How Canadian organisations deal with complains

Introduction - the 'service culture'

You may already have ideas about North America; that is the United States and Canada, and the so called 'service culture'. When people talk about a service culture existing in North America they are trying to give the impression that 'service' is better, and that service is lacking or in some way inferior in the rest of the world. Whether or not you consider the service better, the same or worse depends on what you are comparing it to. In other words, what you are used to.

There do not seem to be any objective measures that can be applied to 'service' - for example, did your meal arrive within a specified period of time, or was its temperature more than a specified target. Without real measures that can be tested it's difficult to compare service standards.

My perception or impression, based on living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for over 2 1/2 years is that 'service' in Canada is certainly no better than in the UK or europe. What I would say is that it's different.

In europe, staff have a better knowledge of their organisation, and certainly more information and knowledge about the products they sell that their North American counterparts. Where the North Americans are superior is in their external presentation of themselves, their smiling faces, open gestures, meaningless words and supreme confidence in the certainty of what they say, regardless of how long they have been in the job, or the credibility they have in the eyes of the customer.

Service, by which I mean the ability and willingness of people in positions that come into contact with the public to deliver meaningful assistance, is definitely better in Europe.

Service in stores (shops)

Whether in large stores or small shops you will find the staff appear to be very interested in you initially. You will be greeted as you enter and asked how you are and whether or not you are looking for something in particular.

If you ask questions that need an answer, and especially those that need some knowledge of the product or service on offer you will find that there is a difference. In general you will find that the staff are not interested or cannot answer your questions. It's like the response you used to get in the UK when you enquired and were told 'We have what you see on the shelf'.

In a large department store I asked about gas appliances, the assistant was very enthusiastic until I explained that I wanted information because we were considering a move to Canada, suddenly he lost interest and noticed that something very important was going on elsewhere. This took place in an empty store!

Service in restaurants

Generally acceptable. What do you expect?

If you are looking for 'Silver Service' as you would find in Europe then forget it. Even in expensive eating places you are likely to receive your knife and fork wrapped in a serviette (napkin) and placed somewhere on the table, not necessarily in front of you.

When you arrive at a restaurant you will generally have to get in line (queue up) and wait to be shown to a table. This seems to be part of the ritual that reinforces the importance of the staff and demonstrates to the diners that they are lucky to be served. Long waits for tables are common and Canadians seem to accept that as normal without complaint.

Waiters/Waitresses/Waitpersons are known as Servers.

They will introduce themselves by name and be gushing and apparently enthusiastic .Servers generally think that good service is continually filling up your water glass with a mixture of crushed ice and water. The more flourish they can put into the pouring the more they seem to like it. The sensible thing to do would be to put a jug of water on the table.

The quality of food is generally mediocre.

In a well-known Thai restaurant in Edmonton the music is turned off and the main lights put on at 9:45 pm to encourage diners to finish and leave.

Service in Chinese restaurants has proved worst, often communication is a problem as the servers don't speak good English. In one Chinese restaurant in Montreal we were given a menu in Chinese, one of our partly had to go and exchange them. We had to ask repeatedly for water and our teapot was ignored when empty whilst other diners had their teapots replenished without asking. The meals were hurriedly placed in front of us with spillage of soup, the crockery etc was collected by being almost thrown into a large plastic tray between courses. At the end of the meal when the bill was paid the server had the brass neck (cheek) to suggest that the tip was not enough. For that service he should have been paying us.

The truth is that servers are not well paid which means that they are looking for tips, you will often find that servers hint that they have done things that you should not expect from them. They will also indulge in wholly inappropriate behaviour such as writing notes on the back of the bill, such as 'Have a truly wonderful evening, it was great having you here'.

Canadians have a ritual at the end of the meal where they make all sorts of noises (discuss amongst themselves) how the server was 'trying' or 'was nice' and cough up tips. Personally I think they are wrong and should not give anything except a small token of appreciation, and give that only if there was something exceptional about the service.

Should one give tips?

My personal view is that tips are unnecessary and should not be given under normal circumstances.

Let's look at what happens when you purchase a meal etc.

You agree to pay the price for the food, the restaurant agrees to cook the food and deliver it to the table. There is no stated extra for service. If that was the case then restaurants should be making a clear statement of price for the meal and showing service as an extra so that customer could make a choice.

Let's look at some other examples, Wal Mart, Safeway and other grocery stores are not noted for paying their staff very high wages, but no-one would dream of tipping the checkout operator. What's the difference between them and restaurant staff?