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In Japan, the customer is not king

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By Dean Rogers

In Japan, “The customer is God” is a common customer service phrase drilled into waiters and waitresses and presented in just about every training session given to a new employee. On the surface, this seems to result in great customer service that is the talking point of many a tourist who visits the country. However, as a long-term foreign resident in Japan, I have been frustrated time and again by Japanese service, and now find it hard to believe that Japan will ever be a world-leading customer service nation.

Don’t get me wrong; Japanese customer service is good, and more than anything, it is unbelievably consistent. Complete standardization of service brings about the utter perfection with which food is prepared here in Japan. You almost never see a wilting leaf of lettuce, or a poorly prepared meal. You can go to just about any run-of-the-mill restaurant in Japan and never walk out disappointed with the food you were served. I love it. Japan is one of the best all-around places to eat good food. In the U.S., where I grew up, and in just about all of the nearly 50 countries that I have traveled to in my life, it is no surprise when you visit an unknown restaurant, and leave disappointed with the food. In Japan, I have rarely been surprised.

But once you have lived in this country for an extended period of time, you realize that Japan is not really the Mecca of customer service at all. Japanese customer service has been standardized to the point of feeling soulless at times. The flawless execution of the product part of the service delivery is usually at the expense of any room to maneuver outside the instruction manual, any real warmth on the part of the person serving you and thus, a somewhat hollow customer experience.

How many times have you sat down and asked for some small deviation from the set menu, only to be told: “Sorry, we can’t do that,” when in reality it is a simple and easy to fulfill request?

A common scenario occurs when ordering a beer with a small amount of foam or head ("awa sukuname"), a common request of foreigners especially when you are paying up to 1,000 yen a beer, and the waiter brings you a perfectly half-filled glass. While unbelievable in any Western country, in Japan, when you ask for anything that requires even the smallest exception to the standard service, more often than not, you will hear either “Sorry, we can’t do that,” or you get exactly what you asked for (a glass of beer without foam, but only half full).

A case in point: My wife and I had lunch at a local burger shop in Shinjuku recently. My wife, who is Japanese, asked for an iced tea without ice, and was promptly served a literally half-full glass of Oolong tea. We looked at each other and could not help but laugh, as we had just happened to be talking about these kind of service situations. This situation seems ridiculous when you think about the tea bag which makes a liter or two of Oolong tea for the cost of a few yen.

Another illustration is McDonald's in Japan, and if you’ve eaten at McDonald's in Japan, you probably know where I am heading with this. In my particular case, I like to order a side of BBQ sauce with my fries, and even better, I have a personal favorite custom of putting BBQ sauce on my cheeseburger to make a very tasty BBQ cheeseburger. It can be insanely frustrating when asking for as simple a thing as a small packet of BBQ sauce, and even being willing to pay for it, only to be told: “No, sorry, we can’t do that.” I broke down in frustration at the Shinbamba station McDonald's near Shinagawa a few years back and said “Fine, give me chicken McNuggets, and hold the nuggets,” and paid 249 yen for two BBQ sauce packets. I have not been back to McDonald's in Japan since.

I don’t blame the server or the person at the cash register for the inflexibility. They are just following the manual which is incredibly rigid and allows for little or no bending of the rules. There is never any intention of malice or annoyance. And there is never any lack of politeness or friendliness on the part of Japanese service staff. Staff are generally friendly but I find it is a false or insincere friendliness that is obviously right out of line 34 of the training manual. You can often see the catalogue smile on the clerk’s face wane if you ask for anything remotely out of the ordinary. Back home, friendliness is by no means guaranteed when you walk into a shop or restaurant but when you do find it, it tends to be genuine and sincere. The one place in Japan that I have consistently found that kind of warm, deep down friendliness from the serving staff is at Starbucks.

There are many more cases of efficient but inflexible customer service I have experienced myself or heard about from other foreigners. The phenomenon exists across multiple industries and sectors: banking, cell phone shops, the city hall, hospitals, or retail institutions such as clothing stores or electronic stores. Even hotels, the epitome of service in many other countries, can generate intense frustration here in Japan. The complaints that I hear nearly always relate to the complete inflexibility and unwillingness to adjust to an individual customer’s incredibly small and usually quite reasonable needs. This often has us walking out the door vowing that we will never return. This is where the expression “Okyakusan wa Kamisama” or “The customer is God” falls flat on its face.

So where did the soul in Japanese customer service go? It seems that service in Japan has been shaped by a manufacturing mentality that forgets there is a human being at the end of the service, with individual preferences. There appears to be an overwhelming need to prioritize the process over the experience.

If I were to try to define “customer service” in its most simple form, I would say that it is “Adjusting to the individual customer needs in advance of them even asking, whenever possible, and creating the best possible experience for that particular customer.” Winning the heart and loyalty of a customer by going the extra mile when you don’t have to is the hallmark of great customer service companies.

The common (Japanese) man or woman on the street generally accepts the way things are delivered in their vanilla form. This is a country where, more often than not, the nail that stands up gets hammered right back down, so the pressure to change is still very relatively small. Unfortunately, because of this lack of impetus to change, Japan has done and will continue to do badly in the international service market.

Why is it important for Japanese service organizations to compete internationally? Well, it would certainly give the economy a kick-start. According to Wikipedia, agriculture makes up 4%, industry 32%, and services a whopping 64% of global GDP. Can you name one Japanese company that has succeeded in a pure services industry, on any major scale, outside of Japan? Take a look at CNN’s list of the world’s top 500 companies by size. Japan has 71 companies on the list, but not one is an international services company. There are a few domestic Japanese services companies, but the bulk of the Japanese companies on the list are manufacturing and industrial.

To compete internationally, Japanese service companies need to shift focus to the individual customer experience as the “product” They need to understand customer needs and train staff to be flexible in meeting these needs. And, in reality, training alone is not enough. Only staff who are happy and motivated in their jobs will truly go out of their way to give a great customer experience. The “Customer comes second” mantra of renowned CEO Hal Rosenbluth is at the heart of obtaining great customer service through looking after the people that work for you.

Japanese service production and process is world-leading, and I would say that Japan possesses about 80-90% of what it needs to be the best customer service country in the World. The remaining 10-20% encompasses individual customer needs being accommodated and a bit of genuine care for the customer. If companies here achieved that last 10-20%, they would push global standards for customer service to new highs and put Japan and Japanese service on the map. Without it, Japan will continue to lag behind other nations, and remain the world’s most powerful economy without a service sector leading company on the global stage.

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2010/countries/Japan.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_economy

© Japan Today

©2017 GPlusMedia Inc.

224 Comments
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I once stayed at a high-end hotel in downtown Tokyo and had put down a deposit of ¥60,000 for the evening. My companion and I had dinner there, and went out for drinks elsewhere. When we returned in the wee hours we found our room door had been locked up by the hotel as we had gone over the deposit. I had to go down to the front desk at 2a.m. to pay the bill in full in cash before they would re-open the door. And no apologies or replies to my tantrum at the front desk for the worst treatment I had ever received anywhere in the world. Yup, in J-Land the customer is king...until they assume you have no more money and then you're given the bum's rush.

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agree totally...this manifests itself especially when a problem occurs that requires the company to apologise or compensate the client... standard lines of 'we apologise from the heart' followed by a perfunctory bow before dissappearing are not uncommon... the recent Toyota fiasco was a good example

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Local burgershop at Shinjuku, McDonalds, Wikipedia

Oh lawdy..haha

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It's true, you're not allowed to deviate from the menu or ask anything of the staff that is outside or their memorized phrases.

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I agree with much of this, but I disagree that Japanese customers "generally accept the way things are delivered in their vanilla form." On the contrary, Japanese customers often have a very low tolerance for bad service, and don't hesitate to make their needs known. Companies and shops with notoriously bad service don't stay in business long here.

I will say that I think it's ridiculous to expect cheap food chains like McDonald's to give you anything your heart desires. Although plenty of McDonald's will happily give you that extra barbecue sauce, or sell it to you for 15 yen or whatever.

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In the short term Japanese service is by far best in the world. Once the honeymoon is over they can occasionally drive you nuts. More often than right though they get it right. Go anywhere else and you will be reminiscing about Japanese service. I think the most important thing is everything works. The human touch is often lacking though but that's how Japanese like it.

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correction: more often than not

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Stop going to chain restaurants with automated kitchen and bar service, and you will be surprised how many of these problems disappear.

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I find it amusing when you ask what the soup or pasta of the day is, and some waiters don't know. They have to go back to the kitchen and find out.

As for fast food places, I find the service pretty good at my local Starbucks and Burger King. The staff are always friendly and plenty of smiles to go around.

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Two words for Japan's customer service. "Intransigent", "Inflexible"

I am often amazed by the fact that policies at retailers here can be so strict as to make one walk away without buying. And the shops seem ok with that. Add to that the fact that ineffciency is the real nature of pretty much any process in Japan where something that takes 20mins in the US or Europe, takes 2 hrs in Japan. Largely due to the intransigent and inflexible proceedures and policies that nearly everything here has.

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If you go to small, owner-operated restaurants they will usually give you what you want, how you want it. Someone working in a chain restaurant, paid by the hour, doesn't care about and can't be bothered indulging your foibles, especially when there's no prospect of a tip.

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Agree with the assessment of restaurants(especially the huge heads on beers) but somewhat disagree regarding general retailers, which are usually more open to satisfying a request.

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Stop going to MosBurger or MCCrapnalds people... Usually in those places (operated by 'baito highschoolers who don't know how to wipe their noses) the service is automated (that is push a button, get the cup filled, with a volume pre-set). They can't control the amount they can serve you, and that's it.

If you go to small places, nice restaurants, coffee&cake shops they will do anything in their power to serve you as you wish...

And yes, one can complain when the beer glass is half full - and usually they will repair the mistake.

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With all due respect Mr. Rogers, I've encountered the "sorry, we don't do that" attitude far more frequently in other countries than in Japan. The solution is simple, avoid chain restaurants.

My biggest two pet peeves with customer service in Japan are:

  1. Keigo on the phone - My Japanese is passable, but speaking any foreign language on the phone is incredibly difficult. This has happened a few times, but one time sticks in my memory, I asked the young lady to please use simple Japanese and she whispered down the phone that her supervisor would be angry with her is she didn't use polite Japanese. Apparently pleasing her supervisor was more important than actually helping the customer.

  2. Let slip the dogs of war... I mean service. The only problem is stopping them once they get going. When I first came to Japan I often couldn't find what I wanted, so I (logically) asked the people in the store if they had it. ... I soon learned not to do this as they simply won't stop until they locate the item. I remember one particularly embarrasing occasion where no less than 6 staff members were frantically searching for "French mustard", and even calling other supermarkets to see if they had it. I kept trying to tell them it was okay and that it wasn't essential. In the end I only stopped them by accepting some regular mustard and saying it was the same as french mustard... which it in no way was, but it was the only way to get them to stop!
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Absolutely inflexible, My wife and I were in Osaka recently and we dined in a particular pizza pasta chained restarants,I noticed the pasta dish I liked was served with parmasen cheese, I can,t stand parmasen cheese espescially the processed stinky ones that they use here all the time,anyway my wife kindly asked that they hold the parmasen cheese, the waiter quickly went out to the kitchen and came back and said it was NOT possible as these are all signature dishes and that,s the way the chef serves them. I replied" how about on the side" he said not possible,anyway i we left that particular restaurant... To sum it up the Japanese service is second to none BUT not always in the interest of the customer,perhaps if tipping was compulsory only then would customer truly be king..

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tipping wouldn't help. Service would still be "set menu"

I have had to really press restaurants to hold the raw egg on dishes. You would think they would be happy to save an egg. But no. They put it on the side even if you are 100% clear that it will go to waste. This is wasteful inefficency that plagues this country from top to bottom.

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Yes, I totally agree with the writer, customer service really is terrible. If your at Royal Host and ask for more (the ketchup packets are standard McD's or BKing's ketchup packets to reduce cost) ketchup - your going to get stares, weird looks and sometimes murmings like " can you believe that guy(foreigner) asked for more ketchup " to the waitress/waiter and cook. Actually one ketchup packet is the equivalent of a tea spoon. ---

But one thing still remains the same, if you go to expensive restaurants the quality of service still remains.

Indian,Thailand, and sometimes Chinese restaurants have excellent service. Espeecially, Thailand restaurants have great service. If you want hot french fries - McDonald's is fantastic. If you order anything else, plan to expect problems delays or whatever.

Japanese movie theaters (toho & Mycal), japanese owned fast food establishments and etc. you will (no ice) definitely get the half full glass of whatever your ordering.

