Tag Archives: coffeehouses

Customer service

4 May

I’m doing a bit of clearing out this morning and found a file with the beginnings, in some ways, of this blog. I’ve been jotting down bits and pieces from life in Vienna since long before there was even something called the internet. This one is about quite a controversial topic in the U.S. American / Viennese dialogue, customer service.

One topic that comes up again and again among U.S. American expatriates in Vienna is the quality of customer service. The general opinion is that it isn’t very good. My feeling is that it is different from what you get in the U.S.A. but not always worse. Yes, there can be grumpy and / or rude waiters especially in the traditional coffeehouses, who sometimes—but not always—become less grumpy when addressed in good German. On the other end of the spectrum I have stories of customer service I’ve received in Vienna that is so good it is off the scale.

First of all, there is the kind of customer service that the Viennese miss when they go abroad. In the words of a Viennese who has been a professor at a major U.S. university for over 25 years, “I miss sales clerks who know what they are talking about.” He was referring to the system of training people to be specialists that is still common in Vienna.

Shortly after he said this I experienced vividly what he was talking about. I have the kind of engagement calendar which is like a ring binder and for which I need to buy new inserts every year. I bought it because I liked the look of it, never realizing that it is not a common brand and therefore very hard to get inserts for. For a number of years I went to one store on Kärntnerstraße in the First District. Then they fell victim to the general trend of replacing Viennese stores that had been there for generations with the usual chain stores you find in every European capital.

After asking around, I found out that there was another stationery store, Mayr & Fessler, on Kärntnerstraße that might have what I need. I went off to see if they could help me. The young saleswoman I talked to knew exactly what I was referring to but said she feared they were out but that they usually got their weekly deliveries from that distributor on that very day of the week. She would call down to the stock room to see if the inserts I needed had come in that day’s shipment. In under a minute she was able to confirm that they had. In less than three minutes one of her colleagues had brought them up for me. Having worked in retail myself, I was much impressed that she knew that a shipment should have arrived and that she went to the trouble of checking for me. When I thanked her she said it was “selbstverständlich” (approximately in this context “her job”).

This was the same store that, on another occasion, after selling me the leads for my mechanical pencil offered to refill the pencil for me. When I saw that they put the leads in from the top, not shoved up from the bottom as I am wont to do, I asked the saleswoman to show me how she had done it and got a quick lesson in the manufacturer-approved method.

Then there is the customer service in Vienna that allows the customer as much time as he or she wants. (Granted this can backfire—sometimes you are allowed far more time than you want!). The Viennese are used to being allowed to sit for an entire evening in a restaurant and would be shocked to be rushed or even kicked out. You must ask for the check in a Viennese eatery or you will sit there forever. The waiter will never bring the check without being asked.

I know the system in the U.S. is different. Having worked a short stint as a waitress I am perfectly aware that restaurants live from turnover on tables and the wait staff live from their tips. I still had no comfort or explanation to offer one of my Austrian friends who was in Washington, D.C., on business. After a hard day’s work he went out with some other European colleagues (all high-level employees of an EU government body) to a restaurant recommended to them as one of the best in Washington. They enjoyed the meal and were lingering over their coffee. The waitress brought the check. They were in no rush to pay. The waitress made a few subtle attempts to get them to pay. They resisted. She finally asked them outright to pay and leave as she needed the table. At this point they complied, naturally, in their opinion, leaving no tip. As the waitress confronted them about this they explained their position. At this point the manager got involved—on the side of the waitress! Whatever else you may have to put up with in restaurants in Vienna (grumpy waiters, slower service than you are used to, problems paying at the end) I doubt you will find that you are first asked to leave and then expected to tip for the pleasure!

And then there is the extraordinary customer service, the customer service clearly based on the Golden Rule.

For example, there was the time someone called me from the main post office. She had a postcard for me on which there was no family name and no address but my telephone number. It’s a long story how that happened. The short version is that I had met a student from Korea on a coach between Oxford and London. She thought she might be coming to Vienna so I gave her my telephone number and asked her to call me if she came. She sent the postcard to let me know that she wouldn’t be coming after all and, as all she had was my first name and my phone number, she used that. The lady from the post office asked for my address, I gave it to her, and she sent along the card.

