Stop making a meal of your dining experience

Stop making a meal of your dining experience

GROUND ZERO: A BOTTOM-UP PERSPECTIVE ON ISSUES

Bad table manners is this week’s complaint at ground zero.

It’s triggered by news reports of diners behaving badly in two separate incidents last week. Both went viral on social media.

A woman was unhappy that she had to pay for her unconsumed food at a buffet restaurant.

She argued with the cashier, who tried to explain the food wastage policy to her. But she became so riled up that she hurled the bag of excess food and a calculator at the cashier.

Police have confirmed that they arrested a woman in her 20s for committing a rash act, and The New Paper understands that she is out on bail.

In another incident, freelance photographer Roy Chuang dumped food on a table at the Eighteen Chefs outlet at The Cathay, before storming off with his female friend.

He later posted a picture of the mess on Facebook and said that the food tasted worse than dog food.

Mr Chuang’s Facebook post went viral and drew flak from netizens, who said he was “childish”, “spoilt” and “wasting food”.

He has since apologised for his actions on his Facebook page.

But walk the ground and salt-of-the-earth hawkers and cleaners will tell you that horrible customers are not all that rare.

Madam Susie Ng, 68, who sells prawn noodles and lor mee in Clementi, shares her experiences.

She admits that her lor mee may not be as tasty as some of the famous stalls but says: “I have never claimed to be the best.”

Still, Madam Ng, who has been a hawker since she was 22, gets customers who approach her and tell her that she should just “close shop and not waste space” at the hawker centre.

“I give them an I-am-sorry smile and sometimes, I offer them a refund.”

Mr Tan Ah Choon, 55, who sells nasi lemak at the next stall, is used to all kinds of criticism from customers, especially the “younger and got a bit of education type”.

He recounts an incident that happened two years ago, just after the Chinese New Year public holiday.

Mr Tan says in Hokkien: “It was also partly my fault. I had increased prices for the festive season, but didn’t have enough manpower because my wife had returned to Malaysia to visit her relatives.

“So the rice wasn’t cooked very well and I didn’t add enough coconut milk. Three young men in their 20s came up to me with their half-eaten plates, pressed their noses and made the gesture of vomiting.

“They threw the rest of the rice on the floor in front of my stall, along with the plates. One man even showed me a vulgar sign.”

Anecdotes from the 30 hawkers and 10 cleaners I spoke to at food centres this week reveal that many of us need lessons in table manners and basic courtesy.

Forty customers share the same sentiment too, after witnessing ugly incidents or just bad behaviour.

Common complaints include impatience with aged hawkers who forget orders or may be slower in serving meals, criticism about food that are not up to expectations and even “not totally clean crockery and cutlery”.

Miss Pang Chiew Shing, 22, a clerk, recently saw a woman “yell” at a cleaner for not clearing the table she wanted to sit at.

Says Miss Pang: “There was just one coffee cup on a saucer, an empty bowl with a pair of chopsticks and a spoon on the table. The man, who was cleaning the next table, was trying to balance a full tray stacked with dirty dishes and cups.

“He signalled to the woman to wait and walked away to the collection point, but the woman customer yelled and called him a useless pig.

“She then picked up the items on the table and dumped them on the one that the man had just cleaned.

Miss Pang says: “I feel some of us seem to have forgotten that we don’t employ the cleaner.”

Indeed. Labour chief Lim Swee Say said in his May Day message last month:

Hands up, those of you who have seen tables piled up with not just used crockery and cutlery, but food debris and pieces of dirty and used tissue paper.

Every time this Heartland Auntie comes across such a sight, the first thought that comes to my mind is: “Would you have done this at home?”

I am very certain that your answer would be ‘No’.

Not even if you have a domestic helper to clean up after your meals.

So what makes some of us think it is perfectly all right to mess up a dining table – not just at food centres, but at restaurants too?

What’s worse, some do it just to make a point about how much they didn’t get their way, or that they didn’t enjoy the meal.

There seems to be a warped sense of entitlement that is taking hold among extremely bratty customers.

When I listen to the stories from Madam Ng and Mr Tan, I am dismayed that people could be so rude.

It is perhaps time for us to rethink how we should behave as customers

Let us start at home. I reckon everyone, even children, should clean up after themselves and not expect someone else to do it for us.

It’s what I taught my teenage kids. Dirty a table? Clean it up. Need something? Get up and get it.

Hopefully, we can bring up a generation that understands there is no such thing as an automatic right to be served.

maureenk@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 1, 2014.
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