Without the tipping system - I feel the hospitality industry will go downhill.

Actually, Starbucks is great service and nice people. Because their hiring process is totally different from other establishments. They hire nice and friendly people without chips on their shoulders. Last month I went to a Hamburger shop and was rushed by the cashier to order. It's the first time for me to eat there mind you, and I didn't know the menu really well. She rushed me and made a few mistakes on my order, even her supervisor told her to slow down in nihango. After I recieved the order, it came back wrong and I talked directly to her supervisor in nihango she made a few mistakes and my family was waiting to be feed. I was angry and put on an fake angry face but 20 year olds like this should chill and receive education on morals,polite manners and should learn the hospitality motto.

Moral to the story - Please research carefully about restaurants that you want to eat. Plan it out if you can in advance. usually high end restaurant have very attentative staff that will cater to your needs.

If you like eating at the low end restaurant or family restaurants customer beware !!!! Just like Americaa or any foreign country you come from - people don't give a Rats Arse about their profession or take the job as a SH!T job. So be prepared for crappy service with a fake smile.

Nice restaurants & establishments with service with a smile. Cold Stone, Starbucks, Outback steak house, Coco Curry, sometimes royal host (case by case basis), Mos Burger & Freshness Burger if you don't mind smelling cigarette smoke) Hawaiian Burger Joints, and Tully's.

In Japan i wish they had a 4 Star system for restaurants. Or a google comments page for restaurants in Japan. Anywho Good Luck out there !!!! Sorry I have to go to work have a good morning JT detectives and bloggers.

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Agree that franchise places can be inflexible but not more so than I had overseas.

As was said hit the smaller privately/family run places and you will see something different.

Still remember one episode and the restaurant still remembers me 13yrs later.

Me and the missus were in Nakano and looked for a place for lunch, found a restaurant/come Karaoke and we headed in, only like 3 people in there.

I ordered some Karaage and wife some fish, my order became a mega sized-one(for no extra-charge) as I am a foreigner and we eat a lot. Had to apologize for NOT being able to finish that mountain.

Said that even at chain-places I can usually get the stuff as I want it, try having a kid that is a fussy eater and a vegetarian wife.

Sorry @marcels but parmesan cheese is the norm here and I doubt that the chef even has any other type of cheese handy. Plus, many of those dishes are actually pre-packaged and the chef(often one guy for the whole place) only warms them up.]

Many of the smaller places remember me and often will bring my drink before I order it, etc.

As for Beers and Foam, acak home we take it serious and all glasses NEED to be marked with the required level of the liquid, Head above that is optional but we prefer no head at most about 1cm.

So if the beer-level is below the mark the place can get shut-down. ;) Ditto for many other drinks, fill to the mark THAN add nice not use Ice as a filler.

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nice = ice.

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Try finding a meal on a weekend outside the 'official' 12 - 2pm lunch period. Even in Tokyo (don't even consider it outside of the main cities) I am always amazed by the lack of choice. I agree. There is something inherently inflexible about the Japanese customer service culture that really lets it down.

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It if far better than Paris, that I will tell you.

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cryogyny.

Try getting McNuggets ourside the destined hours in the States. I hear some people go rather crazy when they can't get their beloved McNuggets. I think there was a Video on the news about it. ;)

Times for lunch, etc are a must for a restaurant as the need to prepare food(cutting/chopping, making sauces, etc) as well as get the dishes, etc ready.

Just find a place that serves lunch till 15:00 or even 17:00.

Moderator: Readers, please keep the discussion focused on Japan.

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Nice article. I agree. There are some things that Japanese service can do better though. For example Western service aims at giving the customer the freedom of choice, whereas Japanese service aims at giving the customer the best that the service personnel believe the customer wants. If you believe that you know what you want more than anyone else, then Western service is for you. If you know that you want to leave it up to experts, to provide you with the best, in season, in the most appetizing combinations, then go with traditional Japanese service. Freedom is not all fun.

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blah, blah...

What I really miss in restaurants in Japan are those long-legged beauty waitresses that serve back in my country. Yes - you usually wait more, don't get good food every time but the eye candy is there ;-)

Instead here you get your order of very hot (or very cold, as supposed) meal/drink lightning fast brought by some apron-ed obaa-chan :(

That is bad, bad service if you ask me....

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What is this? 5000 words and no examination of the cause of the current state of affairs, other than "Because Japanese put up with it." Thanks Dean!!!

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wow, complaints about Japanese service from non-Japanese people and quotes from wikipedia.................riveting stuff here.

Japanese customer service is what it is, and that's what it's gonna be for a long time. Get used to it, accept it, or just don't go out on the town.

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Why no BBQ sauce with your 100-yen burger? The profit margin on a, hmmmm, 100-yen burger probably doesn't allow for any extras, such as a 2 or 3 yen sauce.

Ironically, I think one of the things that makes Japanese customer service so nice IS the absolute adherence to the manual. This creates an efficient system, which in turn creates the consistency that we all love so much. Case in point: Which hamburgers taste best:

  1. Mc Ds
  2. MOS
  3. Burg King

Which hamburger chain is the biggest in the world? I won't bother answering this, but I'm sure you get my point: Mc Ds is #1 because of it's consistency not taste, and this fits very well into J culture. I think it's very difficult to maintain both a highly efficient and consistency system while allowing for straying from the system. And I think most Japanese people like it just the way it is. Unfortunately, there are some side effects that we have to put up with, such as not getting that side of BBQ sauce to manually turn your 100-yen burger into the more expensive BBQ Burger without the extra charge ;)

In short, I would say that, while it can sometime be annoying when faced with a lack of flexibility, flexibility can also add to the chaos of the system, which can lead to sloppiness and a very unpleasant customer experience.

MIJ

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The issue here is not really "service". Japan has great service in an efficient and courteous manner. What we are really talking about here is the difference between service and hospitality. Whereas service is a "promise to deliver", hospitality is how the delivery of that promise makes one feel. The core of hospitality is the human touch and most importantly "empowerment". In Japan, empowerment is nonexistent in the workplace especially (ironically) in the hospitality industry. In fact, and correct me if I'm wrong, there is not even a Japanese word for "empowerment". So based on this, anyone who's familiar with Japanese society and culture should understand how "service" here can be so good but hospitality extremely lacking.

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I kind of agree with the article about the inflexible service one sometimes encounters here, but as has been said above, franchise restaurants the world over tend the to be rather inflexible so the degree to which this is a Japan-specific issue is debatable.

I think the article comes off the rails a bit in the last three paragraphs where he tries to relate it to international competitiveness. For starters, citing Wikipedia like that is a bit of a dodgy practice. Its kind of a minor point, but why not just cite whatever source the Wikipedia article referenced for those stats?

Also, its a bit misleading to assume that international service providers don't adjust to the local tastes and expectations in the markets they operate in. The writer implies that the reason more Japanese service providers don't set up shop overseas is that they would provide bad Japanese-style service in those countries. I think there are a lot of other factors at work there and inflexible service is at best a very tiny one. Also, quite a few Japanese restaurant chains (which seems to be mainly what we are talking about) do have overseas locations, they just don't have the global presence of McDonald's, etc. The same could be said about French or German chains though, so I don't think it is a "Japan problem".

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Lack of flexibility for fast food industry is understandable because the margins are very low. You cannot expect much flexibility from a fast food outlet. However, I think the most interesting part of this article is at the end: it is true that there are no Japanese service industry succeeding internationally. This is very interesting. I am not a specialist, so I don't have any definitive answer, but I believe that it might be possible that the extreme standardization of customer service in Japan makes it very efficient in the low end market (fast food, etc...) and manufacturing business, but not in high end markets (luxury hotels, etc...). For example, traditional luxury hotels in Tokyo are in a very difficult situation with increased competition from global luxury brands (Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, etc...). These global brands combine excellent business organization and standardization with extreme attention to customers needs. In comparison, local luxury hotels provide a very good experience as long as you accept the standard offering. No Japanese hotel chain ever succeeded internationally. I think the author of this article hits the point: a global excellency in manufacturing business but a lacking service industry at the global stage. Overall, IMO service in Japan is quite good but relatively soulless.

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In Japan, customer is god Until the payment is made! After that, he is an ordinary man again! Therefore, we can say that in Japan, "Money to be spent" is god!

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Japan has & wants "the customer is king lable" thats not reality or Real. in the US "the customer is always right" is Taught, Bull as a customer myself i will not ask for anything thats unreasonable. its about mutual respect Bowing to the customers when they walk in doesn't help either. Telling a lady she was wrong to feed people food to a dog is NOT wrong. as seen in the J-Drama moto kare. same concept here in the US a cup Filled with ice & NO refils on another soda /different flavor, if you order a coke your refil can't be 7-up. some employeees are wrong & Rude, sometimes its the customers

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Well Dean I will agree with most of what you wrote with perhaps the exception of Starbucks, not just because I hate the place but because it is even more inflexible than most places in Japan, I can go into my local Dotour or Excelsior an meet the same staff that have been there for years and make request to hold some ingredients without a problem but Starbucks that is impossible.

Now I wrote something similar to this in a comment to another article a while back only to be accused of making it up and Japan bashing.

But if you want genuine friendly service then stay away form any large retail place the local vegetable store, bread store, sweet shop in my little shitamachi corner of Tokyo can't be beat for their service, the rest forget it "no mustard on my sandwich please" judging by their looks you would think that you just asked them to reinvent the wheel!

I have found a way around a lot of problems in restaurants when asking to leave off some ingredient I just say I'm allergic to it and suddenly their is no more problem, it amazing!

Example:

Q: could you please hold the mustard? A: No I'm sorry we make it with mustard.

Now try it this way*

Q; Could you please hold the mustard, I'm allergic to it? A: Yes no problem!

It works just about every time and for just about everywhere and everything.

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What I really miss in restaurants in Japan are those long-legged beauty waitresses that serve back in my country. Yes - you usually wait more, don't get good food every time but the eye candy is there ;-)

The last time I went to TGI Fridays and Chilli's and a couple of other restaurants in the U.S, I did not see any long-legged waitresses, instead, I saw some over weight waitresses... Unless you are talking about Hooters and etc, I don't know if the average waitress look that gorgeous there or here.. Maybe you are talking about some country that has all the beautiful girls.. dunnno. And those apron-obachan waitresses.. I guess that's gotta be one of those cheap restaurant that hire arubaito obachans :)

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senseiman-

I kind of agree with the article about the inflexible service one sometimes encounters here, but as has been said above, franchise restaurants the world over tend the to be rather inflexible so the degree to which this is a Japan-specific issue is debatable.

i agree. and i would not expect those arubaito waiters/waitresses much, either.. although i'd never been told no when asked for more ketchup, though!! i love ketchup and always get extra :)

And everyone-- keep in mind that waiters/waitresses are not getting tip by providing extra services while in the western countries, they'd provide more because they'd get more money/tip for that ;)

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Hey if you just look at two industries in Japan, Hotels and electronics you will see the reality.

Japanese hotels act like they are doing you some sort of favor by letting you stay there by first charging per person instead of per room or at least double occupancy like most of the rest of the world and unless you are staying in a very expensive hotel don't even try to ask for a second towel or anything of that sort because you will not get it and if they by any chance say OK you had better be ready to go down to the front desk and get it yourself!

When it comes to electronics well once something is no longer under warranty you might as well toss in in the trash if it breaks because if they even agree to service it they will charge you just to look at it and if they can repaired it it will be probably cheaper to purchase a new one!

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I never have any problem custom ordering. I find most small restaurants very flexible with that. Before ordering a beer, I look around to see how they are served. A little lie often does the trick. Tell them you are allergic to bubbles, or order a bottle. You get twice as much from a bottle over draft.

I did have interesting moment though years ago when I could not speak Japanese. I wanted a snow cone/crushed ice without any flavoring. After I finally got it, and went to pay, they said it was service. So I asked why, and they said because it is not on the menu. Pretty cool.

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If a shop wont deviate in the slightest, I usually say "Ill take my business elsewhere" and then ask them "You dont mind that?" and they say, shoganai. Very stupid business sense. Extra pickles please, no can do. These kinds of stringent rules are just silly. People just cant think in this joint. I never have a problem with my beer though. I just tell them I buying a beer, not bubbles. Same as a cold drink. I like ice but not packed with it. I`m buying a cold drink not ice. Unfortunately, it might seem a little abrasive but oh well. Some service places have to wake up.

