Sunday, 14 July 2013

The customer is always rude

Last week, the story was widely reported how a Sainsbury’s checkout operator had refused to serve a customer talking on her mobile phone. The operator attracted a lot of public sympathy, and few would disagree that the customer’s behaviour was rude and ill-mannered, something that the widespread use of mobile phones seems to have encouraged. Shift the scenario to the bar of a pub, and 80% of respondents to my poll took the view that a barperson would be fully entitled to refuse service.

However, Ian Golding introduces a valuable note of caution in this blogpost. Is it really the role of staff to make value judgments about the behaviour of customers, provided that they are not actually being abusive? Attitudes as what is and isn’t acceptable have greatly changed over the years, and they should not be pulling people up for things simply because they don’t approve. It could all too easily turn into a slippery slope where customers were being told off for eating, chewing gum, showing their underpants or wearing T-shirts with dubious slogans. A checkout operator – or a bar person – is acting as the representative of their employer and it is not their job to make up policy on the hoof. It may be a cause for regret, but in the real world businesses may suffer for turning away customers for a lack of manners.

On the other hand, if you’re the licensee of a pub who is effectively running your own business, you are quite entitled to take the view of “my gaff, my rules” and ban anything you disapprove of so long as it’s not discriminatory. In the past there were some pubs that imposed a forfeit on any customers who allowed a mobile phone to ring, but they have now become so ubiquitous in society that such an attitude would probably be counter-productive.

Put the boot on the other foot, though, and there is no doubt that for a member of bar staff to be chatting on the phone while serving a customer is completely unprofessional and frankly indicates total contempt for those who ultimately pay their wages.

Incidentally, the Real Ale Twats Facebook group reports on the Reproachment micro-pub in Deal, Kent, where there are 10 mobile phones stuck to the wall with large nails, and one pound fines for any devices that ring. There’s also a room marked “Lager made in here” which turns out to be the toilet. All funny in its way, but it does perpetuate a certain unfortunate stereotype of real ale drinkers.


  1. I've never really understood the anti-mobile phone policy of some pubs. What is it about other people reading text messages that some folk find so offensive they cannot stand to be in the same room?

  2. I have to say, I have a very low threshold for mobiles. I can't lay the blame firmly on kids huddled in the playground texting each other, as Adults older than me are as guilty.

    I can tolerate the short call at the bar, but 20 mins of shite gets me shouting across the bar to my mate at the other end, and if the phone user has a problem they can bloody well sod off outside.

    The other thing to get on my nerves is the iphone/blackberry sodding things that bleep and whir like a sodding pinball machine at the bar.

    I remember once about 10-15 years ago sat in a town centre pub and this stupid bloody woman was going through the ring tones of her phone. Eventually the landlord told her to pack it in as it was annoying the other punters. To which she replied "But it's my phone...I have the right..". To which the landlord said "Yeah but it's my pub, any more and you're out".

    When it comes to selfish pillocks I have a low threshold, and my kids (although grown up now) have had theirs thrown at the wall a time or two after being told numerous times to put the bloody thing down at the table or if I'm trying to talk to them.

  3. PY0, It isn't about other people reading texts, it's the *CONSTANT* sodding bleeping, you know the kind where they haven't even finished replying before it goes off again and it's been going on for the last 2 hours.

    Unselfish people tend to be quiet whilst someone is on the blower. A sub 2 minute call is fair enough, but some people take the piss.

    I was walking around the supermarket the other week listening to some prat taking a business call. It wasn't so bad he had to shout, as he must have been under the impression it was 2 tin cans joined by a piece of tight wet string and not a mobile. Thing was I could hear the other half of the conversation and was of a confidential nature.

  4. py0 - it's not reading text messages, it's having animated conversations at the top of your voice in the middle of the pub, which to my mind is ill-mannered and disrespectful to other customers.

    Mind you, the point of the OP was about being on the phone while ordering at the bar.

  5. The fact is if someone is on the phone they take forever to place their order, in a busy bar this ties up a staff member for more time than of someone paid attention at the bar and justlaced their order.

    More annoying is the lack of manners, if someone is serving you, then give them the basic curtesy at least of not treating them as a servant.

  6. I find this abhorrence of mobile phones very curious. A mobile phone is a way of speaking to other people. So if you object to mobile phones you are objecting to people conversing.

    Or, to look at another way: if two people are at the checkout together and are chatting as they put their purchases on the belt would you regard that as so rude as to denyn them service?

    And , to revert to pubs, how rude is it to have no one behind the bar when you walk into a pub. Yet, these days, that is the rule rather than the exception.

  7. Talking on a mobile while dealing with someone else is very bad manners, no more, no less.

    Justified in refusing service? No.

    I remember in the 80s when working in a London cocktail bar being asked by a young lady for a Remy Martin VSOP and Coke. I was appalled (being a bit of a purist then), and tried to persuade her that cooking brandy would taste just the same with coke as the Remy, and be a lot cheaper to boot, but she insisted, so I served her. Because in the final equation, she was the customer, and I was there to serve her, regardless of my personal opinions.

    I find the addiction to mobiles quite offensive and intrusive, but they are here to stay so we have to learn to live with them. are quite entitled to take the view of “my gaff, my rules”

    Unless it's smoking, of course, in which case it makes no difference whether it's 'your gaff' or not, because the choice has been taken from you by force.

  8. How is talking on your phone any more offensive than talking to the person with you? Should all conversation be banned?

    and who on earth has a phone that still beeps when a text comes in? What is this, 2002?

    I was once in one of these ridiculous pubs and got my phone out to check the time and got told off by the barman "no phones allowed in here mate". Should have told him to fuck off frankly. What a joke.

  9. The virgin west coast line has a few carriages marked as quiet zones for old codgers to use that are offended by someone telling there missus they are home in half an hour, so I'm sure there is demand for quiet no phones/no kids/no fun allowed pubs. But, you know, the other 99% of pubs can exist in the 21st century leaving a few stuck in 1950 if that is what some people want. Maybe these boozers ought to ban trainers and jeans and ask punters to wear suits and trilby hats too.

    As for what is polite and what is rude. I would take an important call whilst engaged in a transaction. I would say "sorry but this is important" I would try to be polite but like most things, there is shades of grey. What is and isn't polite is not black and white and open to differences in intent and interpretation.

  10. The other complaint: that the assistant thinks that you cannot engage with her sufficiently whilst conversing on a mobile is frankly insulting. Anyone with any degree of intelligence can conduct two such minor activities simultaneously.

    Just another example of judging everyone by ones own standard of inadequacy.


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