Service Without A Smile
When we visit Britain we know not to expect certain things, such as blue skies, straight teeth or particularly friendly service. But that last thing, a surliness immortalised in the Brits' own hit tv series Fawlty Towers decades ago (and included above, for nostalgia's sake), is seldom mentioned outright, for fear of causing offence.
Not any more: legendary Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr has broken the taboo and complained loudly about service that is "surly, slapdash and dreadful". He says, in an interview with the BBC: "It's not just in restaurants, you get bad service anywhere," he says. "Even buying a newspaper you can find that you're not even acknowledged. There's no eye contact, no greeting or anything. Bad service is unforgivable and it's everywhere in the UK."
And official findings back him up: the UK came 14th in the 2010 international customer service rankings from the Nation Brand Index, and only one place higher for its "welcome" by visitors.
So why does a country so generally preoccupied with not causing a fuss, fail so badly at manners? "The issue of service in Britain is, maybe, a class problem with service seen as subservient," Roux says. "The old Upstairs-Downstairs syndrome, where it is only for the lower classes."
Whatever the cause, and the Brits' oft-quoted defence that they'd rather have genuine staff serving them than falsely courteous ones, don't expect the same BFF treatment you might get here, when dining in London.