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In the UK they dont get tips like in the States/Canada and wont expect it in a family restaurant but if you ask for something a little different youd get it. Similarly, if you asked the waiter how they were, theyd have a bit of banter not look at you like a escapee from the mental asylum. Cultural - yes, just depends on what you class as customer service, Japan wins hands down for Service, for the Customer bit give me the UK anyday. Paris has got to be the worst, no service or customer, if you dont like it eat elsewhere! Sterile is the only word to describe it. Irashaimase (theres noone in a 10 meter radius of you), is a classic point. Looking at noone walking around a shop saying it doesnt equal customer service. I think a relevant point is that Japanese business is just plain stingy, its the way the system is. They dont give anything to anyone as a gesture of service. I had a wedding, 30 guests came to stay at the hotel for 2 nights, not even a complimentary packet of crisps. We couldnt eat the meal at the reception as we were too busy (so didnt order any meal for us two), they asked us to pay 3000 yen for 2 tuna sandwiches we had to eat in a backroom whilst we changed clothes!

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I remember a time when I was checking in at the airport and my luggage was 2kg over. The attendant was being a super b*tch and wouldnt let me take anything out or pay extra to check it...until I saw her fat leg resting on the scale. oh wait...that was in Canada. Or this time at a restaurant where my food took hours and the waitress was no where to be seen but still demanded a tip...oh wait, that was everywhere I've been in the western world Or the time I didnt look like I was gonna give a tip, the bar maid literally threw my change back at me. I took back the tip I already placed on the bar and left. but, wait that was in Montreal.

How about basing an article about customer service while using examples of Japanese restaurants. McDonalds/Starbucks may be in Japan but they are using the playbook from the U.S. Either way...bad experiences can be found anywhere in the world. What I love, is the lack of tipping. Not because I'm cheap, but because if yell "Sumimasen" in any restaurant in Japan and you get the entire staff scrambling over to your table. With a "TIP" based system all you get are selfish service staff who only attend to "thier" tables (even though they share the pot). Your waiter(ess) is busy or in the crapper and your sh*t outta luck until they come back.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

DC2020, your analysis was right on the nose. As a youth employed by Disneyland, I was instructed that, for example, should a guest drop their cola, to proffer a new one on the spot. The few cents that cost was well worth the goodwill. The problem lies in the management, and where the management is good, service is excellent. My ancient phone recently suffered some sort of circuit board seizure, and when the Sharp service center not only was able to repair it but did so cheerfully - and free of charge! - they acquired a lifetime customer in me.

But the classic tutorial on how to get ones way at a restaurant remains with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces: check it out on Youtube.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

nah....i prefer the way as it is now. can't imagine if you're queuing up and each customer has own request for a small deviation from the menu. How long you have to wait?? Check the menu, request the meal, eat, then pay. that's it.

If you think all the restaurant must do some adjustment on the menu for you, it means you might need to open your own restaurant then:)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't usually comment on this side of the site - I didn't even know my password. But this article resonated strongly with me as I agree with it fully. Service here is polite, but not good. If they make a mistake, you get a 'sorry', and that's the end. There is no effort to rectify the situation, or to try to make any indication that there will be an effort to improve in the future or anything. It's a simple 'sorry' and as far as they are concerned, that's the end of the situation.

Back in my homeland, service was hit and miss. Sometimes the staff was not friendly, the food not good etc. But the one thing is consistent is that if you bring this to someone's attention, there is an effort made to rectify the situation, to leave the customer satisfied that if things didn't go their way, at least some effort was made to make things better.

Japan service - cold, sterile, unflexible and polite.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Couple of points. About the apologizing thing, that's what Japanese expect. When Japanese complain about bad service, they don't want compensation. They want an apology. Big cultural difference. As for the glass half-full thing, as someone mentioned it's because it is automated by the machine. You push it once and it gives out a certain amount of the drink. So to give you a full cup they'd have to push the button twice. Why should you get twice as much when you're paying the same price? As for the being inflexible thing, yes it bothered me at first. Stop making so many demands or stop going to chain restaurants and your problem is solved. As for Japanese service companies, they did a huge documentary on TV of a company that is growing quickly and very successful in China. They trained the staff working in one of the tall towers in Shanghai and also trained some staff working at the expo. Do your research, Dean. And try looking at other websites, not only wikipedia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Went to an internet cafe in SHibuya and the only spaces available were in smoking section. I asked the staff, "well, since you don't have anything to offer me, can you tell me where is the closest internet cafe (which by the way is the same chain, Bagus)?" To what I got a, "ahh doshio kana? I don't know if I can tell U something like that. Let me call my manager." ...what!??? And asking for something different than what's on the menu? Well, the author of the article already pointed that out.

The one thing I like is waiters don't bother you every minute (I'm being sarcastic) like back in the USA. On the other side they would never remove dirty dishes from a table unless asked.

Oh, and no to "tip" and you'll still get a good service. Don't tip a waiter or a bartender back home and you'll need to have a serious talk with their manager.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I dunno. There are plusses to the japan way. I don't generally "need it my way" or want to customize my meal. Also, I don't care for the constant attention you get back in the states...

Anyway, the connection with japan's service culture and its success outside of japan is kinda dubious because you localize service anyway!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i like how i can grab any waiter/waitress in japan by just saying sumimasen or raising your hand while in the states i would have to look for my waiter/waitress and when the restaurant is busy, the waiter/waitress does not come back to your table when you need them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You don't go to McDonald's expecting the food to have any taste - why would anyone expect the service to be any better? (In Japan or anywhere)

(Exaggerating) I've had more customer service in Japan in a month than in the rest of the world in a lifetime, free extras, custom variations, help and guidance, but then I don't go to American chain stores. Maybe it's also that I know how to behave. If you think you're a king, expect to be treated exactly according to the most inflexible reading of the rules. (Again, not just in Japan but everywhere)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Had a friend visit, lactose intolerant. No Starbucks to be found, went to Excelsior. Soy latte in menu board, asked for a soy mocha. No can do from clerk, no can do from manager. Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors, like the Banana Royale, instead of fudge topping prefer strawberry topping. Again no can do, mind you this is in Nishi Azabu/Hiro-o, gaijin central. McDonald's like tartar sauce with fries, willing to pay extra. Again, no can do. Made 10,000 JPY bets with colleagues both Japanese and gaijin to score tartar sauce as a n extra condiment. All confidant they can do it, all end up losing bet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The article is spot-on IMO. Just Sunday my fiancee and I had lunch at one of the Wolfgang Puck restaurants. We love their Cobb salad, and asked if they could serve it first, and hold our entrees about 15 minutes, so we could enjoy the food. Sure enough -- out came the entrees within 5 minutes of the salad. So, obviously, even Wolfgang Puck's service manual has been "Japanized" to the point where it is assumed everyone wants all their food at once, even if they request differently. Truly disappointing. Same thing happens when you order an appetizer at most "international" restaurants. It will invariably show up along with the entrees.

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Customer service is "great" in Japan until you actually ask for something special or have a problem. Then it becomes a horrid experience. I prefer the service in the UK, the US, Canada... over Japan. At least in these countries I know I will get what I want and if I don't, a quick complaint to the manager will either a) get it done b) get it done and get the staff in trouble or c) a discount on the meal, article or service I am paying for.

They workers in Japan are soulless. Nothing like being "greeted" (aka screamed at) from the staff who can't even bother to look at you. Combinis are the worst for this. Follow the rules but nothing personal about it all.

Good luck returning things - GAP Japan tried to charge me 3000 yen to have a zipper replaced, Gucci Japan tried to charge me 6000 yen for having my perfume pump fixed. Both issues were faulty products. When I refused to pay and threatened to contact the offices abroad and the head office in Japan, they gave way and I got what I would have gotten right away in another country. Unreal and when I think of how many Japanese will pay up it makes me sick.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As for service at a store I cannot complain about it. I had to return a few things including a camera (sat on it and cracked the lens) at Yodobashi and they exchanged it for another one. Plus the day I bought new the sales staff gave me his employee discount or so he said(20%).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

years ago i learned this about japan. asked for a sandwich without mayo - as i hate it - and was told that all sandwiches come with mayo they are made that way - you mean you make all the sandwiches at once in the morning? - and they actually said yes. i really really don`t like the "service" here and will go out of my way to eat in a food court - at least you order just what you want.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Any McDonalds in Japan will sell you BBQ sauce for 10 yen, they are probably thinking you want it for free.

Don't blame the country it is yourself that is different, your idles and upbringing don't apply in Japan or any other country so don't expect them too, this is Japan and that is how it is, getting frustrated about it is like getting angry than a banana is yellow, that is how it is no matter if you think it is wrong or right.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree with everything said in this article! It's good to know I wasn't the only one thinking this, haha.

Customer service in the U.S. can be awful, but it can also be personal and wonderful. While Japan is consistent, it's consistent to the fault of being rigid. My favorite dining experiences have been places where the servers were warm, friendly, and just plain fun. It's hard to get that kind of experience in Japan, unless you already have some kind of personal connection with the people there. For example, my husband is a chef, so when we go to restaurants where he knows the people there, we get lots of special, personalized attention.

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I found a lot also depends on how you behave and act.

Given the BBQ example ask: "How much would it be to add a sachet of BBQ-Sauce". Good change it will come free.

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Once a waiter dumped half a bowl of soup in my lap. I got a quiet sorry, a new bowl of soup which arrived 10 minutes later, and I had to ask for a damn towel to clean my soaked jeans. Place: The Basamichi chain in Saitama.

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First of all- please stop referring to mc Donald as to a restaurant. Mc Donald is jut nothing, fast food chain. It is not a food by its definition. Regarding customer service- I would say it became much better. In good restaurant they always accept some “exceptions” from orders and ready to provide tailor made service. In Osaka in oysters’ bar/ restaurant they were ok when I asked them if I can have some dishes from menu and combine them as I wanted. Same goes for beauty shops and high class end boutiques. I was desperately looking for a one ring, and they brought it from Nagano to Tokyo, my size, exactly what I wanted. No, you can say whatever you want, but for me Japanese customer service is really the best ever.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've had both good and bad customer service here. The two things that bother me most are the lack of smiles & genuine comments and how slow it can be. The substitution/omission ordering thing can be annoying but sometimes but I've found it's about 50/50 that you can get what you want.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have had great customer service in Japan. I have had moments of frustration too, where inflexibility reigned. But for the most part, I have been to places where they are usually willing to accomodate. But then again, I am not referring to McDonald's or other cookie-cutter type places. Try going to places that are either higher-end international chains (ex. Lawry's) because they do have higher standards and are trained to go the extra mile for customer satisfaction. Of course high-end = expensive, so go to one-off type restaurants (ex Baan Thai in Kobe) and Mom and Pop type places. Small places that don't have to adhere to some head office protocol is where you are going to get the real warmth, flexibility and true customer service we all want.

To be honest, most of us living in Japan tend to put on rose-coloured glasses with regard to what certain things (such as customer service standards) were like "back home" vs. Japan. I just recently arrived back home to a slightly rude awakening with regard to how customer service standards don't quite measure up to what I thought I remembered. And they certainly didn't measure up to Japanese standards, that is for sure.

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In Japan, the customer is god.

Another Japan myth the world and finally the Japanese believed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I find most of the "service" in Japan dull and robotic,without heart and soul. I find the endless parroting of set phrases annoying and frustrating. Like being asked at 5 minutes to closing time if I want to eat the large loaf of bread I just placed infort of the cashier if I want to "eat it here, or take it home." I usually resist the temptation to tell her not to ask such damn stupid questions. Another pet peeve is to be handed long straws with the 1 litre packs of milk I have just set before the cashier. Despite the mindless repetition of meaningless phrases that have been learnt from their manuals, the service is at least polite, if dead. Overall it is probably better than the UK, where I come from, but at least in the UK you know that the person in front of you is vaguely human.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Saizeriya is a chain and completely cookie-cutter yet my girlfriend has been able to get them to replace tomatoes on top of one of the pastas with nori in multiple locations.

I realize in a lot of places they aren't so flexible, I think it's just hit or miss. As others have pointed out, looking at Japanese culture through your own country's perspective is always a foolish. This isn't America...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have Japanese staff bending over backwards for me wherever I go. I was in an Italian restaurant recently and my partner and I wanted to share one of the dishes. They brought two empty, heated dishes to the table, and then the main dish on a wooden trolley; the chef personally asked how he would like us to cut the meat (60/40, 70/30, etc.). Two days ago, in a Tempura restaurant, asked the waitress to change all of the seafood/fish on the set menu and swap it for vegetables. "OK", she said. Bish, bash, bosh. French restaurant, we wanted to take the half-finished bottle of wine with us. They put it in a bag with a ribbon for crying out loud. I'm admittedly quite the gentleman and invite such service due to my respectful demeanour and considerate eyes, but still...where are you all going wrong?

