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Dated 23/01/07

Blogs can be a personal moan or an informative presentation of straight, technical informative. Ours is neither – it is our assessment of what is true.

The philosophical definition of truth, in the minimalist sense, says that there is no such thing as a 'definition of truth' and the only thing you can say about truth is that a sentence like ‘there is a 'camera' there’ is only true because 'there is a 'camera' and it is 'there'. This is a trivial thing to say but it is the only thing to say according to 'minimalist truth'. 'Absolute truth' however, as an 'absolute' is even more difficult to render or to comprehend, so let's not bother...

   
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Nasty Habits

Very occasionally at The Victorian Teashop we get awkward customers– or stupid people as we like to call them. They range from groups of four who order a pot of tea for one and hog a table during a very busy period, to oddities such as the customer who ordered a baked potato with both spicy beans in a chilli sauce and also ordinary baked beans in tomato sauce too? Same potato! We even had a customer who thought it was legitimate to ask for the entire choice of baked potato fillings in one potato! That would have consisted of cheese, baked beans, chilli beans, coleslaw, tuna, tuna and mayo and ham – yummy! “Do you want salad with that, Sir? We know you do!”

There is, of course, the old adage “The customer is always right”, and this is as true today as it has always been – it’s not true at all. The best we can say is that: most customers are right most of the time and the rest are very possibly stupid, or have some debilitating disorder, such as Alzheimer’s. “Excuse me, Miss, I ordered a cheese salad sandwich just a few moments ago, why have I got cheese and onion”, “I’ll just check”, is the usual response, where a better one might be: “Go for a brain scan, like your doctor advised you to”.

I sometimes think that ‘uptheirownarse.com’ customers use the term ‘Miss’ when referring to our staff as a shortened version of ‘mistake’. More often the truth is that the occasional awkward customer has brought their foul mood in with them and are reluctant to let it go – it is very possibly all they have to cling on to, so they nurture it like a baby; showing it to everyone whether they want to see it or not, and just like when being shown a big fat mithering baby with a red face, everyone smiles and puts up with it and hopes it drops off to sleep, or better still, is removed to another part of the world.

We don’t get very many awkward customers, but sometimes they just seem on a mission to screw up your day as much as they intend to screw up their own. Recently, a women came in (followed by a ‘trailer’ husband). She wanted to know if we did a decaffeinated 'bean to cup' coffee in the form of a cappuccino and seemed ready to leave immediately when she got the expected negative response. We do fresh ‘bean to cup’ coffee, but it would be impractical to offer decaffeinated ‘bean to cup’ since we only get a request for it once a year, if that, and that would be some waste of an expensive bean to cup machine! She was politely offered several types of decaffeinated coffee, including a decaf cappuccino, but, as she said “it’s just not quite the same, is it”. No, I thought, because you can get this here and now – you can’t get the other stuff here and now – that fact alone makes it not quite the same. Besides, decaf has less flavour and can be subjected to chemicals (see the note below*).

The truth is, she seemed very hyper to me – as though she’d been chain-drinking ordinary coffee with full caffeine for a few days, non-stop, and probably needed decaf very urgently. The husband seemed pale and worn out – fed up – bemused – in need of caffeine. They left as though it was our fault that they had become middle-aged twats. “How about a tea or a hot chocolate and some lovely relaxing ‘decaffeinated décor’ in our very splendid Victorian Teashop? We won't wake you up, honest!”

...but they were gone. Some people are beyond beauty and reason.

One of the most annoying types of customer are those who are obviously on a research mission. They probably have a café of their own and are out to see what other people are doing so they can copy the good bits (without admitting it) and criticise the rest in order to bolster their own flagging confidence and general lack of aptitude. They even steal the menu sometimes, but what for? What they fail to see is that what we serve is only a small part of what we do and the price we serve it at is largely irrelevant – even on the same street it doesn't matter much. What needs to be added into the equation is the fact that we do actually provide a very good customer service, as good as any I have witnessed and better than most. I think that comes from the fact that I am very impatient with café service and always have been – sometimes it is nothing short of appalling and I can’t image how they get away with it. We all make mistakes occasionally, but some places just don’t seem to have the basic skills. Another factor to add into the overall equation is the décor we have provided and the atmosphere we create – which is generally excellent and only spoiled by our irritation with spies, idiots and ‘toileteers’ (more about 'toileteers' in the next blog).

