I visited Hong Kong recently. The city is marvelous and a must for foodie lovers. Street food, restaurant stalls and high end options, whatever is your calling, Hong Kong has it. In a city as awake and busy as New York, as historic as London and where locals are just as likely to buy a pork bun on a sidewalk as they are to sit down and eat inside, I naturally went to… Dan Ryan’s.

Okay, hear me out. Seriously, don’t give me that look. I’ve done the local stuff too. But sometimes you just crave for some good ‘ol American buffalo wings and when that craving calls, it doesn’t matter what city you are in.

If you’ve ever tried a local American joint in a foreign country, you’ll notice some delightful changes along with the familiar dishes. Every country adds its own flair and style, customized to the pallets of the locals. This isn’t so different in our home country either. I mean, have you ever noticed that Chinese restaurants have fortune cookies, but you’d never find one in Hong Kong? Or have you noticed that Mexican food has its own state-related staples? Think Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex.

But all things considered, this Dan Ryan’s was American. They even had moose heads and oversized bass on the wall. I was tempted to start a U-S-A chant. But I was quickly reminded that I was far from my home soil fairly quickly.

Which brings me to…

Point#1: When you’re dining in another country, understand that customs and behaviors will vary.

We are mostly aware that most countries have done away with the tipping system and charge a flat service fee. But even things like serving water can differ greatly. In China and Hong Kong, there is an inordinate amount of fear of germs and many restaurants serve boiling water even on a hot 95 degrees day.

So it wasn’t shocking to me that I wasn’t treated all that well in this Dan Ryan’s as customer service standards in Hong Kong are about as equivalent to being served at my 5 year-old’s plastic tea set restaurant. Except my five year-old makes eye contact and says please.

I quickly downed my iced tea within seconds of it arriving – hey, it was 95 degrees, remember? I waited patiently for a refill which never came. Finally, I flagged down my server and asked politely for a refill. He turned and walked away. That’s where understanding customs is important. While what he did wasn’t an exemplary example of service, it was more understandable because, hey, that stuff happens in Hong Kong. What happened next was not.

He returned with the check! I politely explained that I had asked for more tea and, seeing how I wasn’t even halfway through with my meal, that I wasn’t ready for the check. Again, he turned and walked away, leaving me with a puzzled look. It’s fine to make a mistake, but not apologizing or acknowledging it was quite strange. Perhaps he had a sore throat? A speaking problem? Couldn’t understand me?

As he walked around again, I raised my hand and, as polite as a choir boy addressing his first girlfriend’s mother, said, “Sorry, could I get that tea when you have a chance?” His response shocked me.

He came to my table, stuck out his hand forcibly and said, “PLEASE WAIT!”

I was flabbergasted (else I would have high fived his hand and said, “I’LL WAIT!”). The server never made any indication of acknowledging my request.

And this brings us to the next point of the story.

Point#2: When you get a bad apple, tell the manager.

It may seem like a better idea to confront the waiter and, in certain cases when both parties are level-headed, that’s a fine option. Others may think it’s just better to drop it, especially in a foreign country when language, culture and possibly discrimination may play a role in how a complaint is received.

But managers always want to know when things happen. Every Manager. In. Every. Country. So I kept a level head. I didn’t react. I didn’t even react when he came back and spilled tea all over the table, quite aggressively too. I flagged down the manager, explained that I love Dan Ryan’s and that I usually receive exemplary service, but today was quite disappointing.

Oh, and for Bonus…

Point#3: Use the sandwich technique – that’s when you start and end a complaint with a compliment, ‘sandwiching’ the complaint in the middle. You’re more likely to be received positively.

To my surprise, and this was a shock because it doesn’t happen as often in Hong Kong compared to America, my entire meal was comped! So if anything, that restaurant did understand the idea of keeping the customer happy. It completely changed my mood and I’ll always remember it as a positive experience, one that reflects very well on the restaurant when, just a couple minutes earlier, I was certain I was never recommending this place to anyone. One little conversation with the manager helped me avoid a potential fight, saved me a lot of stress and gave me a free meal to boot. Not bad.

But the overall point is that it’s important to speak up. This may seem obvious to some, but there are some patrons that decide to “just drop it” or that they don’t want to get a server in trouble for something minor (especially if it isn’t as egregious as my case). But if you approach a manager in a non-threatening way, use the sandwich technique and stress the fact that you’re not causing trouble, but just voicing a concern, everyone wins. Managers want to make things right. Customers want the security and knowledge that they will be treated right. And even as a former waiter, I wanted to know what I could improve upon. So, don’t hold your tongue when something happens. The results lead to more than just a comped meal.

Written by Jason

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