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"but at least in the UK you know that the person in front of you is vaguely human."

You can't have lived in London then!

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This reminds me of the fox and the grapes. They offer you possibly the best service in the world, and all you can do is go looking at the little nuances derived from the cultural difference. So you want a beer served exactly like in your homecountry? So go ask for it in your homecountry. Sounds a little brusque, but I'm meaning well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Service in London is wonderful and have no idea why people complain so much about it. If you get crap service, you can complain and something will be done to make you happy before you leave. Japan NEVER tries to make up for bad behavior, mistakes or their inflexibility. The customer is NOT king in Japan and anyone who has lived in Japan long enough is well aware of that - regardless of where you eat and shop. I tend to find it is the new people who go on and on about how great the customer service is in Japan. Most of the people I know who are "lifers" are more than happy to say it is consistent (and cold but polite) but certainly not friendly.

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Customer service in Japan is just a reflection of broader society. It is far preferrable to what you would get in the US.

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One hot summers day a few years ago I went into a local fast food restaurant (or was it a coffee shop, I forget) in Meguro and ordered a large orange juice only to be told they do not serve large size orange juice, even though sitting on the counter in front of me was both large and small size disposable cups. I then said I will pay double for a large one...of course the answer was no. After a few snide comments from me, and out of frustration I ordered two small cups of orange juice. When they arrived I grabbed one of the large empty cups, and stood at the counter glaring at the shop assistant as I poured both small cups into the large cup....needless to say I was fuming. I hate how inflexible things can be here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The fact are simple in Japan your local individual places serve you great they will change anything you want and how you want if possible.

Most chains and large places are inflexible and the real expensive places unless you flash your platinum MX will treat you like crap.

Local is the best even my local doctor has opened up on a Sunday just to give me my meds when I ran out and I really needed them, just called and he said meet him at his office, opened the door got a few days worth of my meds handed them to me told me to go home take them and rest and to come back later in the week to pay.

And people keep asking me why I live where I live and not in the "gaijin zones", well take a guess!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I suppose you were unaware that I'm an unashamed wind-up merchant. I actually cook and eat at home twice a day, have never used a credit-card in my life, and live in a reasonably modest city in west Japan.

You're quite right: perhaps 90% (or even more) of restaurants catering in European cuisine in Japan are laughably dreadful. Which is why I go to the 10% which aren't.

I'm not all bad you know.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You can get plenty of friendly, personal service in Japan. I wouldn't expect it at a burger joint or a chain coffee shop, but try going to a small, family-owned store, or a local izakaya, or a small bookstore and you'll get taken care or really well.

I don't know why people would try to get something outside the norm from a fast food place. What do you expect? The person you are working with is a hourly paid baito worker who only cares about their job to the extent the manager wants them to. The manager doesn't care about doing anything outside the normal. I don't know why this would be surprising to anyone. If you got to McDonalds in Canada do you expect them to serve stuff that isn't on the menu?

There's plenty of cases where I can get frustrated by customer service in Japan. There's a much higher percentage of cases in my experience in other countries than Japan. If you want to focus on the bad experiences instead of the overall good ones, then I suppose you can go through life with that sort of negative outlook.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Lack of flexibility for fast food industry is understandable because the margins are very low."

Just roughly, I would say that the gross margin on a large coke at McDs is about 2000%. The people making coca cola syrup are printing money. And if that seems unrealistic, then why are more and more places giving free refills? Because if you can drink ten large cokes from one cup, they are still doubling their costs in revenues and wishing you good luck with your diabetes problem.

Namaman had the orange juice problem because the margin is really low, and might have gone negative about two summers ago, actually. If it is any gratification, you can be reasonably sure that they lost money by irritating you. OJ concentrate is not just water and corn syrup, as coca cola is.

Marushka says McDs does not belong in the discussion, but it is the largest service company in the world. And it has been for a long time. Why is it off the table?

Japanese service is tops. Don't test them or confuse them with your selfish requests and expect them to do it for money. If you have a relationship, you ALWAYS get what you want. If you are "some guy" you are getting what is on the menu. It is just that simple. I have no complaints.

Heart and soul? I don't make friends with waiters and invite them to my house for the holidays. I want to spend quality time with other people, my guests, and just have people do their jobs. I really really like it that way. Quiet consistent reliability....

Don't believe me? Try this on for friendly and hospitable...

"How you guys doing?" "So did you leave some room for dessert?" "Hi! I'm your server Darla. Let me tell you about the specials for today...." "Are you finished there? Or are you still working on that?" "Would your kids like some ice cream?"

And please don't forget everyone, that if capacity is limited, all of that gee whiz friendliness for Dean Rogers and his family makes it that much more likely that someone will mess up an order or ignore some other customer that much more. The further you get from consistency, the more you raise costs for everyone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My favorite customer service in Japan is at the post office. When I'm in Tokyo, I buy woodblock prints wherever I find them. Oftentimes, that means they won't be shipped back to the States by the seller. I walk to the nearest post office, and the young ladies behind the counter will cheerfully go out of their way to cut down a box into a sturdy flat pack that's perfect for my needs. Not just in Tokyo, either - I've found the same level of service in Matsumoto and other places. Just wonderful.

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I think what you need to understand about service in Japan is the often rigid working hierarchies and that superiors expect that their staff members do exactly what they have been told. That's why they tend to create huge manuals with rules and rules when trying to improve their service. Add to that that in places like chain restaurants you have mostly hire-and-fire temp workers, including the site "managers". These people have no decision competence and are scared to hell when they have to do something with the slightest prospect that their boss might not approve it. They will do what they are told to do and do that well. For anything beyond, job security is more important than customer satisfaction.

On the other hand, when you ask something special to a person which does have the power to decide by himself, they will go to any lengths to fulfil your wish. This is where Japanese service is unbeaten and the customer is treated like a god.

I don't agree with the conclusion of the article that the relative weakness of the Japanese service industry in the international arena is based on the way how they provide service. I rather think it is a result of the Japanese education system, where foreign language skills and cultural sensitivities are undervalued.

BTW, I'm surprised how most of you seem to frequent chain restaurants or fast food places. I tend to stay away from them whenever possible, in Japan and elsewhere. The gaijin better-safe-than-sorry syndrom?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

S7ro9kGm3aQ - you had me there for a moment... was gonna fire off a rant about you being pompous and elitist!

I always look at it this way - in Japan, many of these staff members in cafe's, family restaurants etc are getting paid not much more than 750 Yen/hour! That's less than $10 Aussie/hour! Back home NO-ONE would even consider doing a job for that meagre price! And guess what? The girls here at my cafe always smile, usually don't muck up the order - and best of all - always look HOT! I actually love service in Japan...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm sorry Mr. Rogers, but you are completely wrong. It is a typical westerner's attitude to think that you can go in to a store and get what ever you want. Those BBQ packets cost extra money as well as not filling a drink with ice. Your attitude reminds me of people from 3rd world countries where the people will do everything they can to get the most out of businesses like asking for no ice to maximize the amount of drink, haggling the price down all the time, taking extra packets of ketchup to take home, grabbing a handful of candies on the way out of the restaurant... etc.,

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Look if your looking to make changes or have something different then how they do it then stay away from the chain places (but I still have to ask what is so difficult to just leave off the mustard on a sandwich).

Now I have 2 children and going out is expensive so the "family restaurants" are the most affordable but absolutely inflexible but as someone previously mentioned "Saizeriya" is a great place, cheap OK food and for some reason you can request small changes and most often then not get a smile back with an OK no problem.

"I would like my minestrone to be served at the same time as my focaccia so it is still hot and I can eat them together and hold the mushrooms in my escargot, my son doesn't like the onions on his moules so please hold that too"

And they do it every time in every location, always with a smile and that is what frustrates me.

Why can "Saizeriya" seem to do this but the rest can't.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So many replies from people who ought to know better - if you've been in Japan for even a short amount of time one knows that you encounter these difficulties when you ask for something that was outside the parameters of their programming.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've lost friends going to restaurants with some people.

Kirin City, all about the beer. A special order maybe just once? A glass without the "topping" maybe one time? They ceremoniously pour and add the head at the end of a very long pouring process. I tell the manager of my interest in beer. I've been home brewing for years. He says no. Inflexible. Their beers are fine but the head is coming out of a different tap. The glass is left standing on the counter five minus waiting before it's added. I'm not asking for more, I'm asking for less. But that's alright, I don't suck.

At Starbucks it's all about coffee. I say no ice and no lid please, - cause I don't suck. I take it black and drink from the rim. Ice gets in the way, it dilutes the flavour. Half empty and I say, can't i please have a little more, sir? Nope. Calculate cost of the ice in comparison to the coffee. They keep the lid. I take it straight. No creamers, no sugars, napkins or stirs are used on me but still no. I'm a recognized regular but it's not gonna happen. Inflexible. SB dumps coffee by the liter if it sits too long and they think I'm being cheap? When I'm dumb enough to order ice coffee, like when it's really hot, I often end up choosing not to purchase what they present and I walk across the street. Aska, it's a negotiation. It's business. If the shop doesn't have what I want to want, there is no obligation to buy. The idea of tipping is that you will make sure, even before it reaches me, that I am going to like it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's called McDonalds. Ask them for breakfast at 10:31, or to charge you for a combo meal but don't hand you a drink (it's more expensive not to get a drink, and they will charge you unless you take it).

Japan is actually the same as most of Europe. In many countries in Europe, they literally have a line on their beer glasses and they're sure as hell not going to fill you over it. Why would they give you free drink just because you saved the the cost of frozen water. It's not just Japan, and you're not even making sense here when you're talking about beer. You're talking like an American. Getting more for your money isn't some kind of a right.

In the US sure they'll bend the rules for the loudest customer, which actually means even more people are getting screwed than in Japan. But I know you can't wrap your head around that thought.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This article can be summed up as: OMG America, stop being so inflexible and offer me breakfast at 10:31 please. Because you know, McDonald's. And another thing, you better give me twice the beer as all your other customers. Giving one customer more beer than every other customer is good service where I come from. Everyone deserves to be better - oh wait does not compute I am an American.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

allot of people on here saying go back to your country and get it done that way. the fact of the matter is i think it's a load of crap that if you don't want ice in your drink you are getting half a cup of drink for the price of buying a bottle full to the top of the same thing just because they didn't want to give you more without ice. I love saizeriya because i can get as much as I want to drink. I drink more than I eat and if I want more juice, soda, or tea then by god I'll have what I want with or without ice. On of the points of this article is that they may say they are treating their customers like Gods but telling their customers they can't have anything their way is not treating them like a god, or a king or any type of royalty at all you are being treated like a commoner when you are paying good money for what you are asking for. I feel terrible for people with food allergies in Japan I'm sure they get turned down on allot of stuff when they need a change in what they order.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

burakumindes- In america waitresses get paid below minimum wage and how much they make usually depends on how much of a tip they can get from their customers. doing whatever the customer asks and doing it well can get you a better pay check at the end of the day. people are different. We're not all robots we don't all want the same exact thing the same exact way as the person in line before us.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have ofter gone to cheap places in Japan and while my requests sometimes puzzle staff, they always give what asked without a problem. If at McDonalds and having fries i will always ask without sauce and with ketchup and have been in family restaurants and asked for no head on lagers without a problem.

Sevice overall is hit and miss. If you go to a small place and they get to know you, you can often get freebies and they will serve how you wish.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As with several other posters here, I agree with the author to a certain extent... I too have experienced inflexibility at McDonald's and MOS Burger in Japan, but on the other side of the coin, what else would you expect? It's McDonald's!?!?

Seems to me when it comes to McDonald's, or other chain stores, we have a choice of loose and lax standards with little consistency of quality and cleanliness but a lot of flexibility (in the western world), or rigid and by-the-book procedures with high consistency of quality and cleanliness but little or no flexibility (in Japan).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Seems like many Gaijin complaining about something or another...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"space_monkey: The human touch is often lacking though but that's how Japanese like it."

Not only the Japanese. Many customers from outside the USA/Canada appreciate a professional attitude by the wait staff, as opposed to the fawning, tip-sucking performances by N. American wait staff. I am not a good friend of that wait person, I am a customer, paying money to eat, and I don't appreciate the ingratiating attitude of N. Am. wait staff.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe you guys got the "Sorry, we can’t do that" treatment because you don't know how to ask properly?

