May 1st, 2010


"Your Regular?"

I love having local places that I hang out. I'm a creature of habit and if I find something I like or that I feel comfortable with/at/doing I'll keep going back. At work, I got lazy in making my own coffee in the mornings, so I started going to the canteen and got a tall flat white, two shots of coffee, one shot of caramel. I did it like twice and the third time, the canteen lady was like, "your usual?" And I was like hell yes! and said that you feel loved when you have a "usual". And you do. No points for guessing I've been going back so often she just says, "coffee time?" as I walk in and is already making my shot. I'll have to curb that habit since making my own coffee is cheaper and I actually have better quality beans on my desk. But it'll be hard to break the habit, especially cause it comes with love - the only people that not only don't bother me but make me feel good when they call me "lovey" are the canteen ladies.

Last night, maelkann had a work dinner and I was going to head down when he was done so I thought I'd have dinner with my parents. I know this is cliched but anyway ... my parents, for all my life, have had their regular Chinese haunt. It's changed over time, with the changing of hands of places, or as places go downhill or they found some new thing. But pretty much they tend to regularly go somewhere and for that place to be the regular place, till it's not. My Dad LOVES Chinese food (that would be the cliche, if you've missed it) and has done as long as I've known him. He's travelled a lot to Asia and wants to be put in a Chinese old age home, if he must go, cause otherwise he won't cope foodwise. So, yeah, he's kind of a connoisseur of the style of food he likes and is a tough customer. I have been trained to spot a Hong Kong chef, how to pick the origin of the chef by the menu and how to quickly test the quality of the chef (order chicken and sweet corn soup and a noodle dish). And it means I can't bear to eat in a local Chinese if fish and chips is on the menu.

But I haven't really liked the place that's my parents' current flavour of the month. I went a couple of times and thought the food was meh. But I figured I'd hang out with them and my uncle last night and so I tagged along. It's nice to go to a place that knows you, you walk in and the waitstaff say hi, you get a good table and you get attention. When he was ready to order, the owner came and sat down next to my dad and they deliberated in fast, hushed tones. And she quizzed him on one of his choices - he got me a veggie version of a chicken noodle dish he ordered. When she was satisfied with his selection she left. And I got a dish brought to me that we discovered, I think at this place but owned by several owners back, not on the menu but what the staff and family were eating in their break - chili beef and black bean chow mein (we order it dry and with crispy noodles otherwise you get the Cantonese version here in Perth and we don't like the wet soupy noodles. But that's up to you). Cept I got the veggie version. And it was delicious! But still quite wet, which the owner came along and noticed, got annoyed and went and changed my bowl for me. My uncle wanted to know if that made me feel like a dog but it actually made me feel important and cared about. The dish was great and I commented as such to which my mother replied that my dad has been training the chef (to cook the way we like, I guess). You could tell the difference. I'd go back but I got hives, so maybe not.

Cue to this morning. We were driving up to Perth and stopped on the cafe strip to grab breakfast. And we had Benji with us so we sat outside and I went into order. I got annoyed before I'd even ordered because the woman was all super friendly with the couple ahead of me and was stopping to explain her morning routine of making her coffee and how many sugars she adds and what kind of milk she uses etc etc and being really friendly and taking too long when there was a queue forming. I couldn't find a menu at all, which I discovered was because they were all at the counter, hidden by the talking man. I got my menu and sorted what to order and as I stepped up to the front of the line, she completely ignored me as she sorted the coffee and the kitchen orders and then looked up and said hi to the person behind me in the queue before finally getting to me. I figured that said that they were friendly to the locals and that I was not one of those (by now I had already decided that nor would I be). I attempted to order but was tripped up because maelkann wanted apple juice and the big breakfast included orange. She just looked at me, "So do you still want apple juice" ... "um yes?!". I got the free coffee that came with his breakfast and finished ordering. Went back to the table annoyed. The coffee came out in a mug (which I did want) but it wasn't hot and it wasn't great. Then the food comes out with cutlery dumped onto a table that had not been cleaned and I picked my fork up to find the last person's eggs encrusted on the base. maelkann got me a new fork and just as we were finishing up, the owner comes up to very politely tell me that dogs are not welcome and she was all, it's not her, it's the council and she can get fined and that she's happy if we tie the dog up to the pole over there and drag our table over and she'll bring a bowl of water and she hopes we'll come back and all I can think of is how I am never coming back to this place.

After she left, I looked up at maelkann and said, "Oh well, I was never coming back here anyway."
And he replied, "Was it the fork?"

But it got me to thinking, that place clearly had its regulars and she seemed pleasant enough. And really, noone ever knows you're going to be a regular til you come back enough times that they recognise and remember you. Still, I like being made to feel special when I go places. And I guess that's what customer service is all about.

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