Posted by: Shanna Germain | 05/13/2009

Pg. 43: How to Serve


Glasgow, mid-day.


  • Weather: Chilly and windy, but sunny all day long.
  • Mileage: Uncertain, but I walked/window shopped/meandered a great deal.
  • Discovery: The University of Glasgow is one of the most gorgeous campuses I’ve ever seen.
  • Media: Started Thinner, Stephen King, while on the train.
  • Worst Thing: The tour bus through Glasgow. Horrible traffic and I couldn’t hear anything except “Tobacco, tobacco, tobacco” (This was mostly acoustics (or lack of them rather), but also because Glasgow was a city built on American tobacco money, which I didn’t know.)
  • Best Thing: It’s nice to be back in the diversity of a big city with a campus on it. I love the international feel of Glasgow, especially in the university district.
  • Quote of the Day: Something about tobacco, I’m sure.
  • Word of the Day: Yer oot yer face! Meaning: You, darlin’, should have had more food and a few less drinks, perhaps. Only, of course, not so nice as that.


I know, I know…you want to hear all about Glasgow. And the ferry. And the train. But I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait for all of that until tomorrow. Instead, I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: service.

You thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint. That’s for another day (and, probably, another blog).

So, let’s talk about service, shall we? I know a bit about service, having been in the service industry as server and bartender for far too many years, and then owning my own freelance writing business (which, believe it or not, is just as much about service as it is about words). Someday I’m going to write a book on how to run a business, and the second biggest chapter (Right after the one on “Quality Product, You Morons!” (Yes, I’m going to call it that)), will be “Serve Me, Bitch!”

Oops, wrong book. That’s the other book I’m going to write.

No, truly. Why is good service so hard for people and companies to grasp?

Let’s start with the tour bus. Okay, I have to admit, I’m not one for tour buses. In fact, I’m not one for “tour” anything. I like to be left alone when I travel. Mush me into a touchy-feely and/or grumpy group of other tourists as we all crowd around one thing, everyone vying for the best camera spot, and I’m not going to be a happy camper. But ever since the tour bus in Rome (which was fantastic, as we had the funniest lady tour giver ever, and besides, how can riding around on an open-top bus in Rome not be fantastic? “Okay, so here you have the Vatican City, and right here’s the place where Julius Ceaser was stabbed, and oh, don’t miss it, that’s the oldest building in the world, and that’s the parthenon and the … ” It was impossible NOT to see something amazing, no matter where you looked.), ever since then, I’ve liked tour buses.

Now, Glasgow’s a pretty city too, in a totally different way. So I boarded the bus, asked if I needed headphones and got a negatory, and sat my tired butt down on the top floor of the double-decker to hear about the city. Which would have been great if I could actually hear. Instead, the tour guide was mostly silent and when he wasn’t, he talked into his chin in a kind of drone that would have put honeyed-up bees to sleep. Despite sitting right behind him (and near a speaker), I caught every sixteenth word, most of which were “tobacco,” “clock,” and “building.” About halfway through, they changed tour guides, and I was hopeful. At least I’d hear about half the city. But no, the new tour guide talked a hundred miles an hour, never taking a breath, but never really said anything. “So, we’re gonna turn left now, and when we turn left, if you look on your left, you’ll see…” I stopped listening after a while and just watched the city go by outside, wondering how soon I could get off the bus and find something to eat.

Then, the hotel. I picked the hotel off of TripAdvisor, which almost always does me right. And this time was — almost — no exception. The location was as good as they said it was (I was within walking distance of the University of Glasgow, a ton of amazing restaurants, and a whole slew of stores, including at least half a dozen thrift stores, where I scavaged for scarves, boots and a couple of sweaters), the hotel was cheap and clean. But the man at the desk was… ah, rather grumpy. To be kind about it. And then when I explained that the “Free WIFI!” which had been so heavily advertised (and which, to be honest, was a large part of my choosing that hotel) was not working, he was even more grumpy, and made it out to be my fault. Or, perhaps (when I pressed him) that there was something wrong with the wi-fi in other parts of the hotel, but that my room should be fine. And then that later evening, “A storm blew out the wifi and someone’s coming to look at it this evening.” Of course, there was no wi-fi, and nothing that even resembled an apology or even an offer for a free two-day old muffin for breakfast. And, not wanting to look like a jerkish American, I left it at that.

Finally, dinner. A place that looked appealing. The atmosphere was awesome, the decor fun and funky. I’d been wanting a gin and tonic all day, and the Specials Board boasted: Seven Deadly Sins! Today’s Sin: Lust! (Gordon’s and Tonic with lime) 2 Pounds. I was all in. “It is okay to sit at a table for dinner?” The waitress said it was, and so I sat.

And sat. And sat. And sat. Without so much as a “Hi,” a “Be right there,” or a “I’m so sorry I’ve walked by you at least six times without saying anything, but I’m slammed and I don’t like color of your hair, so I’m not going to serve you for another hour at least.” Nothing.

Addendum: Funny video from A. Watch it!

And then I got up and went somewhere else.

That somewhere else was La Vallee Blanche. I’d skipped it the first time because it was expensive, but I was starving, very in need of a drink and rather fed up with the day as a whole.

Picture this: You walk in the door to a place that’s lit mostly in candles, that smells like garlic and spices and perfectly cooked meat. Someone meets you at the door with a smile, asks if you have reservations, assures you that it’s no problem that you don’t. Someone else offers to take your coat. The table you’re seated at is clean, the server is quick and attentive, and you don’t wait for an entire thing all evening. Everything was served with precision and smiles.

I must add here: I’m wiling to take bad service if the food is fantastic. And I’m willing to take so-so food if the atmosphere and service rock my world. If the food sucked at La Valle, I might not have gone back, but I still would have chalked it up as a decent experience, just from the fantastic, consciousness service.

But that wasn’t the case at all. La Valle is one of those rare places where you get the best of both worlds. The tartlet of wild mushrooms was to die for, the gin and tonic was outstanding (you’d be amazed at how often people can’t make a decent gin and tonic), the lamb was succulent and perfectly crisp, and they offered a blood orange pannacotta that was… -drools-

So, my lecture on service is nearly complete, I swear. I’d offer a list of what NOT to do, but I think it’s pretty obvious by now. It’s just like real life, right? A smile and a nice word will soothe the savage beast. Communication is vital. Say you’re sorry when you screw up. And, if all else fails, offer me a free drink.

Far and fast (not really, as she’s stuffed full of lamb and drinks), s.



Glasgow University at sunset. At least someone knows how to serve its people.


“If you cannot serve, you cannot rule.” ~Bulgarian proverb



  1. But honey, this is Britain! Here’s a clip from the UK tourist board service training film …

    Hope you enjoy Glasgow! ; )

  2. Oh my hell, A! That’s so funny! I’m gonna post it right into the blog.

    And, yeah, I loved the city! I’m glad to be back ‘home’ in the slower pace now though. Hehe.

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