In Japan, I've always had everything I requested and even more.

Even in MacDonalds, I always ask for hamburgers without ketchup sauce in it and nobody ever refused.

The thing is that japanese clerks will do mostly anything for rare clients who smile and request thing with humbleness (which is not the way the average japanese customers act).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gotta agree with you Burakumindes

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I somewhat agree with majimekun.....I notice that some Japanese clerks do serve you your reasonable "request" if you actually are in a good mood and ask in a humble/polite way.

Most Japanese customers are hardly polite to those who serve them (I know that the Japanese believe that customers do not have to be polite to those who serve them, but still....).

Of course it is not that much better in America either, although it is considered impolite to not say "Thank you" when you receive your food from your servers (but some still ignore this).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I just want real milk in my coffee, not those horrible creamer things. I can get in in Starbucks, and Tullys, but virtually nowhere else. Excelsior have just clued into it and started allowing it, but in many places I have even offered to PAY for real milk before, and they refused and let me leave rather than making a sale AND extra profit.

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kirakira25 at 08:27 AM JST - 14th October

I'm with you on this one it kills me that my GF orders "milk tea" and it comes with real milk and at the same time I order coffee it comes with those palm oil based creamer things.

But as I previously stated you can usually get around this by saying you are allergic to the creamer things and Miraculously they now let you have milk! I do this all the time and I cannot remember when the last time anyone said no. (unless it a fast food joint like McD they just don't have milk)

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The writer's wife probably has lived abroad quite a while if she agreed and even smiled/laugh re: the portion of the iced tea she got. When I've said similar complaints to a Japanese person here they will say "This is Japan!" or the default "shouganai"

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the mom & pop restaurants here offer very nice & friendly service. as well as minshuku's & ryokan's (japanese inns). as many here have stated, you can't, or shouldn't , expect much from a chain shop.

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What an absurd article! The author goes to the cheapest places to eat and expects to get extras free? Go back to the basics of the article and ask yourself would you rather be served by the polite and often smiling staff in Japan, or the sullen and miserable staff that I always seem to encounter in the US/UK. Oh, and ask those sullen staff for an "Iced tea without ice" and just wait for the reaction!!!! If you were hoping to get more tea for your 120 yen your are just plain daft. Same with the beer. Are you not aware that they sell by the volume of beer/tea and not by the size of the glass? If you want iced tea without ice, you'll still only get 250ml of tea. If you want beer without the awa, you'll still only get 250ml of beer and some free air on top where the awa should be!!

The customer IS king because the customer can vote with their feet. For those who don't understand that, the Darwin awards are the second door on the left.........

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I think the author has too much whine with his meals.

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good article and I completely agree and those that cant understand he's using McDonalds etc as an EXAMPLE. McDonalds here I can get BBQ sauce for free if I request it. I would rather genuinely friendly staff and If I get bad service here I don't go back. Id rather the variation of service than soulless standardized service.

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McDonalds here I can get BBQ sauce for free if I request it.

That's nice. I can do that in Japan, too. More whine?

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McDonalds sucks. I miss wendys where you could get as much ketchup napkins ect as you wanted.

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Heres a story..i walked into a nearly empty izakaya with 2 others. They told us to sit near these rowdy tables. I asked if it were ok to move to the other end where there are no people and could relax more for it was Japanese style tatami setting. they said we only have a table for 3 near those people the one i requested was a table for 6. It was 10 pm and near closing time and nearly 10 other tables empty but all for 6. I just walked out. I bet ya, if the owner was there, he would have gladly arranged it. Ordinary workers cant think for themselves and that is why i prefer going to small pop and mom shops that give me "service"(on the house fribies) and whatever i request (even if it is not on the menu) and for a very good price.

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Sounds like this guy is a whiny socialist trying to eat into (pun intended) the restaurants' profits. How dare he come up with this little whine fest! Get used to it buddy. Companies have a right to a huge profit AND that comes at your expense. Get it! Sheesh. If this just wasn't so true, you know!

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One think I got to say about japanese service(and that includes cops too).

They are always friendly regardless of how obnoxious a customer you are how much you want to break the rules, etc.

Seen guys walk into a place NOT buy a ticket from the vending machine and order what he liked never looking at the menu and he was served with the same smile, etc as the other customers. Granted it was a tourist.

Few "local" foreigners in there just shook their heads.

Not something I would expect to see overseas.

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I totally agree with this article. I've had some really bizarre arguments with shop staff and (even worse) taxi drivers. To whit:

  • Almost any restaurant that offers a lunch set includes tea or coffee with the meal. I'm allergic to caffeine, so I tell them I don't need a drink - I'm fine with just water. The response I get at 99.9% of these places is that I HAVE to take either tea or coffee, even if I'm not going to drink it. This is obviously an insane waste on their part, but I've totally given up on it. If they want to waste a cup of coffee, that's their problem.

  • A chain cafe near where I was working had a really tasty-looking soup, but it was only available as part of a particular set that (yep) included tea or coffee. It's a small bowl of soup, so not really worth paying 800 yen considering I wasn't interested in the tea/coffee. Could they sell it a la carte? Absolutely impossible.

  • Most taxis you clamber into ask you where you're going and then ask you how to get there. How the hell should I know? I figured I was going to get there in a taxi. I don't expect them to know every street (though the taxi drivers do in London, where I'm from), but they could at least use the sat-nav. In the end you get a fare that can be anything up to double what you'd expected, and sometimes the driver even blames you for not knowing the route. Infuriating.

  • Arranging a wedding - that was a nightmare. We saw about 30 venues, and I didn't expect the staff to speak English, but whenever I asked them to stop using keigo and keep their Japanese a bit simpler: refused. They were worried about getting in trouble for not being polite enough to the customer. As if ignoring a reasonable request like that is polite!

And so on. I agree that service with a smile is more than we're capable of in the UK, and I'm happy to encounter friendly staff at all times of day and night. I don;t expect special treatment for being a foreigner, and I speak pretty good Japanese and mind my manners. But if you have some reason to deviate from the set pattern, you're screwed.

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I wonder if the author of this article has eaten anywhere other than fast food chains like MacDonalds. These places operate under small margins so its understandable for the folks that work there to pretty much have a manual of do's and don'ts.

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I've actually just come back from a chain restaurant (Wako Tonkatsu).

Ordered a set, noticed that it came with rice (I wouldn't wish Japanese rice on my worst enemy), asked the waitress not to bother give me rice with the set; she asked me if I still wanted everything else (pickles, etc.), I said yes, she said OK, smiled (SMILED!) and left.

She even gave me an extra oshibori because I got sauce all over my fingers.

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I think the author should try to be a little less "American" and a bit more "global" you know "when in Rome"

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Dean. Aren't you being a one percenter here, though? How many people are actually seeking or wanting the customization you're looking for? Maybe it's not worth their time and effort to keep (what in the industry are called) "pathological" customers. These are the kinds of customers who are a time/resource sink and ultimately are unprofitable customers.

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Well I think if you eat at mcd's, you got what u deserved!

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An interesting post above - difficult to reconcil:

"I don;t expect special treatment for being a foreigner" - but want wedding venue staff to speak to you in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable?

"really tasty-looking soup" - but not worth 800 yen?

"I don't expect them to know every street" - but they should know where you want to go?

I'd trade the "by the book" attitude anyday if it means I'm treated politely and (often) get a smile. There really is an awful smell in many posts here of "me, myself, I".

As I mentioned above, the customer is king and you can let shop owners what you think by not using their facilities. As many here have already sussed out, it is only the minority that actually perceive this as an issue, so nothing changes - which is fine by me.

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ssslithe-

Most taxis you clamber into ask you where you're going and then ask you how to get there. How the hell should I know?

that is because often enough customers complain when drivers choose a route that the customers don't think is the best, so what they (drivers) are asking is not really how to get there but if there's any route you prefer. I usually tell them omakase shimasu , meaning I'll let the driver choose which route to pick, unless I know some short cut.

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I didn't expect the staff to speak English, but whenever I asked them to stop using keigo and keep their Japanese a bit simpler: refused. They were worried about getting in trouble for not being polite enough to the customer. As if ignoring a reasonable request like that is polite!

and I speak pretty good Japanese and mind my manners

Hmmm.. I don't think those people were using any difficult keigo, but I'd assume they were just using polite forms, and if you claim your japanese is pretty good and if they thought your japanese was good enough that you would understand polite form of the language, then i don't know what the fuss is. and I am guessing that THEY WERE using simple japanese to you.. it just wasn't simple enough for you and it just means your japanese wasn't pretty good like you say it is.

If they thought you wouldn't understand, I am sure they would make it the simplest it could be ;)

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Just as food for thought :)

Many of the systems they use in japan have set items and they can't change your order easily and bill you properly. You're causing alot of grief and wasting alot of time for the staff ;)

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Combinis are the worst for this. Follow the rules but nothing personal about it all.

tmarie, you want a "personal" experience in a conbini? The staff there are concerned with not making you wait in a line for the cash register, not smiling and making small talk with every customer. Try going to a convenience store in the US, where I'm from : no greeting, no smile, don't even get up from the stool they're sitting on behind the counter.

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tmarie-

Good luck returning things - GAP Japan tried to charge me 3000 yen to have a zipper replaced, Gucci Japan tried to charge me 6000 yen for having my perfume pump fixed. Both issues were faulty products. When I refused to pay and threatened to contact the offices abroad and the head office in Japan, they gave way and I got what I would have gotten right away in another country. Unreal and when I think of how many Japanese will pay up it makes me sick.

i've returned things i have bought at stores in japan and never had problems and never paid money for that. Have a store replace zipper? that shouldn't be free.. and if you can show that it was already broken when you bought it, then they usually replace it for free (i've personally had that experience) ;)

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bicultural-- Maybe that's why no one actually really uses convenience stores in the US except to get nachos and a slurpee when you've got the craving. ...At least, that's the only time I go.

I rarely say anything in restaurants and the like if I want changes, really I just enjoy prompt service, which is usually what I get. It is sad when you feel like you can't joke or talk with the staff, because it all does feel rather mechanical. They're just doing their job, nothing more. Though I've noticed with foreigners sometimes it can be different? Some of them are amused when I come in and try to speak Japanese and they're trying to speak English, haha. And it made my day once when a waitress commented on something I was wearing, just out of the blue. I felt less like another sheep being served and more like a human being, haha.

Also, totally agree-- on a local level, things are totally different. I think you can be pretty picky and a lot of restaurants will bend over backwards for you.

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Thanks to everyone for all of your comments. Good to see.

I always try to respond to a chunk of the comments, so here we go (beginning from most the most recent post progressing back). I won't get back to everyone, but do want to say I read everyone's posts, and appreciate them all in favor or not.

On a side note: I will be doing some presentations at the ETJ expo's in Tokyo and Osaka. Tokyo is on the 6th and 7th of November and is free to join.

Junnama: I rarely if ever ask for exceptions, and when I do I try to be reasonable in my expectations. I think the frustration you see at times with people here is due to the fact that things that could easily be done and are not. m5c32: I only ask for the rare and occasional exception, as do most of the people I know. Not always.. = ). Ice, awa, things within reason, and I don’t do it very often to be honest, but it does not stop it from being frustrating. Frank7446: Having traveled to over 50 countries and lived abroad near half of my life, I am reasonably global. I still can’t help by hope that requests within reason as a paying customer can and would be at least considered if not fulfilled.

Shawnth: Having worked for several Gaishike and been a CEO for nearly a decade in Japan I have eaten at a pretty broad range of restaurants both high end to low end. The experience is better at high end restaurants but not as good as you might think in terms of flexibility. I would agree with everyone about Saizeriya, and your local mom and pop for flexibility they are outstanding, but don't get Japan into the international arena. Zenny: Generally speaking as said in my article I still prefer the Japanese service over that of the west. It is the last 10% and lack of flexibility in the big chains that hold Japan back internationally speaking. At least that is my view. That is why JT is so great. So many people can share and debate their views here. TheRat: Good to see you back, and glad to see you have not lost your humor = ). Mummet: Good to see someone understands that McDonalds was an example only. I happen to have a degree in Japanese, and have lived in Japan for 10 years, so I am quite sure of my ability to communicate clearly and politely a reasonable request. I never make a fuss, just move on, but it does not stop me from being frustrated.

