Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Wrong With Us?

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything.  Between having pneumonia in July and planning my awesome vacation to Chicago, I back burnered this for awhile.  Now I’m ready again and it seems I’ve waited to long.  I’ve been paying attention and various topics have been on my mind, stewing, boiling, waiting!  

First however, I’d like to point out some differences between Calgary and Chicago in terms of service.  I’ve been to the USA a number of times but I’ve never stayed in any one place for very long.  Chicago is my first one-stop vacation south of the border so I got to experience these differences.

First, the service almost everywhere I went was better than almost anything I’ve received here in Canada.  I was wondering about that until a friend of mine said it’s because we’re too polite to mention it.  First I laughed, then I got serious.  I was going to argue that point until I realized he was right.  In most circumstances, we Canadians take the bad service, the bad attitudes, the mixed up orders with a smile and still tip the waiter.  We rarely complain and may even go back.  Even my husband and I are guilty of it.

For example, here in Calgary, my husband had us go back to the same White Spot over and over and every single time (I wish I was kidding) something went wrong.  Either my chicken was underdone (I sent that back) or they gave him a beef patty instead of a veggie patty (again, sent back, he’s allergic to beef) or we got someone else’s order and the list goes on.  It was to the point where we’d make bets over what would go wrong this time.  The owner, shift managers and staff knew us very well, would even make an effort to get our order correct!  The western divisional manager didn’t believe that our curse was true until he was in the restaurant at the same time as my husband and sure enough, something went wrong.  My husband got his meal comped (again) and they tried to give him a $25 gift certificate as an apology.  Why is it, when a restaurant messes up, the first thing they do is “hey, come back!”  He said “keep it.”  We don’t go there anymore.  My question is, what’s up with us?  Why did it take so many mix ups, screw ups, and mess ups before we finally said no more?

In most restaurants in Chicago, our water glass was never empty, I always had tea, our order was right every time, we never had to send it back (a regularity in almost any restaurant here) and service was fast.  They had enough staff!  Did you know places hire enough staff?  I didn’t!  The service everywhere we went was so exceptionally good that my husband actually said “and they call Canadians the land of the polite? We got nothing on these people!”  In each of the restaurants we went to, the servers never asked us - my husband and I - if we were going to split the bill, another weird regularity here.  The servers also expected him to pay the check, not me.  We went to a varying degree of restaurants, from fast food to 4 star.

When we went to the Field Museum, we got there a few minutes early so the guard told us some history on the place.  We were there with a few other early birds.  When she found out this was our first time in Chicago, we got some Chicago history as well.  The guard (nice lady) then gave us some advice on some good places to eat when she found out where we were staying.

In our hotel, we went to the restaurant only once.  This was our exceptional bad experience.  The server decided to judge us based on our clothes (a bad idea) made us wait (there was only one other table of people and they had their own server.)  When we finally got our order in, we waited some more.  My husband got spilled coffee and when we got our food, the server proceeded to dump half my plate into my lap.  He didn’t even apologize for it.  For the record, that was Lockwood Restaurant, I don’t recommend it, unless you like wearing your food.  This experience was a little shocking considering every other restaurant put most Canadian restaurants, in terms of service, to shame.

Most of our cab drivers were fantastic, and we took a lot of cabs.  I had to laugh at a T-shirt we saw that said “I survived a Chicago cab ride” but those guys can sure drive when they think you’re going to be late for a show.  *ehem*  Don’t believe the concierge when they say “no more than 12 minutes!”  Scariest drive of my life but I survived a Chicago cab ride.

Calgary could really learn a thing or 117 about the cab industry from the Chicago model.  I get that Chicago is much larger but there are issues with the Calgary model.  We need a different one especially now with the our new .05 law.  Obviously the current one doesn’t work.  I’ve heard and read waiting for a cab in Calgary is no more than 15-30 minutes, which is a big lie.  On a good day, I’ve waited upwards of 2 hours.  Once it snows, waiting is more like 8-20 hours.  Does that sound like enough taxis on the road?

The regulating of taxis is not entirely to blame, the companies are also to blame.  When my husband pre-orders an Associated Taxi for a 4:30 am pick-up to go to the airport, I expect it to be at my home.  I don’t expect my husband to miss his flight because it doesn’t show up.  I don’t expect the answer of “we don’t have a taxi in the area” when I called the night before to arrange the pickup.  I also don’t expect the cab company to phone his cell while he’s at the airport waiting for the next flight because they showed up at 8:00 am, and I don’t expect the cab company to feel put out when the fare isn’t there to be picked up three and a half hours late.  But that’s what happened.

In Chicago, most of the time either the door man got our cab for us with nothing more than a blow of the whistle, or there were cabs outside of the various places we visited.  The couple of times we needed to flag a cab down, we waited on the sidewalk for no more than 30 seconds.  None of the drivers were ever on the cell phone and most of them recommended places to visit when they found out this was our first time in Chicago.  Every cab had the same city plaque in the back that explained the fare as well as “for compliments or complaints call ###, your cab number is ####.”  They encourage calling in a compliment, I like that.  My husband lost our little camera in one of the cabs, even though it still hasn’t been found, the company called yesterday to tell us that they’re still looking for it.  That impressed me.  That one is Checker Cab in Chicago.

What I take from my experience in Chicago is:

  • the people who provide the service in the USA want to provide high quality service, give the best and have an excellent reputation
  • Americans expect a higher quality of service so complain when they don’t receive it or don’t go back to the various places that provide poor service; this results in most places providing a high quality service, because everywhere wants everyone’s business
  • the people who provide the service in Canada feel they are nothing more than service people, don’t really care about their job, and provide just enough service to keep their job; Canadians are pushovers and will accept the poor service, we may or may not complain, hope the service will get better, accepts status quo and go back anyway

So I have to ask again, what the hell is wrong with us?


  1. Good Lord, woman.

    You're impressed with the service in Chicago?


    You should come down south. The people here make Chicago look like a perpetual unlicensed boxing match.


    Glad you enjoyed your vacation.

    1. ROFLMAO!!!

      I fully intend to. I've done a whirl wind tour of the south, now I actually want to see it. I figure over 6000 km in 7 days doesn't quite do it justice! Oh, and I ate in one Waffle House and live to tell the tale...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. You would like the South. Unfortunately, the greatest restaurant for seafood, Cajun food and critter feeding closed after one of our hurricanes. It was an interesting experience to watch the raccoon, possums, bird and alligators compete for the table scraps, as you stood on the outside porch and enjoyed the bayou. The food was good and the service was excellent. Unfortunately, that doesn't matter much to hurricanes.

  4. Glad you had a great time! Chicago can easily go either way, but along the lake front and along "the mile", it's a pretty fun place to go!! So many cool places . . . . so little time!

  5. Perhaps you were being watched over/guided by, a protective angel? Believe me, there are Customer Service Hell/Black Holes in this country that would make the bad experiences you describe seem quaint. But, being a citizen of the land to your South, I say, "ya'll come back now, ya heah?"