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14-07-2013, 11:22
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Last week, the story was widely reported how a Sainsbury’s checkout operator had refused to serve a customer talking on her mobile phone (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2357193/Sainsburys-says-wont-discipline-worker-refused-serve-shopper-talking-phone.html). The operator attracted a lot of public sympathy, and few would disagree that the customer’s behaviour was rude and ill-mannered, something that the widespread use of mobile phones seems to have encouraged. Shift the scenario to the bar of a pub, and 80% of respondents to my poll took the view that a barperson would be fully entitled to refuse service.
However, Ian Golding introduces a valuable note of caution in this blogpost (http://ijgolding.com/2013/07/10/im-not-serving-you-when-is-the-customer-not-always-right/). Is it really the role of staff to make value judgments about the behaviour of customers, provided that they are not actually being abusive? Attitudes as what is and isn’t acceptable have greatly changed over the years, and they should not be pulling people up for things simply because they don’t approve. It could all too easily turn into a slippery slope where customers were being told off for eating, chewing gum, showing their underpants or wearing T-shirts with dubious slogans. A checkout operator – or a bar person – is acting as the representative of their employer and it is not their job to make up policy on the hoof. It may be a cause for regret, but in the real world businesses may suffer for turning away customers for a lack of manners.
On the other hand, if you’re the licensee of a pub who is effectively running your own business, you are quite entitled to take the view of “my gaff, my rules” and ban anything you disapprove of so long as it’s not discriminatory. In the past there were some pubs that imposed a forfeit on any customers who allowed a mobile phone to ring, but they have now become so ubiquitous in society that such an attitude would probably be counter-productive.
Put the boot on the other foot, though, and there is no doubt that for a member of bar staff to be chatting on the phone while serving a customer is completely unprofessional and frankly indicates total contempt for those who ultimately pay their wages.
Incidentally, the Real Ale Twats Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/201037720596/) reports on the Reproachment micro-pub in Deal, Kent, where there are 10 mobile phones stuck to the wall with large nails, and one pound fines for any devices that ring. There’s also a room marked “Lager made in here” which turns out to be the toilet. All funny in its way, but it does perpetuate a certain unfortunate stereotype of real ale drinkers.

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