Thetruthhurts: I do enjoy wine, but prefer beer. - ) Gyouza: I eat everywhere, and I have no expectation of anything free. I always offer to pay. My point was that even when I am happily willing to pay, way too often we just hear no when it would be easy and simple to allow the customer to pay for what he or she wants that is slightly different than what is preset. We are not talking HUGE differences here. Simple, small and reasonable. If you think a beer that is 40%-50% foam and pay $10 for it is ok, then no problem. Limboinjapan: Good to see you back. Have had the same experience (milk tea and coffee) Majimekun: I speak 1st level Japanese, have been on live tv here quite a few times etc.. I speak very good Japanese (without trying to sound arrogant, just a fact). Language is not the problem (though it may be with some). I honestly do try to be honest and smile when I ask for anything off menu (hoping it will help…) once in a while it does and believe me it is well appreciated. Bcbrownboy: Can’t say I disagree with your logic. Professional is good. America just has a much bigger range of service from MUCH MUCH worse, to top of the charts. Japan does solidly good service very well, but has difficulty adapting to individuals(the overall point of the article). Tahoochi: Right on the money. Good post. Stevepfc: you’re a lucky guy.
UsagitoSaru: Agree.
Bdiego: On the beer comment. Not trying to get more for my money, just trying to get a beer, not a glass of foam. You serve a Kirin City beer in a pub just about anywhere in the rest of the world and then tell the customer NO we can’t reduce the foam you will loose the customer (in a UK pub, you might get it back in your face especially on a footy night)… ie the point of the article is inflexibility of this nature outside of Japan does not fly. Thank you for your perspective though. Stipend: yup. Aska: I always try to pay for extras. I don’t expect anything “extra” for free. I will say I am not happy about paying for 6oz of beer with 6oz of foam at a high rate though. Mc Donald’s used to allow you to pay 20 yen for a packet they just stopped it a few years back. You may get it at a few places, but most don’t. What gets to me is when I am happy to pay for a small change and then inflexibility on the service side just says no when it would not be an inconvenience, and I am willing to pay way over the value. Gonemad: I would agree that there are many factors beyond the flexibility and yes the education system might be contributing to this. Klein2: Good to see you back as well = ). Agree in general with the low margins. I agree Japanese service is tops (in 80-90%). Gotta agree that American and Western servers can definitely overdo it (Got a good laugh while reading your bit there).
limboinJapan: No question local is the best. But local does not go international, chains do. Even Mcd’s manages to Japanize their service here into the realm of inflexibility when you just don’t encounter it as much (caveat there..) as in the rest of the world. Usaexpat: I agree. I love the country and almost all of the service here. Call me wishful in that I think it can be even better, and hope it does.

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Klein2: I propose to call Mc Donald’s and other fast food chain off our discussion because it is simply not a food. It is a chain. I don’t want that it sounds arrogant but you get what you are looking for. If you go to fast food chain, it will remind any way fast food quality, in some places it can be “ better”, in some it can be worst, but idea is the same- no tailor made service. It will be different story when you go to the family owned restaurant where people are interested to get and to keep their customers; where there is personal communication etc. that’s why I propose to compare things which are comparable…

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The good news: In Japan, the customer is God.

The bad news: This is essentially an athiestic country.

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I was at a game software store today and I wanted to sell a game and buy the next one in the series.

They told me they would give me 700 yen for the game, but I had to give them my personal details and show my license. I did this and only then did they tell me the game case was slightly scratched and the manual had some minor wrinkles; they could only give me 600 yen. I reluctantly agreed.

I went to pay for the next game in the series. They wanted 4400 yen. I asked to see the game, and I told them the case was scratched and the manual had some minor wrinkles. I would only pay 4300 yen. The cashier chuckled and said, "Fair enough."

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Nessie.

I know it well.

I often buy/sell 2nd-hand books and Games at Geo, Book-Off, etc. Most of the times they are fairly flexible on prices both selling and buying.

You get to now pretty quicly what they look out for. Like clean the disc before you sell, etc.

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*know

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Those BBQ packets cost extra money as well as not filling a drink with ice.

Indeed, not ripping me off by selling me the drink that is advertised instead of the frozen water that is not advertized does cost extra money. But if they insist on giving me half ice and half drink in Hokkaido in midwinter, it will cost them more by losing a customer.

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The product is what it is, whether it be a beer with big head or half ice... If you want more buy a bigger size or buy 2. Asking for more for free isn't to do with customer service :)

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That's why I usually go to Subway. Get it as you want it.

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Very interesting article. On the one hand, you can say that Japan is very good at service but lacks the hospitality feeling. Very often you get the feeling that the cashier people are actually robots who have memorized 3-4 phrases and can operate (perfectly) 2-3 tasks to fulfil your requests. Thats it. Other than that, they get so much confused when you ask something else (even a simple thing) than sometimes its funny. Of course, we must NOT forget to mention that this usually happens either in chained restaurants or usually busy places. Countryside or small local restaurants is a different case.

On the other hand, i can't help but feel satisfied by the quality of the service as it is, the lack of tips and the friendly smiles (even fake ones). This is something that no other country's service can be compared to Japan's.

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I'm not so upset the service industry workers as I am appalled by the customers. I've Japanese customers rant and berate service staff for the tiniest mistakes--in fact ESPECIALLY for tiniest mistakes. Even with when they are at completely fault, they seem to get their way.

There have a few times when my girlfriend has messed up or broken sometime I purchased. As it was her fault, I'd expect her to pay. Instead, she tells me "Take it back to the store and get a replacement". Huh? They weren't at fault. "OK, then I'll do it." And she does get the replacement--for free. WTF?

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I don't drink for medical reasons but I will sympathize with the beer thing, Now many of my friends like to go out to "pubs" on a few occasions they send their drinks back because of excessive foam and they always get into an argument.

One time I had enough I left the "Pub" and went to a store nearby bought a measuring cup and returned to the "Pub" now the menu says 1 pint and 1/2 pint so I pored the beer into my measuring cut and it measured less 360 ml now no mater what you say or which pint you use (USA 473 ml, Imper, 568 ml) and the fact that these place call themselves British or Irish pubs and are selling beer from those places I would expect that a "Pint" of beer be a pint or don't call it a "pint".

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"I've Japanese customers rant and berate service staff for the tiniest mistakes--in fact ESPECIALLY for tiniest mistakes. Even with when they are at completely fault, they seem to get their way."

Saw this twice this week. Customers just borderline mentally ill.

OK. Marushka, if that makes sense to you, fine. Most people know that the business is called food service and McDs dominates it. You are right in saying it is not food. It is food service. Grocery stores sell food. Go ahead and make up your own definitions if you want and do your comparisons.

It might be illustrative to share this. I used to know a guy. I admired him. He was a McDonald's manager who made other people into millionaires. One of his most interesting policies was to accept ANY coupon or promotion from a rival shop for something like equivalent value. It was insane! I watched him do it over and over and I thought he was a lunatic because there is no compensation for that: 100% shrinkage if you know what that means. His logic was that if he did not do it, the customers were just going someplace else anyway.

Most people... almost all people... have no idea how business works. This guy had it down. A good business model will do that most of the time, but this guy knew service better than anybody I have ever known.

Exact same company. Exact same policies, but his take on service worked in the US and Japan's definition of service works here.

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"I've lost friends going to restaurants with some people."

What a great comment. I sure have. I take friends to places I really like and places I have been going a long time. The staff know what I want and although we don't trade life stories, I am comfortable there.

I made the mistake of taking a friend of mine, who can be a world-class (truly) jerk to one such place. In fact, I am sure many of you know this guy. Trust me. You do. Anyway, he got slighted somehow and started making people miserable in my place. It really ticked me off. The wait staff, then the cook, then the owner, and me along the way. Everything started getting gloomy and dark. I got him out of there as fast as I could and took him to a bar, where I guess he really wanted to be anyway.

Remember the guy who killed his family with a shotgun because his eggs were not cooked right? Well, it reminds me that something that is far worse than bad service is spending a lot of time complaining about bad service.

How badly can an egg or a cup of orange juice screw up your life? I suspect it has more to do with the person than anything else.

Thanks for rebutting DRogers!

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I think my years in central Europe, and many years out of N. American prepared me to return to Japan, where the machine runs smooth. I just don't have the time to mess with staff. I want to enjoy my company and food. When I go to the same restaurant time after time, it's different. At my favorite restaurant, I get a nice hug from the chef every time. Something I never got "back home."

DRogers: you have given some excellent rejoinders. Thank you for keeping up with your readers, very refreshing, and unusual here. Happy dining.

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Dean;

Thanks for the replies and take my advice give up on Starbucks and get to know the staff at Dotour or Excelsior once they know you they will make changes just the way you want.

Unlike Starbucks much of the staff at these two places are "seishain" and care about their jobs and regular customers.

Some time back on two different jobs I would go into the Excelsior near my work place every morning at the same time I'm a bit set in my ways on some things so my order rarely changed and no matter how long the line up was the staff always spotted me in line they would give me a look and I would nod back so that by the time I reached the cash I didn't even have to order just pay and pick up seeing they made it while I was in line!

Now that is service!

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Unlike Starbucks much of the staff at these two places are "seishain" and care about their jobs and regular customers.

Nail on the head. Huge difference between mindless バイト work and 正社員.

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This dates me, but I remember trying to get the Japanese Post Office to allow me to put an extra sheet of air mail paper in an airform (remember those?). It didn't weight significantly more, but it was the fact that there was something extra in there that resulted in an impasse.

My long-suffering Japanese colleague who interpreted all of this must have thought I was nuts (although perhaps it was entertaining watching a foreigner try to do something no Japanese would ever attempt). The discussion ended when they photocopied the page out of their manual saying that nothing extra could be in an airform.

The up side to this is that the Japanese post office generally provided much better service than Canada Post ever has (I realize that's not much of a standard to beat . . . )

The best part of service in Japan is developing a long-term relationship with a small shop owner (in my case a bicycle shop) and getting second-to-none service.

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After reading the article and some of the comments, it is apparent that Okinawa is much different than 'mainland' Japan. That is most likely due to the American influence (U.S. military) for the past 65 years.

Most of the complaints I read here just don't apply to much of Okinawa, thankfully. All part of 'island life'....

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I totally disagree with the article. In my experience there are far more grumpier and inflexible people at McDonalds in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia than in Japan. The first two "big" examples that he mentions are "a local burger shop" and "McDonalds". I wouldn't expect too much from them. I don't think we go to these kind of places expecting to have our expectations exceeded service-wise. Customer service in Japan is, generally, by far the best in the world. Of course it helps to speak Japanese. I am sure non-English speakers have a far tougher time in Western countries than non-Japanese speakers in Japan.

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aedfed at 10:28 PM JST - 14th October

You were lucky they were that polite no country would have let you put and extra anything in those airforms, I used to use them to communicate with a family member living in Africa and even back home they didn't allow it, I tried it once only to have it returned saying I would have to place regular airmail postage, that wasn't Japan that was the international agreement at the time.

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At restaurants I think tipping would loosen up a lot of grey matter, help grease the wheels.

At department stores service is amazing. Japan should patent that, bottle and export it.

With bike shops I've found good and bad. From watch you like you're a thief, don't want you in the store places, to can't find the problem get out of my store places, 2 weeks later a call they forgot to order your parts places, to falling all over themselves with great service fast work and done to perfection. I've about given up all my tools to the last place. They can do everything. Have I found a shop like this one outside of Japan? Nope.

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Once you get use to the so-called "standardized" service in Japan, the part of you wants something extra. That's just human nature. Step off to another country (western) for the time being and you just don't care about how "flexible" they may be because at that point, you long for the courteous/professional service that you had experienced in Japan.

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Their Keigo is annoying, but the services are great. Despite of this,I only realized that they have the greatest customer service is everytime I visit other countries.

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This "flexible" thing might depend on the person asking. Seriously, my girlfriend asks for 割引 EVERYWHERE and sometimes gets it at places you would never imagine, such a Bic Camera. It's a lot easier to say no to some random foreigner than a super pushy and aggressive local.

Anyway, one thing I really appreciate is the quick service you can get in China. Every thing is just BAM, next customer, BAM, next customer.... That is until a Japanese national comes along and gets all picky, and takes 5 min just to pull money out of their wallet.

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Man has bad experience in McDonalds, concludes Japan is bad.

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I completely understand. On my last visit to Japan, I had the same situation at Mcdonald's as the writer except the cashier said ok he will do it and gave me Ketchup instead. He did not want to say he cannot do it or sorry he just skipped over it. Despite this, I felt that at other stores that the generosity in customer service was indeed sincere. While at a sneaker store in Ikeburkuro, one of the workers there actually told us that they were out of the sneaker that we wanted, however the other store a few blocks away had it. He allowed us to time him while he ran to the other store picked up the sneakers and ran back with them. You would never have anyone do that over here in New York. It left my friend and I with a highlight that shocks everyone that we retell that story to.

