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May 27, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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There’s Gil-more Where That Came From

Aaron Gilmore behaved badly; no one will argue that fact. He was obnoxious at the restaurant, arrogant and pig-headed in Parliament, and ultimately revealed to be a lame duck of epic proportions. No question. What I want to argue is that for all his terrible behaviour, Aaron Gilmore isn’t unusual.

When Mr Gilmore threatened that waiter, the only difference between him and other entitled customers demanding service was that he was in the public eye (albeit the public peripheral vision) and felt, rightly or wrongly, that he could use the Prime Minister’s Office as a threat. As it turned out, he was wrong, and the rest is history.

There have been a number of articles in recent memory about bad customer service in New Zealand, and while some of the allegations are true, it is hard to expect much in an industry where an honest job description would read: “Employee wanted, must be available for up to 14 hours at a time—number of hours will rarely be specified. Able to handle drunken abuse and degradation, go long periods of time without eating, sitting or fresh air. Please don’t apply with expectations of career advancement. Please note: if you’re a female, expect a certain amount of cat-calling, wolf-whistling and uninvited grabbing.”

Would you take that job? Would you smile about it?

Bob Jones published a column that nicely summed up the issue of how badly staff are treated. What I felt he missed was how prevalent that behaviour is. Bars and restaurants seem to bring out the worst in people. I can only imagine the number of people around the water coolers of our legal offices, accountancy firms and banking offices pooh-poohing Mr Gilmore, only to go into a bar and tell the bartender they know the owner. It’s the same as claiming to be BFFs with the Prime Minister. Demanding better service will not earn it. What will result in better service is tips. I’m not calling for the introduction of tips, but if you want to encourage good service then reward it.

Many bars and restaurants in New Zealand are staffed by students and overseas travellers looking for the experience of a lifetime. Many of you will be reading this on the way to your part-time job. If you’re a student, you probably knew what you were in for and graduation is the reward. But what about the travellers? They were told New Zealand was a beautiful country with lovely people. Then they get a bar job to pay their way and realise they swapped the sophisticated shores of southern France or the cobbled alleyways of Italy for a table of property developers, stage-whispering about your work, either because of a language problem (“If you want to work in a bar, learn real English first”) or because one of them has an eye on them (“I’d give her something to write home about”)—chortle, laugh, good on ya mate! I worked with two French girls in New Zealand who were on one-year work visas; they went home after six weeks because of their experience in bars.

The tales are endless; ask anyone who has worked behind a bar and you will find yourself wondering what people say about you at the end of a night. We get called every name under the sun. All the time. There is the story of the All Black (every barmaid has this story) who felt my hips, legs and waist were public property. How many of his friends do you think told him to lay off? And how many managers do you think had a word with him? The answer is the same to both questions.

It’s not hard to treat staff with some respect; most of it your mother taught you. Please and thank you is first; then eye contact; try pausing a conversation for your waiter, they are doing their job not imposing themselves on your evening. Men, and I’m sorry boys but you’re often the worst offenders, feel free to make comments about the dress of a waitress, but don’t be surprised at the offence taken.

It’s wrong to paint the whole country like this. There are of course good customers who have manners and who learn your name; these are a blessed relief and I promise, your server is thanking their lucky stars for you.

Aaron Gilmore’s treatment in the media will have felt like a small victory for many hospo staff; let’s just hope that others like him learn from his mistakes. The next time you are working in a bar and someone gives you grief, ask them what they think of Aaron Gilmore, and politely await their response. Alternatively, the next time you are giving the grief, ask yourself, what would Aaron Gilmore do? And then do the opposite.

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