One of the really great things about Japan is the high level of customer service you can expect pretty much anywhere you go. Whether you're eating at the local McDonald's or a five-star restaurant, walk in and you'll receive the same friendly greetings, the same polite bows, and the same "we're-so-happy-to-serve-you-today" smiles. All of this WITHOUT the annoyance of tipping! No wondering at the end of the meal how big a tip to leave, no feeling the pressure to leave at least 10% even for poor service...
Now, before all of you who have ever waited tables jump down my throat about this, I understand why we tip, at least in America -- the restaurants only pay their wait staff a measly $2 an hour and expect them to make the rest of their money by kissing up to the customers. And anyone who knows Rusty knows that he is a VERY generous tipper. But in Japan, waiters and waitresses earn a decent hourly salary and are expected, as a matter of course, to deliver excellent customer service. At all times. To every customer. In fact, if you try to leave a tip in Japan, they will chase you down and return your money. Now that's service!
So, a couple of weeks ago, Rusty and I went out with friends for lunch after church on Sunday. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, a local Italian place called Woody's. Since we were a large group, they seated us upstairs in their private room. Several waiters and waitresses helped to carry all the food up when it was ready. One young man, as he passed behind and leaned over Rusty to set down another person's plate, managed to spill a good deal of curry sauce all down the inside of Rusty's coat. Luckily, Rusty was not wearing the coat at the time; it was draped over the back of his chair. It was an honest mistake and could have happened to anyone. Nobody acted angry or upset.
Well, the wait staff felt terrible about what had happened. They immediately went to work with napkins and a wet cloth on Rusty's coat and the back of the chair, mopping up most of the mess. When they finished and left, after much bowing and apologizing, we thought that was the end of it. But a few minutes later, the manager came upstairs. There was more bowing and apologizing. He told us that Rusty's meal would be on the house today. He looked at Rusty's coat. He decided it wasn't clean enough, so he asked us if the restaurant could pay to have it dry-cleaned. We explained that the coat was machine-washable, so we would just take care of it at home. Honestly, it was probably in need of a washing anyway! He asked us if he could at least take the coat down to the kitchen and give it a more thorough spot-clean. We said sure, if it would make him feel better.
As we were finishing our meal, a waitress came upstairs with a piece of cheesecake for Rusty. We had not ordered cheesecake, so we first thought there had been a mistake. But no, there was no mistake. This was a "service," she explained (with more bowing and apologizing). Rusty ate his "service" cheesecake with great relish -- he even shared a bite with me. Then we gathered our things and went downstairs to pay. The entire wait staff came out to bow and apologize one more time for all the inconvenience. The manager stood behind the young waiter who had spilled the curry, pushing his head down lower into a deeper, more apologetic bow. He returned Rusty's coat, along with an entire box of laundry detergent (see picture above). I think if we had stayed any longer, they might have offered to send somebody home with us to start the washer and hang the coat out to dry!
If this same thing had happened in America, we most likely would have gotten a simple apology from the waiter. If we had pitched a fit, we might have gotten a free meal, or a coupon to use on our next visit. But we didn't even get mean and nasty, and the ENTIRE STAFF rallied to apologize and make sure we were happy and satisfied customers who would come to their restaurant again. Now that's service!