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Fishy - the pants had never been worn, were bought the week before and I have no idea how the zipper broke between the time I tired them on and put them on at home. Definitely manufacture fault and a zipper should never break within a reasonable amount of wear. I worked in a clothing store while in uni and we would repair ANY of our products for free.

The perfume thing was a huge long story and I dealt with a crappy sale's clerk that I actually complained to their regional manager - a friend of mine.

I laugh at how I am "selfish" for saving places money when I ask for things like 'no dressing" or "without" ice. It is NOT being selfish, it is asking for decent service. I have never had an issue with something like "no ice" in a Macs at home and actually getting a full drink. They make huge profits and can fill up the cup! You can actually ask for Macs and whatnot back home to add and take things off burgers and whatnot and they will do it - unless you've been rude to the staff.

Japan has issues with customer service and understanding that flexibility would help them out - I do wonder if this is not the reason why they are starting to tank and have so many issues with international business practices. Had the US not propped them up after the war no way in heck woudl they be where they are now in terms of service and business.

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Its not a matter of service or no service. There are two points you overlook.

1) By asking for something "off menu" you are asking for something the clerk has not been trained to do. However silly and obvious the request may be, it involves actual independent thought on the part of the person you are working with. THAT is what is "muri" (impossible).

2) You are foreign. Without getting into the ethics of it, locals are usually simply not as willing to go as far outside the lines for someone who is not local.

Ive heard and experienced firsthand local inability to serve a FULL coke with no ice, or a hamburger with light mayo instead of a mayo patty bigger than the beef beneath it. But these stories are lost on locals when you try to talk to them about it. Because it doesnt happen to them (usually) unless they are WITH YOU.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As I was buying my lunch bento today. I chuckled to myself thinking: I should ask them for a different bento than the one they prepared and see what they tell me. :)

You all should know most restaurants in japan fail and most shops at chain restaurants don't make money either....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tmarie.

ANY business has established rules for providing service, etc. Those are also calculated for providing materials and are upset by shortfalls or overstock of materials, etc.

In todays world those rules are OPTIMISED for maximum profit while maintaining a certain level of service to customers. Those includes buying and storing stocks/supplies, etc.

So employees that upset that apple-cart often find themselves outside with no job, hence why workers who already earn little(bottom wage) are NOT interested in doing extra as it might cost them their job and income.

Hence as was mentioned before you find service like that often at franchise places, etc and less at local levels. Most franchise places don't care about their workers as they xx-resumes of guys/gals willing to work for them waiting in the drawer.

Those companies care only about the bottom-line, loose a customer they got plenty coming in and if a branch falles below the bottom-line it gets closed or put under new management that tots the company line.

That is the reality.

A good Manager will smooth those little things out but there are very few good managers out there. Met MANY Managers and most were blaah even in top-companies.

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Junnama.

Agree, many places fail because they think it is food, etc and will sell itself.

Seen many guys start a business and provide a good product but they get nailed for focusing too much on big clients, not being professional, etc.

Best advertising even today in the world of online is customer testimonials and word of mouth. One upset customer cause a LOT of damage today.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There's apparently a vast online community where the customer evaluates each restaurant. One complaint could be the kiss of death. Somehow, I doubt much of the complaints will be about too much ice in your drink or too much head on your beer.... Local tastes being what they are.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kuroyama at 01:03 PM JST - 15th October: "But these stories are lost on locals when you try to talk to them about it. Because it doesnt happen to them (usually) unless they are WITH YOU."

Funny but it seems to happen all the time to my Japanese GF with or without me when she request water without ice, 90% of the time they still bring it with ice.

And that begs the question: Why would it happen to locals just because they are with a foreigner?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is why I think the author was being lazy. There is nothing beyond a cursory examination of why service in Japan is the way it is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Customer service at Japanese banks can be terrible as well depending on the request. I was shocked to learn SMBC charges JPY 800 for a simple statement of your savings account balance and will only provide same day processing of the request at the branch where you opened the bank account. If you go to a different branch it takes 1 week to provide the statement. In the US I could receive a print out of the statement in less than 5 minutes free of charge. It's insane!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Junnama at 01:14 PM JST - 15th October:"You all should know most restaurants in japan fail and most shops at chain restaurants don't make money either...."

This is true everywhere but in 19+ years here I have notice this, just about every bar or restaurant that I know of that was opened by a Foreigner has made money and succeeded, that is up to the point where they became so popular that they are bought out by some Japanese company and then more often then not tanked!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I can't think of two of the most famous foreign restaurants in Tokyo that I know for a fact lose/lost boatloads of money. One closed recently and the other is still open. The owners are the folks who have given me the most insight into the business.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kuroyama-

You are foreign. Without getting into the ethics of it, locals are usually simply not as willing to go as far outside the lines for someone who is not local.

I don't think it's the matter of your being local or being foreign in this case. Would you really think waiters/waitresses bring water with ice or without ice depending on your ethnic background? Would you think waiters/waitresses purposely put ice in your water when requested not to because you are not local? I just don't think so.... (sigh).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I know the article focuses on food places, and shops.

How about other services when ordering online(I do that a lot), etc.

Most of the stuff I order online I either pay COD or Combini-barai, now I can't recall shops overseas that will deliver stuff(not even small sums) and let you pay up to 14days later, etc.

Ditto today I had a new fiber-optic line installed as the new line is faster and cheaper. They called and said we will be there in a few(they were early). Guys came in did their stuff(no fuss, no involvement from me) fast and I was up and running by the time they left. Internet downtime was the time it took to move the lan-cable between routers.

Even the takyu-bin guy will call me and ask me if he can deliver now(while he waits outside the apartment).

Plus, I found the guys here if they say they will be here that time they will show-up on time(give a few).

Get furniture/appliances delivered they will take the rubbish back.

Even at the DIY, etc shops most will deliver free(as will most shops) if purchases are above a certain amount. One shop we bought a LOT of lattices in the morning and had them delivered in the afternoon.

For me there are lots of great services here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

takkyubin guys and movers in japan are EXCELLENT!!!! :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Zenny-

Even at the DIY, etc shops most will deliver free(as will most shops) if purchases are above a certain amount. One shop we bought a LOT of lattices in the morning and had them delivered in the afternoon

yeah, or some DIY stores let you borrow their truck for free for up to a couple of hours if you buy something big :)

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There were some good follow up comments. Thanks everyone it has been a good topic that I think most everyone enjoyed reading and commenting on.

Nessie: Funny athiest comment. I would have to agree if I lived in Hokkaido. Simonfox: I am also a big fan of Subway. Simple, easy, healthy and no problem about exceptions, or customization. Antonios: As stated earlier. In general I absolutely love the service in Japan, but can't help wishing for that little bit of flexibility that would truly make it great. This applies to just about every service industry here, not just restaurants. Klein2: I don't see to many rants by Japanese customers (sober ones at least). Drunk ones yes. - And your welcome for the rebutting Klein. Nice hearing the periodic appreciative word = ). bcbrownboy: Your welcome on the rejoiners. I love the food in this country. They do process and perfection like nowhere else in my opinion which translates into some of the best food in the world (any kinds, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, you name it).
Limboinjapan: I am a non smoker so Starbucks is just about the only place where NO smoking is allowed ALWAYS. Nothing against smokers, I just want to enjoy my coffee and conversation free of smoke and the Excelsiors and Doutors in my area all have smoking. knews: Thanks for the commentary. stipend: I actually love the fact that you don't have to tip here in Japan. The US for example these days is terrible when it comes to tipping. You have to tip good just to get ANY service much less good service..
nigelboy: Completely agree with you here. My argument is not that Japan has bad service, but that things could be done so much better in one small area and then be truly amazing. But in general I agree, I prefer and do appreciate the professionalism even with its short fallings. Senki: Keigo never bothers me = ), and to be honest it is quite fun to use.

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irishosaru: Now that is quite unfair. I am a huge fan of Japan (I don't have to live here, I choose to because it is a fantastic place to call home), and if you read the article and my responses that is pretty clear to anyone who read the whole thing. This is true to the degree that I have a home here, and several businesses here. Zenny11: Harsh, but pretty accurate. I would add that a good friend of mine (CEO and well published Japanese author) says it like this "the people you hire at a lot of service businesses have to be trained until they cry. The reason is he states is that they are mostly lazy kids with little ambition, often barely graduating from high school, and if you don't snap them and reshape them, your business will go into the toilet". His point is that this is the best they can do with the "material and level of education" of the people that they hire. I disagree a bit with this in that a great culture, with great leaders can inspire ordinary people to be extraordinary. It is not easy, but it is absolutely worth the effort. Overall not a bad summary though from you in my opinion.

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Zenny11: A common expression in business that backs what you are saying is "The little things are the biggest" When you can do the little things really well, the big things are done easily and without difficulty. I find that true running a services business myself. The little things are HUGE for our customers, and to be quite honest for our employees as well.
Junnama: What is the name of the community! This sounds like a great idea for JT to run a site in English within JT for restaurant reviews. I'll suggest it at the next board meeting = )..
Junnama: I am required to try to write the article in less than 1000 words. It is not laziness, I am just limited in space and the number of words I can use and thus the number of examples I can use while trying to effectively communicate the topic being discussed. To be honest if you make it much longer people start scanning and missing the points that you are trying to make(there are a number of comments in this chain that this is quite apparent). By the way, this was a 1500 word article.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This article is 100% on the money. Unless you are friends with the owner of the place (and it cannot be a chain), they will not deviate from the set of instructions they've been given. It's even that way with ordering -- usually completely devoid of personality. I'll never forget when I couldn't understand the word 以上 the first time I ordered pizza and instead of paraphrasing or trying to explain the person at the other end said, "Ijyou de yoroshii desuka? Ijyou? Ijyou? Etttooo... Ijyou?" until they started crying... literally... and the manager then did the same thing (minus the crying), when I finally hung up (learned 'Ijyou', though).

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Unless you are friends with the owner of the place (and it cannot be a chain), they will not deviate from the set of instructions they've been given. It's even that way with ordering -- usual

Poor example smith. That's like saying a Japanese guy who's unfamiliar with English who ordered pizza couldn't understand phrase "Is that it?" I wouldn't characterize the pizza guy being inflexible or "not deviate from the set of instructions" because he/she kept repeating the same phrase over and over.

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Again, asking for no ice or no dressing isn't asking a lot. Neither is asking for extra ketchup at a fast food place. It isn't too hard to understand that if you get no ice, your cup should be full.

I am not only talking about places like mac. It is very common to ask a family rest place for dressing on the side "back home". You shouldn't be met with a blank stare and a run to the manager to ask. If these staff were actually taught to think for themselves these BS issues would go away.

Expensive restaurants will certainly give you whatever you want as long as it doesn't cost extra, why can't Macs extend that? I worked in sales back home and in Japan and if you want to retain customers you will give them what they want within reason. No ice is certainly within reason. Getting something fixed due to poor quality on the makers fault is within reason. Asking for extra ketchup/dressing on the side or not at all is within reason. Shame that some of you can't get that and I hope none of you go into sales with your attitudes that we are being "selfish".

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It isn't too hard to understand that if you get no ice, your cup should be full.

Expensive restaurants will certainly give you whatever you want as long as it doesn't cost extra

Those two sentences are contradictory. Drink+Drink does cost more than Drink+Ice. If you ask for a drink without ice, there's no reason you should get more drink at no extra cost.

No ice is certainly within reason.

Of course it is. 'Replace the ice with drink' is not.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

DRogers

Nice to see you, the author of the article, responding to people here regardless of whether they left positive or negative comments. It would be a much more interesting forum if that happened more often.

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Cleo, considering it costs about 2 yen to fill up the glass and they hand out napkins, straws and paper coverings on trays, I think it is. Add in the paper and plastic bags for take out, 2 yen for a full drink isn't too much. I really hope many of you never go into sales.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

just try my kind of place , they will make food at ur choice just go to rambeti com

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've worked at a restaurant during my years as a highschool,college student and early 20's in America & Bartender stint in japan (parttime side job). And I can tell you I fill up the glass of beer with less foam or fill it up all the way when a customer requests no ice. Because I have common sense and I know I want that customer back to my restaurant. Any means neccesary !!!!!

In America, the motto is " the customer is always right !" Even though I met some crazy,luny toons,brownnose, walked out after they ate the meal, weird, cheap skate, evil, cold sadistic, nice & friendly customers of all sorts. I've never worked at McDonald's or any fast f. chain restaurants. I've worked family/party restaurants and high end restaurants. We (the restaurant) staff always try to look out (cater) to the needs of the customer.

