This blog post could quite easily have been called ‘Another Short Pub Tale’, or ‘A Short Pub Tale XXI- This Time It’s Personal’, or suchlike. Same pub, same(ish) subject matter; I was even drinking the same beer. This place is full of systems gold dust. I’m grateful for the material.
Anyway, I was back there last night and not too far away from me was a lady and her young son who had finished their meals and were in the process of ordering dessert. The little lad asked for a Swiss roll. His mum asked if he could have ice cream with it instead of cream. (The menu stipulated that it comes with cream). Quick as a flash the waitress replied, “Of course. No problem”. She then leaned forward a little towards the lad’s mother and quietly added, “But please don’t tell anyone”.
The boy got his Swiss roll with ice cream, and mother and son were happy. The waitress’s decision was obviously the right one. The customer was happy. The pub probably secured a repeat customer. The waitress had acted in everyone’s best interests and for the right reasons. I doubt that there’s a huge cost implication in serving ice cream instead of cream anyway.
But those words, “Please don’t tell anyone” were bugging me. Why would a frontline member of staff who had the confidence to make a snap decision in the best interests of the customer and company feel vulnerable as a result of doing so? If anything, the waitress should be applauded for using her initiative and having the confidence to make such a straightforward decision without referring it to a supervisor. Is that what you’d think employers and customers would want? Of course. So why the nervousness at the prospect of being found out?
The answer is probably because the organisational culture she is working within discourages frontline decision making and supplants it with rigid company policy that only offers a one-size-fits-all option instead. What a terrible shame. What is the purpose of this pub? One would presume it has something to do with offering an excellent eating and drinking experience to its customers. If so, then I’d argue that such a restrictive approach to dessert accompaniments works against this aim, especially if staff feel uncomfortable in ‘unofficially’ considering non-standard options when requested to do so by customers.
This simple example serves to remind us that (fortunately) despite inflexible company doctrine or an organisational culture that restricts frontline decision-making, there will always be those who will do it anyway. For the right reasons. For the customer (or service user). For the company, oddly enough. Ultimately this helps absorb the variety that is present amongst customer preferences and also benefits the organisation. Surely it is better to relax unnecessary constraints and encourage freedom and responsibility to be overtly practiced by those at the frontline. In any case, people will always devise ways of circumventing inappropriate rules and barriers in order to do the right thing, but they shouldn’t have to! It’s a shame that they are made to feel like renegades for doing so.
Summary: Derestricting options and trusting (indeed encouraging) frontline staff to use their professional judgment to do the right thing pays dividends, even when this applies to ice cream. Of course, the caveat is that staff are not afforded unlimited scope to go nuts and supply a magnum of Dom Pérignon champagne in lieu of cream.
Note regarding the relationship between recent blog posts and pies, pubs, food or beer: If you are wondering whether the apparent gravitation towards food and beer-orientated posts signifies that I might be losing grip on reality, or whether it’s all just a big metaphor for police-related stuff then I won’t spoil it for you by adding to the speculation. Any similarities to anything else, ever, are purely coincidental.