Bad manners is bad for business

SOUNDS obvious, doesn’t it? Bad manners is a bad thing, so you would expect it to be bad for business. Just how bad it can be was revealed on Twitter earlier this week when the chef-proprietor of a gastro-pub revealed that half the people booked for dinner in his pub’s small restaurant had failed to turn up. Half of them.

The restaurant at The White Post at Rimpton, on the border of Dorset and Somerset, can accommodate 42 people – and on Saturday night it was fully booked, except that 21 people didn’t turn up. No notice. No apologies. Just no-show. How’s that for bad manners and bad business?

How does a restaurant make money? How does a chef or landlord pay his or her staff wages? It’s the money we spend in their bars and their restaurants. That’s a no-brainer. So if you are fully booked and ready for service and then half your bookings don’t arrive, you have not only wasted a lot of good food and a lot of your and your staff’s time but you have no income – or in this case only half what you would have budgeted for in terms of ordering food and getting in staff.

The Twittersphere responded with sympathy and similar stories and the general feeling was that the only way to avoid the total loss that this involves is to ask for deposits. Several friends of the chef tweeted that they would willingly pay a deposit when they book.

That’s good, but they are the sort of people who would never just not turn up. They would ring or email or send a text message to say they couldn’t come. We would do that, you would do that – who wouldn’t? There are the odd extreme events (sudden serious illness, car breakdown or even accident) when you can’t give notice but these are very rare, and the truth is there is NO EXCUSE for bad manners.

We used to be known as a very polite country – we are good at queueing, we don’t push, we aren’t overtly rude to people. Well, that’s how we used to be seen, but these days, apart with pouring out emotion and showering bouquets of supermarket flowers over the deaths of people we don’t know (or who even are fictional not real), too many of us are so busy thinking about ourselves that we don’t bother to think about anyone else. And no, it’s not just happening here in Britain, it’s the same in America and Germany and probably most other parts of the world. It is a tsunami of selfishness.

When you were a child and you did something naughty or stupid, and your mother or father told you off, you probably said: “I didn’t think.” (And you may have added, grumpily, “Sorry.”) That’s just about OK for an eight-year old. But it’s not OK for an adult. It’s not OK if you let people down, because you didn’t think about the consequences of your actions or your decision. It’s not OK if your selfish not-thinking cost a small business a lot of money.

Sometimes we have to cancel going to things – we were due to go to the theatre and to a restaurant last week and had to cancel both because one of us was ill. We contacted the people involved as soon as we knew we couldn’t go, and gave our apologies. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to think about it, because you know you must give your apologies. The theatre and the restaurant hopefully were able to use our seats and table for other customers. It’s not saintly on our part – it is just ordinary good manners and common sense.

Good manners is not about knowing which spoon to use for soup or how to address a member of the royal family – that is etiquette, it is something you learn if you have to, and it is useful but not essential. Good manners ought to be instinctive, because it is about how we behave, how we interact with other people. And so, bad manners is not only about the me-me selfishness that is so often commented on these days; it also demonstrates an alarming lack of imagination, a complete absence of thought or empathy. We don’t think about the effect or consequence of our actions.

Unfortunately, the rude people who didn’t turn up at The White Post will probably never know about the anger and hurt they have caused to two lovely hard-working people, or the damage they have inflicted on a small business. And what would they say, if they knew? “I didn’t think.”

Fanny Charles