There was also the time when I was so impressed by the customer service that I interrupted a busy day to painstakingly write, in German, a letter to the head of the company about the incident. I had paid for a purchase at my local perfume store with my debit card. Then I made a change to my purchases which entitled me to a credit. I was told that only the amount of my final purchases would be charged. Yet when I did my bookkeeping for the month I saw that the credit hadn’t been taken into account. The store owed me a little over EUR 12. With very little hope I went back to the shop, wondering how on earth I would be able to explain what had happened and back up my claim. I had barely launched into my story when the saleswoman said, “We owe you EUR 12.05.” She reached into a drawer, took out an envelope with the money in it, gave it to me, and gave me a small present to make up for the trouble of having to come back. I shall be their loyal customer until they are taken over by the international chains taking over all the small shops in Vienna.

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Summer

8 Jun

Is it possible that summer might come to Vienna after all? And on a weekend? ?? The mood at Café Dommayer in Hietzing suggests that it just might.

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New Year’s Day

1 Jan

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Went to Café Weimar for breakfast this morning to welcome in the New Year (starting as I mean to go on ;-)). I reserved a table for two people and two dogs and this is what the card looked like. 🙂 And people say Viennese coffeehouse waiters aren’t friendly!

The mushroom is to bring luck in the New Year. The fish is to put in one’s wallet to ensure lots of money coming in. Mine went in there immediately and is, I hope, doing its job!

And, of course, what is a New Year’s breakfast without sparking wine (Sekt) served here with light, crispy fish cookies, again to ensure plenty throughout the year. But careful–you have to eat it head first or some terrible fate will befall you!

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Odd that when I still lived in the U.S. I listened to the New Year’s concert with the Vienna Philharmonic every single year it was broadcast, first on the radio then on TV. Now it is rather hit or miss whether I hear it. This year it was, as you can see, a miss. I had other fish to fry. 😉

A Friday morning in Vienna in the summer (an e-mail to my mother)

24 Aug

Good morning, dear!

It’s promising (threatening? ;-)) to be very hot today. Mylo and I went for our usual walk and I took my usual break on my usual tree stump in the meadow at the Narrenturm. We were having such a nice time outdoors I thought “I don’t want to go home” and decided on the spot to go to Café Weimar, dogwalking shorts and naked face notwithstanding. So Mylo and I traipsed off to Café Weimar where we sat under the awning and I had a croissant and caffè latte. As Maylo’s vet is very near there and I needed to pick up the food I had ordered for him I considered hanging around until they opened at 9:00 to save myself an extra trip. However it was only 8:15, and I thought that might be a bit too much hanging around.

Then I found myself staring at the big sign announcing the weekly open-air market of organic and (relatively) local produce at the WUK on the other side of Währinger Straße. I’ve thought about checking that out for years and never gotten around to it. They didn’t open until 9:00 either, but I decided that those two things together were worth waiting for so  I pulled out a little notebook from my bag and started making notes for work on Monday and my interview on Tuesday. I was able to pull my thoughts together really well (amazing what a cup of strong coffee and nice surroundings will do for one’s concentration) and then went off and bought grapes to take to M’s party tomorrow and picked up Mylo’s food.

Just to top it all off—I texted P from Café Weimar and arranged to have dinner together this evening in Pötzleinsdorf.

I have now closed up all windows and lowered all possible blinds to stem the onslaught of the heat and am sitting here with the fan blowing on my legs.

Wishing you just such a nice day!!!

Waldbeer Stanitzl @ Café Landtmann

21 Jul

A few days ago I had to run the kind of errands (taking things to my tax adviser and so on) that make one feel in need of a treat. Since Café Landtmann on the Ring, one of the oldest and most traditional Viennese coffeehouses, lies on the route home from my tax adviser, I decided to stop there for my treat. Good choice! (See photo.)

Waldbeer Stanitzl at the Café Landtmann

It didn’t only look good. It was delicious!!! 🙂

The BBC visits two Viennese coffeehouses

26 Jan

They even mentioned one of my regular coffeehouses–Café Weimar, which has, in my opinion, the best Apfelstrudel in Vienna (which is saying a lot!).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16538189

“Midnight in …”

27 Aug

Finally made it to “Midnight in Paris” this evening with two friends. We went into the cinema on the tail end of a heatwave and came out into, well, rain. We smiled and said “Vienna looks its most beautiful in the rain” and walked off to Café Central*  for supper.

* http://www.palaisevents.at/en/cafecentral.html