I’ve been off on a short break in Southwold, Suffolk, so missed the last programme of Michael Roux’s Service on BBC 2. I didn’t see all of the other programmes either, just enough to make me particularly conscious of the type of service I was getting while away. Now Southwold is a trendy little Suffolk seaside town, full to bursting in summer, but delightful – if a bit windy - out of season, and full of tempting boutique style clothes shops. Sadly trying to buy in them left me feeling nigh on invisible. Having enticed me in by a 50% sale, the three members of staff in one were far too busy babysitting to even acknowledge my presence. The object of their attention, a small child reading aloud from a book.
“She’s sooo clever,” the owner cooed when I asked for help in finding a bigger size. A pair of blue eyes looked up for approval. Not having a heart of stone, I agreed, but left without buying the stripy tee shirt, to try my luck down the street. Here the assistant didn’t even acknowledge my presence at all. Just flicked her eyes away from her computer screen long enough to check the door was shut behind me.
Thus I came away from Southwold with no ‘little something’ to remember my trip. Actually that’s a lie. The Serena Hall Gallery opened its doors a few minutes early to let me in. We had a long chat about how art was selling, the problems of parking in a seaside town, plus how crazy it was to cut rural buses. I left with one of Lincoln Kirby-Bell’s signature ceramic bowls, just covered in the most wonderfully gaudy spots, swirls and spirals. Both my welcome in the gallery and the pot I bought were a rare treat.
No one wants servility, but politeness with perhaps a smile, along with an attempt to do the right thing, helps to make the shopping/eating out experience memorable or at the very least a pleasure. Even if sometimes a cheery approach can go too far. Breakfast in our hotel came accompanied by a running commentary. The woman who took our order went round the tables asking everyone where they were from and what were they going to do that day. Just by the chance of being in the same room, I found out a lot about my fellow guests. My breakfast kipper arrived via a stream of information as to where our waitress lived, both now and in the past two years, and where she was thinking of taking her own short break. Happily the details of her many ailments were saved for some of the other eaters.
So it may be good to take an interest in your guests, but it can go too far. I’m sure the whole dining room stretched its collective ears to hear the answer from one of the couples. She, a young woman in her very early twenties, he more of a father figure and from his demeanour most likely her boss. At breakfast they were asked if they’d enjoyed their stay and did they do anything nice the previous night. I can only say their joint reply, though barely audible, did seem a bit flustered.