Welcome to our cafe - here's how to complain...
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Welcome to our cafe – here’s how to complain…

At the top of the House of Fraser store in Guildford is the Tea Terrace cafe. It’s glazed on several sides, giving you fantastic views across the town and the countryside on clear days. It’s got a roof garden, so you can sit outside when the weather’s good enough and it’s nicely decorated. It’s a bit pricey, maybe, but then it’s a roof cafe in the House of Fraser.

The last couple of times I’ve been there, though, it hasn’t been the decor, the food or the views that have demanded my attention. It’s the placemat. The placemat, for me, is a complete marketing, copywriting and communications failure. It makes me want to stand up and leave.

It formed the basis of the entire breakfast conversation between me and my children the first time I saw it, and when I went later in the year with my husband, he banned me from talking about it because I was getting so annoyed. It annoys me just to think about it and when I recounted it to friends a couple of weeks ago, they were laughing at the steam coming out of my ears.

So, here’s what it says on the very nicely designed but poorly thought-through placemat at the House of Fraser cafe:

Here at the Tea Terrace, we only have one mission,

And that is to serve you, with really great passion,

We promise we’ll do our best to keep you happy,

But nobody’s perfect and neither are we!


So if on the rare occasion, we let you down,

Like we serve you white bread instead of brown,

You shouldn’t just get upset and bottle it up,

Nor should you attack your waiter with a tea cup.


It’s important that you tell us what went wrong,

So that your frustration, we don’t prolong,

And now before your annoyance turns into anger,

Grab your phone and call me, for I’m the manager.


Please make sure you call me before you leave

so I can resolve any issues for you immediately.

What???? I mean, actually, WHAT??? Let me tell you what this poem does for me.

1. It makes me think there have been lots of complaints in the past.

Of course it does. Why else would a cafe make such an effort to tell you that they make mistakes and they’re happy to sort them out  – before you even order? I now think that they often screw things up and when they do, you shouldn’t talk to your waitress/waiter but go straight to the manager. I’m now slightly anxious about what might happen to me.

2. It makes me assume that something’s going to go wrong.

If the manager has so little faith in his staff, or so little control over the processes they have in place, it’s possibly more likely that something’s going to go wrong. Indeed, I quite fancied the ginger scones on the menu. Two ginger scones, with butter and jam. But I only wanted one scone.

“Hi – could I have a latte, please, and is there any chance I could have just one ginger scone?”

“Sorry, it comes as two scones.”

“Could you just take one off the plate? I only really want one.”

“No, sorry, it comes as two scones.”

“OK. I’ll just have the latte.”

Sale lost, money lost and now I’m wondering whether I should call the manager.

3. It emphasises the negatives – where are the positives?

OK, so it starts well, “mission” and “passion” and “do our best to keep you happy” (although even that’s a bit feeble). But the rest just drags you down. Not only are they not perfect, but you’re not perfect. So don’t be surprised, maybe, if you call to complain and it turns out it’s all your fault.

This is actually a nice cafe. It’s where I take my Mum when she visits. Why isn’t there a whole load of stuff about where they source their food? What about their home-made cakes, which are pretty tasty? What about the range of coffees and teas? What about the view? Where is all the good stuff. I mean, if you’re going to write a poem about your cafe, surely you put in some of the good stuff?

4. It makes you wonder about attacking a waiter with a tea cup.

Where does this come from. Has it actually happened, or are you just insinuating that the sort of people that come to your cafe are the sort of people that go around attacking waiters with the crockery? Really? A tea cup? Ahh. You’ve just put that in there because it rhymes, haven’t you? After all, there’s plenty of cutlery there. Much more effective.

5. Why do you have to phone the manager?

This is really interesting as calls to action go. Is the manager never on the premises? Is there no-one in the cafe who is actually in charge? If you ask for the manager, will the waiter say “I’m sorry madam, we can’t contact the manager, you’ll have to phone him yourself”? This cafe is regularly full of older people, some of whom may not have phones. Can they not complain at all? Is there a section of customers who can be badly served because they have no means of redress?

And will the cafe re-imburse you for the call? Because it’s a mobile number they give, you know, not a landline. So complain and pay, people; complain and pay.

6. I don’t much like the poem.

Now, this is a personal thing and I don’t have anything against the poet, who was presumably just doing his or her job. It must be hard to write a poem that’s all about complaining. However, it doesn’t make me laugh, it doesn’t really resonate with me and I’m not sure what impact it really has on the people who read it.

I get the idea that a poem is a good way of getting something across. Done well, it can be a great way to communicate with your customers, but I think this falls short.

7. I really don’t get the concept.

If I was running this cafe and I’d had lots of complaints, I’d be looking at staff recruitment, development and training, and at the processes I had in place to keep customers happy. My first thought would not to be to put the entire onus on the customer.

I’d have someone day-to-day in the cafe who could deal with complaints face-to-face and has the decision-making skills and the responsibility to sort things out quickly when they do go wrong.

I’d save my poetry skills to talk about the great things my cafe does, and put a little note at the bottom that tells customers what to do if they’re not happy – let’s face it, most customers today know how to complain. They don’t need three stanzas to tell them.

I think this initiative has missed the mark on pretty much every level. I’d be really interested to hear what other writers, marketers and customers think of it – and if you’ve ever seen anything quite like it!

The Complaints Poem

The Complaints Poem

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2 comments on “Welcome to our cafe – here’s how to complain…

  1. Gill Perkins on said:

    And to follow on – here’s a review from a customer who called the manager to complain… and got his voicemail! http://bit.ly/1c3HWbw If you have any experiences of customer service that’s inflexible or lacking in common sense, add them here :)

    • GillP on said:

      I’ve had an email from the House of Fraser team in Guildford, which is fantastic news. So good to see they are reading and responding to comments. I didn’t send my blog to them and haven’t made any direct representations to them either, so great to see they are on top of things. I’m looking forward to talking to the store manager in due course:

      Thank you for bringing to my attention your experience when visiting the Tea Terrace restaurant in House of Fraser Guildford. My apologies for the delay in responding to your comments I have returned from leave today and the Tea Terrace director is on bereavement leave. Please be assured that on his return we will meet to agree how we can consider improving the message. Also I will address the lack of flexibility that you have encountered.
      Store Manager
      House of Fraser Guildford

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