Service Wasteland (KH)

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Katharina Hauptmann's picture

The phenomenon of receiving bad service in restaurants and coffee houses here in Iceland isn’t new; many contributors have written about this topic over the years, including Zoë and Ingibjörg

I have always been aware of this dearth of good customer service before and I’ve been upset about it on many occasions. Over the years, I seem to have gotten used to it but that’s not to say that I don’t still get annoyed from time to time.

The reason why I’m bringing it up now is that I recently arrived back from a trip to London where I experienced the complete contrary: really great customer service.

My travel companion and I were almost shocked about how friendly and attentive the service staff was—no matter if we went to a simple café or a fancy restaurant.

In Iceland, you will sadly often get bad service, unless you go to a pricier restaurant.

On many occasions I have just given up and helped myself to cutlery, napkins or the menu while being ignored or forgotten by the staff.

I’m not that demanding when it comes to service, just to be clear. I certainly don’t expect to be treated like a queen, but I expect a decent amount of politeness and attentiveness. And cutlery would be nice.

And since I myself have worked in restaurants and currently work at a bar, I do know the other side of the coin. It can be hard staying friendly and patient when customers are difficult and I know how tricky it can be to keep track of everything. But still, I always try my best.

Sometimes, a waiter or waitress makes up for not being attentive by being very friendly, or sometimes a barista might not be all smiles but is in exchange really fast and on top of things, so there can be a balance.

There are two particularly notorious cafés in downtown Reykjavík that I avoid on principle because their service is just terrible. Not only are their food and drinks average, but the service there is just the worst.

The astonishing thing is though that despite being famous for their bad service, those cafés are always crowded.

Like the other contributors I ask myself why the service is often so poor here in Iceland. Is it because the staff don’t have to work for tips and tipping isn’t customary in Iceland? Is it a lack of manners, or rather, lack of training? Don’t they notice they are doing a crappy job?

I guess it is all that and more. I’ve rarely experienced that unfriendly or inattentive staff being told of by customers or their superiors.

Often times it seems as if the staff simply don’t want to see you waving at them and just avoid eye contact.

And it can be infuriating trying to get a waiter’s attention and failing.

While waiting at the airport in Keflavík for my flight to London, I had a bad experience at the coffee shop. First of all, there was real chaos with the orders and when I asked the barista nicely if the coffee on the counter was in fact my order her only reaction was an indifferent “I don’t know” and then she just walked away. My travel companion had a similarly unpleasant experience. The same with my food order but this time they also forgot to give me cutlery and I actually asked the barista five times for that darn knife before she stopped chatting with her co-worker despite the fact that I was standing right in front of her. Those women simply didn’t give a damn about their customers that day.

Sometimes all those indifferent waiters and baristas make you feel as if you should feel bad for coming into their establishment at all. Just asking for something makes you feel guilty because you are making them work.

Of course there are also great people working in cafés and restaurants, but those black sheep can really ruin one’s dinner or coffee time.

There’s a waitress at one of my favorite and increasingly popular restaurants in Reykjavík who is always perfunctory and unfriendly to the point of making you feel uncomfortable. Another waiter at the same location, on the other hand, is the total opposite, always attentive, fast and friendly.

So now the dilemma: the cuisine is fine and the atmosphere of the restaurant lovely, but I honestly don’t enjoy it that much when that woman is serving me. Should I complain about this or not? If so to her or her superior? Should I just ignore it or simply avoid the restaurant? Or am I just too demanding asking for cutlery?

Food for thought.

Katharina Hauptmann – katha.hauptmann@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.