My Name is Bill King

‘Bilking’ (also known as ‘making off without payment’) was an offence under the Theft Act 1978. The most common forms include running off from a taxi without paying the fare, running off from a restaurant without paying for your dinner, or driving off from a petrol station without paying for your petrol. Naughty.

Anyway, now you get the picture, let me tell you about something that happened to me today. Firstly, I know you’ll be pleased to see we’re back in the familiar blog territory of pub food and drink. Secondly, I’m going to treat you to another of my drawings. Good times eh?

This afternoon I visited a pub for lunch. The layout of the place is depicted in the diagram below -

Bilking - Seating plan

As you can see, customers can choose from traditional table seating or comfy sofas with lower tables. I opted for the latter, thereby inadvertently triggering a bizarre and counterproductive company policy. You see, if customers wish to eat their food in the settee area, they must forego the privilege of being able to pay their bill at the end of the meal, and instead have to stump up the cash up front. I asked about this and the staff said it was to prevent people running off without paying, as the sofas are closer to the door!

I was too hungry to be indignant and didn’t fancy moving to a ‘normal’ table, so proceeded to purchase each round of drinks and food separately as I went along, using my card. Unfortunately for the venue, the first casualty of their seating policy was that rather than incur a single card handling charge when a bill is paid at the end, they racked up a fresh charge every time I had to pay up front for a drink. D’Oh!

Although the place was pretty empty, it took ages for my food to arrive, which gave me plenty of time to torment myself with systems thoughts about the bizarre seating rules. Here’s what struck me:

Firstly, a couple of the traditional table seats were actually closer to the door than some of the sofas – odd then that whilst the perceived risk of bilking was limited in the management’s eyes to those who would choose to sit anywhere in the settee area, others who were trusted to pay at the end by virtue of their table type could actually make a bolt for the door with relative ease.

Secondly the whole assumption about human behaviour was a pretty negative one, regardless of where you chose to sit, i.e. -

  1. If you sit in the settee area you’re planning to run off without paying.

OR

2. If you sit at a traditional table you want to run off without paying but won’t, only because you’re a bit further away from the door.

A pretty dim view of us customers all round really.

Finally, the utterly lamentable futility of management’s attempts at mitigating the perceived risk of bilking was pretty obvious (to me, anyway). Let’s face it, the whole policy seems to rely on the hope that any potential bilkers in the traditional seating area are positioned far enough away from the door so as to give bar staff sufficient reaction time to detain any opportunistic miscreant who tries to scoff and run, thus thwarting their cunning escape. The reality is that anyone could walk out at any time, regardless of where they had been sitting.

The systemic considerations and effects are many:

  • Prevailing disposition of mistrust.
  • Removal of staff discretion.
  • Irritated customers and potential loss of repeat custom.
  • Increased cost.
  • Unnecessary bureaucracy.
  • One-size-fits-all policy based on unfounded risk aversion.
  • Disproportionate reactions to relatively low-risk, low frequency events.

Recognise any of this stuff in other settings?

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About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I have a big problem with numerical targets, unnecessary bureaucracy, and anything else that stops police officers from providing the best possible service. I believe that by adopting a systems approach, policing can be transformed beyond the wildest expectations of many.
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2 Responses to My Name is Bill King

  1. me says:

    ok, ok I am reading this whilst still asleep I suppose but I fail to see how the tables are nearer to the door as opposed to the cosy settees?

    In any case, this place is either never busy (hence the owners ability to check on every customer that sits at the tables) or has a special mechanism installed at the door to prevent ppl from leaving without paying, interesting….. lol

    Or more simply they wanted to irritate you, because they know you too well! Pernicious, I know!!!

    • The ‘4-seater table’ to the left of the ‘cosy settees’ bubble is closer to the door than the settees to the top right of the diagram. Well, it is in real life – my drawing isn’t to scale so sorry if that wasn’t clear… ;-)

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