Column Aug 18, 2010: The customer is only right when we say so

I WAS amused to see that a college professor and strict grammarian was chucked out of a New York branch of Starbucks for failing to use the correct terminology when ordering a bagel.

The bloody-minded academic, according to the New York Post, had already had her card marked for asking for big and small coffees, instead of vente and tall Americanos.

And when I say “card marked” I mean literally. The big chains have “anti-loyalty cards” they stamp every time you fail to order properly – nine stamps and they get your next order slightly wrong. So think on.

I will do the same when I open my own chain of Bovril shops. This will be a tremendous money spinner.

Cups will come in calf (huge), cow (gigantic) or bull (affects the tides).

There will be several concentrations of Bovril too, from Milky (“gnat’s wee” levels) to Strong (“Oh, my sweet Lord, get me a jar of Marmite to take away some of the salty taste”).

For added luxury, I will provide the option of floating condensed chicken soup on the top of the Bovril, à la cappuccino.

For even more luxury, customers will be able to have “sprinkles”, or bits of mince, as you would probably call it, on top of their chicken soup.

And for the most luxurious option, the capo di cappuccino, I will put a sausage in it.

I’m going to call it “moo!” with a lower case “m”.

The Starbucks banning business reminded me of when “The Speakeasy” opened on Penny Lane, in the early 1980s. This was an American-style hamburger takeaway which arrived before the first McDonald’s in Liverpool and the various sizes and styles of burgers were named after American gangsters of the 1920s.

I imagine, 20 years from now, US kids will return the favour and eat fish and chips and jellied eel dishes named after Mad Frankie Fraser and Reggie Kray.

As this was an American-style establishment, the owners insisted that customers ordered in the appropriate manner. A sign was erected, explaining the various terms: overeasy, easy, tricky, difficult* . . .

To the 10-year-old me, this was the coolest thing since thick plastic spokes on BMXs. To one of my adult relatives (hereafter referred to as Terry) it was a laminated nightmare.

I was with Terry when he approached the counter. “Howdy, sir. What can I get you?” asked the perky assistant.

“Beefburger, please.”

Her eye twitched a little. “Which type of HAMburger, sir?” She pointed at the list of gangsters and blackguards lining the serving area.

He looked at me. “Al Capone,” I advised. He nodded at the assistant.

“And how would sir like his HAMburger?”

“Er, in a barmcake.”

“No, sir.” She patiently took Terry through the list of alternatives as the takeaway slowly filled up. Eventually he settled on “tricky.”*

“Does sir want all the fixings?” Terry looked blank. “Pickle, onion,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll have a pickled onion.”

“No sir. Would you like a pickle?”

“No, no pickle,” he said.

“Hold the pickle,” she said.

“What pickle?”

“No, sir. You say, ‘hold the pickle’.”

“Hold the pickle.” By now, Terry was the colour of a Coke can and not through embarrassment.

“Onions?”

“Yeah.”

“How many?” Blankness. “Would you like it heavy on the onions?”

“Yeah.”

“So you want an Al Capone, tricky, heavy on the onions, hold the pickle?”

She made Terry repeat it back to her in front of a shop filled with tired and hungry men. Then, satisfied with a good day’s work, she asked him if he wanted anything else.

“Yer, a bag of chips.”

The Speakeasy closed not long afterwards.

* MY MEMORY might be faulty.

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