he wants a sandwich at Pain d'Avignon in Hyannis, he must practically beg the sullen staff for service.

I'm so in agreement on this, and I'd like to see what others here think about poor service.

So what's going on that we as consumers, clients and patrons are treated so badly on such a regular basis? When I was a 16-year-old (and plus!) server, no one had to tell me about thanking the customer. Nowadays, you're grateful if you get a relatively grunt-free "there you go" with your change. As someone who is first-generation, with European courtesy drilled into my very being, I find this hard to take -- and I find our visiting workers offer the best and most cheerful service. If I can work all day, and thank each customer I see, I can't understand why the cashiers at the Marstons Mills Stop & Shops can't summon up even basic manners when I lay my hard-earned money in their hands. The first thing my brother teaches the kids working in his ice cream shop is that they must be pleasant and friendly to the customers, and that they must ALWAYS thank them. Seems like this should be a given.

I would love to hear the comments on this -- particularly from business owners.

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  1. I really don't think it's a Cape Cod issue. It seems to prevail all across society today. I blame the Boomer generation for essentially being lousy parents. They've strived so hard to give their children everything they want that many kids and young adults today have a sense of entitlement that my generation never had. Common courtesy is passe. Even "please" and Thank You" seem absent from the lexicon of most of today's youth. This is especially evidient on how they treat the elderly. How many times do you witness someone holding the door for an old woman. It's a frequent observance to see people in line get huffy and impatient when an old person fumbles for their change at the grocery store. This seems to be an American affliction and I agree that our foreign workers affer the best and most congenial service.

    Then there's the person, of any age, that hates their job, or their very existance. Tonight my wife and I ate at The Barnstable Tavern where we saw the worst of worst service first hand. The bartender who's been there for years has to be a relative or owner to have survived. She openly berated customers, bar orders from waitresses ("people who order drinks like this ought to be shot!) and even a phone order for a lousy pizza. "He better not think he'll get this quick!" This, in a place that was virtually empty when the Dolphin next door was packed. (Coincidence? I think not) Never a question as to how the food was. When I asked for the check she threw it on the bar three feet away from where I was sitting and couldn't be bothered to clear our dishes. She spent the majority of her time with her back to the customers reading some papers. Just horrible. Unfortunately, I waited tables for many years as a teen and early twenties so I can never bring myself to stiff anyone, no matter the service.

    3 Replies
    1. re: CapeCodGuy

      Hi, CCG. My hackles rose when I read your first paragraph :) I'm 62 so clearly a baby boomer and our daughters have impeccable manners and are nice to everyone (they're in their early 30s). So the mother lion was getting ready to roar. But then I got to thinking about it and I think perhaps SOME (not all) can be a generational thing. I certainly know plenty of people whose children AREN'T like ours. But I also think that areas that get the huge seasonal influx (we're going to be there soon as you know - thanks again) have a bigger problem with the service issue. We live at Lake Tahoe in NoCal and have the summer and winter tourist season and it gets a little crazy then. The owners of stores and restaurants can't afford to have year-round help at the same level as they need at those times. So I DO believe that staff may be under experienced and the employers may get a little desparate to have a warm body rather than a trained professional. Doesn't make it right but we're probably not going to change it.

      As an aside, I don't read much on this board to recommend The Barnstable Tavern and you've added more to that.

      1. re: c oliver

        C oliver....I didn't mean to imply that ALL boomers have raised lousy kids, but lack of common courtesies does seem more prevalent to Gen X and Gen Y, It was not my intention to paint with such a broad and negative brush. Your point of it also being related to the seasonal tourist nature of things here is certainly true as well.

        And your quite welcome for the previous recs. Good luck with your upcoming vacation.

        1. re: CapeCodGuy

          Oh, I know you were talking about OUR angels :) I truly avoid talking about them to some people as they're pretty exceptional. One bartended and waited tables in college and that girl made a bundle in tips. I like to think that it was because she knows how to treat people --- in addition to being drop-dead gorgeous :)

    2. Ah, G, this is quite an intense subject. The intensity builds in the comment from CCG. Good service, think friendly, cleanly, and efficient, is a basic requirement in the food service business, indeed any service business. But, I do think the Cape is different. Jobs are not plentiful. The pay is often unsatisfactory. The sudden increase in the high season followed by cutbacks is distressing for many workers. Consequently, many folks are stuck in jobs they are not suited for, not properly trained for, and not likely to hold for long. We, the customer, must suffer the awful results of these employment difficulties. In the case of a large business like a grocery store, in a densely populated area around a big city, one is apt to go to the same register person over decades. That's not going to happen on the Cape. Actually, here these larger business types do a good job hiring people who might otherwise never get a chance to enter the workplace. So, it cuts both ways.

      Most restaurants are small business by definition and there is no excuse for bad service. The owners have a duty to see that a high standard is set by all who are employed. Accordingly, a story like the one CCG tells is maddening. It simply should not happen. We, the customer, are left with only one choice, leave and never return. Recently, this is what happened to us at the Inaho where the owners have a reputation for being unfriendly. We always shook it off as being the "stripes on a Zebra" problem. However, sooner or later, no matter how good the food, enough is enough.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Afar

        CCG makes an important point that should not be ignored - societal changes. Yes, the legacy of our generation will suffer as a result of the great success accumulating wealth while basic values fell apart. Surely, it plays a roll in the problem of finding high quality service employees in Cape restaurants. Sadly, it's the bad ones that stick with us. We have fond memories of efficient and wonderful wait people we have come to know well at a variety of restaurants. Their smile, indeed their friendship, is a great value. When we move on from such a restaurant these fine people are greatly missed.

        1. re: Afar

          It's interesting to contrast the horrible experiences I've had at The Barnstable Tavern with that of yesterdays lunch at Cooke's in Hyannis. Now both are owner occupied food service establishments. At the Tavern, I've never seen the owner pop his head out of the kitchen in dozens of visits. As mentioned the service was attrocious and the tarrif for two apps and three glasses of wine was $50 or so. Contrast that to Cooke's, where the owners are front and center, always cheerful with a greeting, wiping down tables and the counter, and "please and thank you for coming" is standard procedure. All of this for a fine lunch well under $10. It takes no more effort for the latter vs. the former, but it is the culture as exhibited consistantly by the ownership that shines through. It's quite obvious that the culture at the Tavern is one of negativity and it shows. The same contrast can be found at Stop and Shop vs. Roche Brothers, The Barnstable Village Store vs. Petersen's or Fancy's Markets. So in my mind, it's across all spectrums, be it mom and pop stores or large corporate outfits.

      2. I think the greatest pressure on a business owner on Cape Cod is getting help. Too often that translates into poor service because the attitude is just having a body is enough. Also from my experience in the restaurant business I found that the owner or manager is not the person training a new employee. Another employee is given the task and generally passes on their bad habits.