Running a café is pretty much about the area you are in, the customer base and whether you can be bothered or not. Many café owners can’t be bothered, but to be fair to them, that effect can be easily generated by those ‘difficult’ customers to a point where café owners can get a totally jaundiced impression of everyone – then all customers can seem ‘difficult’ – which spoils it totally. At this point they may as well give the café business up, but they don’t because they have nothing else to do. They carry on with the nasty habit of creating disgruntlement amongst what would have been a very normal and useful customer base, had they not fucked it up with their jaded approach – nothing is safe in those wretched, fumbling hands – gone forever are those genuine, trusting people who were willing to believe in the dream we created for them – now forevermore mistrusting the service we all offer – thanks to a few disillusioned incompetents.

....disillusion itself is a nasty habit. They pass it on like a virus. You see these customers striding along the street – vetoing every cafe along the way, afraid to enter in case they are confronted again with Basil Fawlty, or worse, some pointless character whose cynicism comes first beyond any other consideration. And where "have a nice day" is at its most insincere, and least likely to happen.

Some make the mistake of thinking that running a café is all about food and drink, when in actual fact it’s about much more; some people just don’t have the capacity to think beyond the basics and that is one of the reasons why English cafes have got a reputation for being little more than ‘greasy spoons’ – the obsession with 'chips' and 'all day breakfasts' doesn’t help either – where the fuck did that come from? All Day Breakfast? Probably some marketing concept developed by middle of the road establishments who couldn't do 'fish and chips' with conviction and needed something similarly brainless.

Fish and chips can be served without much thought on either side of the counter between 11.00am and 11.00pm and the 'All Day Breakfast' can be just as non-taxing between 6.00am and 6.00pm – in other words, twelve hours of sleep before bedtime. The brief for that concept was simple – to use the modern parlance, quite literally a no-brainer: 'How do you offer a nation who can't and won't be bothered to think about food, something to eat without really trying'. They say' fish and chips' is 'brain food', so I find it ironic that it is the one meal you can travel for, buy and consume all without using a brain at all – it's a habit, I suppose, though not quite a nasty one, unless you're Jamie Oliver.

They used to put 'fish and chips' in newspaper in the 'old days' so you could read something to take your mind off the vacuous meal you'd just bought and the scruffy old street they'd conned you into eating it on – which saved on decor and toilet facilities. You could always piss in the street on your way home. Now they serve it in grease-proof (or thought-proof paper) or little boxes, which just don't seem right for the food and have the added disadvantage of making even the average dick head think 'why did I buy these?' Modern purveyors can ruin anything, especially when they re-invent it using 'Americana' as a good idea.

Personally speaking, running a café is not my natural profession but since my profession is all out presentation, quality, customer service and awareness, I have learned to be good at it and I hope I have provided one of the best teashops in this area. In fact, if it were not for the totally useless part-time nature of Matlock Bath, we would put even more into it than we already have. Having said that, we don’t get many awkward customers, we entertain a lot of people, we have built a good reputation and we get time off, so it’s better that being poked with a sharp stick as my Mother used to say – before she died from being poked with a sharp stick – she had a nasty habit of being right!

*A note on decaffeinated coffee

Caffeine is a substance that keeps us awake. Decaffeinated coffee has had most of the caffeine removed. The amount of caffeine found naturally in coffee is only about 1 or 2 percent. So when you read "97% Caffeine Free", 97% of that 1 or 2 percent has been removed, the other 99% coffee is the same as it was – or is it?

Most decaf coffees are made using a chemical process. This process "washing" the beans in methylene chloride to absorb the caffeine from the beans, which are then rinsed. So even without caffeine, some people can’t sleep knowing the coffee they drink is chemically processed and may still harbour remnants.

A second method uses hot water and steam to remove the caffeine from the coffee. However, some of the flavour is also removed, so on both counts our awkward customer is right – it’s just not the same, is it!

Peter Hague, 23rd January, 2007

     
   
 

What's it like running a Teashop? We spill the beans! Thanks God it wasn't the tea bags.

 
     
       
This weblog and others by the same author may be upsetting to some people and we apologise if that is the case. Some of the thoughts, words and ideas expressed may be considered inappropriate for the owner of a museum and teashop – but that's creativity, for you – you can't have both. All the comments above were the opinions and thoughts or probable opinions and thoughts of the author at the time they were written and may not be the opinions or thoughts of the same author now. Nor do they concur with the general philosophy behind The Victorian Teashop or Life in a Lens Museum – even though the author of this site is the creator of both – but hey, that's what insanity does for you. We also apologise if any of the material in this web log is in any way offensive, it's just that we have strong competition from Aunt Agony on The Victorian Teashop site and sometimes things get a little out of hand.  
       
 
 
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