Friday, 21 August 2009


Noun; 1. the action or process of serving. 2 an act of assistance. 3. employment as a servant.

The word meaning "to perform some sort of work" was first recorded in 1926 in that context, though in others, such as worship, or to serve ones country, dates back, approximately, to the 1100's, maybe even further.

Then of course there is the "news service", with Reuters probably being the most famous organisation of such. Founded in London in 1851 by Baron Paul Julius von Reuter, who had previously set up a telegraph office in Aachen in 1849.

Nowadays the word is attached to our everyday use of computers online, and our "service provider".

Some liken the term of someone being in service to others as a redefining of slavery, especially when we talk about the sweat shops of Asia producing our goods that we can't do without. Slavery was certainly done away with in an act of Parliament in 1807, though it took until 1833 to roll it out across the whole British "Empire" at the time.

But I digress, and then some.

My opinion on the word today is connected with the service one receives in a retail environment, be that public transport, a shop or restaurant. Wherever I am likely to be spending my hard earned mullah at the time.

I'll start with an excellent example; Browns restaurant in George Street, Edinburgh. An establishment I enjoy frequenting often. Situated at the west end of George Street, and surrounded by several other eateries, I cannot truthfully say that Browns offers the greatest menu. It hardly ever changes. However, the quality of the food they do serve is first class. Simple in it's presentation. Nor are the prices such that it is the least expensive of choice. It comes down to one simple thing. I say simple, but increasingly hard to find. An art form to an extent, that requires careful training. And that simple thing, as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at times?

Good service. A smile, a warm welcome. Advance notice that here you are going to be adding 20% for a tip as opposed to a measly 10%.

On just one occasion at Browns over the years have I complained, politely, about a dish that had been served to me. There was no further explanation needed. It was whisked away and a replacement brought in it's place, followed a few minutes later by a further apology from the manager, and that my views would be carried on to the next staff training. Having run a retail deli and coffee shop myself I know the value of good staff training, as did my customers. And complaining also requires the same politeness from yourself that you would expect in return. Ranting and raving like Victor Meldrew I have found seldom gets the best result.

And having a menu that seldom changes is not such a bad thing is it? How we pour scorn on those who dare to relocate our staple items in the supermarket because of some science they have convinced themselves of, that means this is a good idea, and in no way would irritate anyone. Or the decor inside, or layout of, your favourite pub, and how it used to be so much better the way it was. Why fix something that's not broken?

And that's Browns. They've got it right. They know when to let a good thing be. In film making they say that a film is never finished, it is simply abandoned. Many a film can suffer from too much tinkering in the edit, as I have seen. Brown's don't tinker. It's reliable. Seldom disappointing.

And then there's the other end of the spectrum. The polar opposite of all that Browns represents for me. Let me give you an example; rail travel in Scotland. A large organsiation, partly public funded, and with virtually no competition. This latter element I believe goes a long way to answering the question of why the service on Scotrail is at times so abysmal. This is of course, as the title of my blog warns, only my opinion.

On occasion I travel by train in pursuit of my outdoor activities of mountain biking or hillwalking. One of the regular jumping off points is Aviemore in the Highlands, a veritable playground of forests, lochs and mountains. On the three and a half hour journey home I often look forward to ordering a hot cup of tea from the trolley that plows it's trade up and down the aisle of the coaches. However, increasingly the train is made up of two trains joined together, and no way through between the two. So if said trolley is in one section, and you're in another, tough! I often ask, knowing the answer before I even utter a syllable, why can't the trolley transfer through at a station stop down the line? "Against company regulations". I picture in my mind the executives laughing round a table somewhere as they condemn us to dehydration. I must be fair here though, as I did have one journey on this route a number of months ago where I could not fault the service. But that was one very attentive gentleman and not indicative of the service as a whole, sadly.

It takes so little thought and imagination to consider how to improve, be that in personal service or in the efficiency of a product. You've paid your money, is it too much to ask to receive just that little something extra, that costs nothing, to bring you back again, and who knows, recommend it to a friend.

I have written to Scotrail many a time, but I always get the same excuse of "we're looking into it" and "your points have been noted". It feels like they've been "looking into it" since Stephenson's Rocket first took to the rails in 1829!

I could well be waiting as long again for my cup of char!

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