Hospitality is a hard industry to work in. The customer is always right and customers are pickiest about what they eat, where  they stay, and how they are treated in the process. I’ve worked in hospitality, many years ago, and I can still remember being summoned to a table by an irate customer who was livid that there was apple in his fruit salad. Swallowing every response that came to mind, I apologised and said I would investigate, The man was offered lychees as an alternative and was happy as a lark. I was more confused by someone who thought lychees were a suitable ingredient in a fruit salad, as opposed to apples – but, live and learn, after all, the customer is always right.

So, while perusing through the online newspaper offerings this week, I was bemused by a story about cafe owners in Springfield, in Canterbury, who have been attracting and accumulating, rather terrible customer reviews.

“Police have reported receiving complaints from people who’ve visited the cafe, and say they have spoken to the owners and provided ‘customer service advice;.”

As reported in Stuff “Springfield Store and Cafe in inland Canterbury has among the worst online reviews for any eatery in New Zealand, with four in five giving it the thumbs down and one woman reporting leaving in tears after being abused. Police have reported receiving complaints from people who’ve visited the cafe, and say they have spoken to the owners and provided ‘customer service advice’.”(Source: “Praise among horror stories from Canterbury’s Springfield cafe,” Stuff, July 2nd, 2019).

Even poor old Basil Fawlty never had the boys in blue knocking on his door, with helpful advice on how to treat his guests, or his hapless Spanish waiter. But cafe owners, Karyn Cullingford and her husband Donald, have certainly warranted attention and most of it is negative. Stuff reports that the cafe is one of the worst rated eateries in New Zealand.

“Worst service I’ve ever experienced and the … rudest . . .”

“Since February 2014, the cafe has been the subject of 101 reviews on TripAdvisor, including 71 “terrible” ratings, the most recent of which was posted in the past fortnight. Customers have likened it to Fawlty Towers, a British sitcom about a badly run hotel, and say the owners are grumpy, rude, abusive and a disgrace to hospitality. There are mixed reviews about the cafe’s food and coffee. It’s twice won national awards for its pies. A flat white will cost you $5.30. The best part of this place was the salt on the average chips. Worst service I’ve ever experienced and the … rudest,” a February review says.

“Horrible customer service. I don’t like saying anything bad about a place, but I couldn’t help myself here. Rude. Unfriendly. The food isn’t even good. Do yourself a favour and keep driving,” another review posted a fortnight later says.” (Source: “Springfield Store and Cafe: Come for the award-winning pies, stay for the abuse,” Stuff, June 30th, 2019).

It seems that not all the feedback has been negative and a number of reviewers have said the food is great, as is the service. It just appears that the cafe owners may have missed the bit about the customer always being right and may be in entirely the wrong line of business. After all, hospitality is extremely challenging work, the hours are unforgiving and all of the challenges of running a business can be overwhelming.

To be fair, Stuff reported that there was nothing untoward about the service, or the owners’ demeanor when they visited and also acknowledged that their fare has been given the nod at at our national pie awards. ”

“Cullingford, who placed fifth and second respectively in the cafe boutique section of the 2012 and 2013 Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards, acknowledges that on occasion, particularly when she’s worked a lengthy stretch without a day off, she can be “a tad grumpy”. I know I make damn good food and  … when people diss my food I do get a bit upset.” (Source: “Springfield Store and Cafe: Come for the award-winning pies, stay for the abuse,” Stuff, June 30th, 2019).