There are pamplets,books,handbooks and from (and some restaurants tests about catering to the customer) each restuarant having detailed discussions and solutions in what to do if a customer ask for something.--

In America, all restaurant staff are trained to be " FLEXIBLE " with what the customer wants. Japanese people are not good at improvisation or being flexible. We do it ONE WAY and that's it !!!!

alot of japanese fast food and restaurants are not flexible. Japanese people are not good at improvisation or being flexible. We do it ONE WAY and that's it !!!! ALL foreign people should know this when living in japan or their little space bubble(nose high personality / on base) they live in.

japan will always be 36th best at attention to detail with what the customers needs and flexiblity. Japan loves the conservative strict handbook guide. Don't DEVIATE FROM IT.

One thing I would like to address that Japanese restaurants are good at: 10-15 minute wait or less on food. Also the food is very hot. In America the food is not so hot 5 times out of 3.

Once you order a meal the response time is very good & super hot. I've never waited 30 minutes to an hour for my meal, in America ( this happens alot ) Or the food is like ice or luke warm. I waited an hour and 20 minutes for my meal one time (last year summer vacation). I got a great discount after it, but still 1 hour wait is ridiculous. No, I'm not talking about waiting for an availble seat or reservation to an popular restaurant. Even though the cooking area in a japanese restaurant is smaller by comparison from a american living room size cooking area in America. Nande ? Why ?

Another thing, Japanese people are rude to restaurant staff because they know the wages are crap !!!! I hope all JT people say, " arigato " or some sort of gratitude because these people need it also. Just maybe the way the take care of you (serve you) is alittle bit better than the other customers. Politeness is good.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What Cleo said is technically correct, but only proves the point of the article. The customer is not king. I've never been charged extra anywhere outside Japan when I've asked for a soft drink without ice, and I get a full glass. Most places wouldn't consider it worth irritating a customer to refuse or change extra. In addition, because there are probably so few customers that request "no ice" there is no significant monetary loss to the restaurant.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

nigelboy: "Poor example smith. That's like saying a Japanese guy who's unfamiliar with English who ordered pizza couldn't understand phrase "Is that it?" I wouldn't characterize the pizza guy being inflexible or "not deviate from the set of instructions" because he/she kept repeating the same phrase over and over."

Not really. I realize the person was probably a little nervous (it was clear she was dealing with a foreigner), but it's easy enough to say, "Sore dake de ii?" or something off the books to get a similar message across. I'm not saying at all that the problem was with the person not knowing English (in fact, as I pointed out, I learned a valuable bit from the exchange), it's an inability to stray from a given script for most. And of course it's usually young and/or new staff -- the few I've met who could/did paraphrase or break out of character were managers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Those two sentences are contradictory. Drink+Drink does cost more than Drink+Ice. If you ask for a drink without ice, there's no reason you should get more drink at no extra cost.

The menu doesn't say "Coke and Ice" though does it. It just says "coke". The shop will usually have some cups on display showing you the size of drink you will receive. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that cup to be full of drink rather than half drink half and ice is it?

Asking for no ice is the same as asking for more olives at subway to get an acceptable amount instead of the "1 slice of olive per sub" the servers are told to give you in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love hearing "irashaimase" when I enter a restaurant.

I hate hearing that closing music and the words "we're closing- please leave"

I love cheap set lunches for 1,000 yen with starter, main and drink (sometimes including dessert)

I hate hearing "it'll be 20minutes before you can enter the restaurant" (lunch I understand but for dinner… why not welcome the customer in anyway and have him pay for a drink-- don't let that business leave)

I love yelling out "sumimasen" across the restaurant/bar when I want something!

I hate NOT getting that thing I want when it's "off menu" eg "awa skuname" (a little foam on my beer)

I love it when they have "ebisu" beer.

I hate it when they ONLY have "asahi".

I love it when they say "maido" at the local yakitori shop when you're a regular.

I hate it when they seem to never recognize you at the "combini" which you go to every friggin' day!

I love Dean's article.

I hate being told "if you don't like it you can leave this country".. or "nihon no bai wa".. grrr.

And I bet that if you didn't know the Japanese phrase "awa skuname"-- you do now and will use it everytime you order that "ichiban-shibori" or in my case "ebisu"..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wouldn't characterize the pizza guy being inflexible or "not deviate from the set of instructions" because he/she kept repeating the same phrase over and over.

I would. The pizza guy could say, 'Do you want anything else?' 'Is your order finished?' 'Anything else?', etc? Paraphrasing is not rocket science and most people get the hang of it by the time they graduate kindergarten.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't like it when someone is being inflexible in Japan and you say why? and they answer..."It's our rule" and then you ask why is it your rule and they just keep repeating over and over it's our rule...Like that's the reason: It's our rule because it's our rule.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm sorry Mr. Rogers, but you are completely wrong. It is a typical westerner's attitude to think that you can go in to a store and get what ever you want. Those BBQ packets cost extra money as well as not filling a drink with ice. Your attitude reminds me of people from 3rd world countries where the people will do everything they can to get the most out of businesses like asking for no ice to maximize the amount of drink, haggling the price down all the time, taking extra packets of ketchup to take home, grabbing a handful of candies on the way out of the restaurant... etc.,

Aska, I think you miss the point. These stories are just an example of the Japanese mindset and how frustrating it can be sometimes for people of a Western mindset when they are living in Japan. This discussion is about trying to understand both mindsets by discussing it. I met two Western people in the last week who were visiting Japan on holiday and both complained on their first day in Japan about inflexible situations similar to this that left them completely frustrated, frazzled and baffled. One was at a hotel and another was trying to rent phones. Both said they almost went berserk trying to deal with apparent Japanese inflexible service. I explained to them that the Japanese were not actually being inflexible but that simply they communicate and think differently to Western people. Being consistent is good service to Japanese. Predictability is gold in Japan. Following rules is polite and sacrosanct. I also explained that sometimes to Western people the Japanese people's way of delivering service can sometimes drive you insane but more often than not its impeccable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

that's why you order a bottle of beer only sheesh

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love it when the teenagers behind the counter at McDonalds speak in keigo to 5 year old kids trying to order a cheeseburger by themselves. This is a true story.

Kid: cheeseburger kudasai.

McDs: kochira de no omeshiagari desu ka?

Kid: unn???...

McDs: kochira de no omeshiagari desu ka?

Kid: cheeseburger kudasai.

McDs: kochira de no omeshiagari desu ka?

Kid walks away and gets mum to order for him.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

oops sorry, no "no" in between the de and omeshiagari.. basic translation is

"will you be dining in our establishment sir?"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Much of our daily communications such as greetings and asking for things happen with the much vaunted “body language” within the cultural “soup/stew”. Understand that your average wait-staff are not trained in international politics—if this comes as a shock, perhaps, you are missing the point. When you, the international columnist, insist that the Japanese “live up” to its own—the sharp steel edge to your barely hidden agenda creeps me out. You are the thug, wheeling your “weapon” to intimidate the least able to fend themselves. Your behavior is akin to the Chinese in the recent Senkaku incident.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Props to the author for the responses to the comments here in this discussion.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have found Wiipedia as a pretty reliable source to start researches but you need to check the links cited as sources/source material.

Wiki is just a gateway and to get a feeling for a topic for me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think it's worth commenting on the keigo thing. When I was feeling pretty confident in my Japanese after a couple of years of study, keigo STILL threw me for a loop. I don't understand why, particularly for stores that know they get a lot of foreign customers, they can't drop the damn keigo.

Also, my biggest pet peeve when I don't understand some keigo ... is when I don't understand, so they repeat it again exactly the way they said it before. And when I STILL don't understand, they either repeat it yet again or mime or try broken English. Or give up. It's like there's just no alternate "say it another way" option.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are always ways to escalate your problem where staff are not complying, provided your request is a reasonable one. Ask for the shift manager, outline your problem; if the manager will not comply go over his head - to the complaints department if it is a major company. As many people have pointed out, the old couple running the small stand will often be more willing to help you than the arbeit-er unused to dispute resolution.

Beer will massive head is prevalent here - this is due to the tap construction: pull for beer, push for foam, as opposed to the western world where beer pulling is a skill. But if you're only getting half a beer when you ask for without foam, or half a drink when you purchase a drink (other than from a vending machine) feel free to kick up a stink - you pay for a product, and if the product is not what you pay for, don't pay, or get a replacement.

Examples where cheese is being left on food despite customer requests, or customers being unable to change the drinks on their meal are asking for trouble, particularly in cases where the customer has an allergy.

Be friendly, use a smile, and point out the logic in satisfying individual requests.

To those who can't understand keigo, learn it. It's a skill worth learning. I haven't seen a reason justifying not knowing keigo in any of the comments, and I believe it is a reasonable expectation of someone living in Japan to understand language used in the wider world. Not knowing the language leaves you without a leg to stand on in disputes - if you can't communicate your ideas, you can't win any arguments

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I know that when I was in Japan, I wanted to be treated like everyone else, not an outsider or alien. Asking staff to use different language with foreigners undermines the efforts of foreigners who learn the language, and is just another reason for the 'us' and 'them' mentality. I expect no less of persons seeking residence in my country (Australia).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree, keigo can help with that extra mile when dealing with staff. Depends a lot on the situation. I follow Andrewfs51's common sense flow chart (above). And remember, when you make a complaint your really are doing them a favor. Anyone who is in business will understand what I mean.

Here's a challenge for every one for if they run into a situation at 7-11: Try asking for the manager - or - ask for a customer service number for their parent company, 7 & i Holdings so that you can take it up with them later on at your leisure. Like pigs from a gun!

No one has mentioned product support in Japan. Again, it's amazing. I call up the maker of my 10 year old AC and I speak with a real person! who knows my unit both inside and out. Take that in NA! And whatever you buy, batteries are included! My parents never had it so good - lol!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As for the glass half-full thing, as someone mentioned it's because it is automated by the machine. You push it once and it gives out a certain amount of the drink. So to give you a full cup they'd have to push the button twice. Why should you get twice as much when you're paying the same price?

Because you purchased that size of a glass, if I purchase a 2 liter bottle of coke, I expect 2 liters of coke, not 1 liter of coke or 1/2 a liter of coke or 1/4 a liter coke but 2 liters of coke.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Those BBQ packets cost extra money as well as not filling a drink with ice. Your attitude reminds me of people from 3rd world countries where the people will do everything they can to get the most out of businesses like asking for no ice to maximize the amount of drink

Ya but those BBQ packets aren't going to turn a sale from a profit to a loss, it will still be a profit, and if it costs more tell them it will cost them extra, don't tell them it can't be done. Also for the drinks, ah like more than half the cost of a drink is the ice because the ice is the most expensive part of the drink, if you get a drink that is all drink you actually make more in terms of profit plus the drink is already cold to begin with so why should I get ice in my drink when a non ice drink is already cool to begin with?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Getting more for your money isn't some kind of a right.

BS on that only americans do it, Europeans do it all the time how? By going on strike to get less working hours while at the same time more benefits and higher wages and a lower retirement age and your going to tell me they are not trying to get more for the money and they claim its their right to demand those things from the company.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It doesn't matter if the ice is more expensive than the drink or vice versa, if the order is 'No ice please' that is not the same as 'More drink please'. You still get the same amount of drink. If you want more drink, then order another one. If you order a burger without pickles/onions/lettuce/whatever, would you expect an extra patty to make up the difference?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great comments. Not complaining about service in Japan. In general I love it but have some funny stories.

  1. McDonalds. Biking to work one day (not usual) I planned a post office stop and a McD's breakfast because I love hotcakes. Knowing breakfast is until 10:30am I have plenty of time. First MDs said out of hotcakes around 9:30. 2nd one said same thing around 9:45. 3rd one said same thing around 10:10. I biked my buns off getting there as I had to get to work by 11. I was out of breath and by then figured it out. MDs wanted to sell more egg mcmuffins as they don't sell as well as hotcakes. I was so furious I insisted they had hotcakes and that a restaurant like MDs doesn't just "run out" as they have trucks come regularly to resupply. Even after the manager giving me some bows and "moshiwakegozaimasen"s I said "Get me the HOTCAKES!!" and they then proceeded to take them out of the refrigerator and told me it'd be a couple minutes. I had my hotcakes that morning and didn't get railroaded into eating their crappy egg mcmuffins. Made it to work but man was I on adrenalin that day!!

  2. MDs again. 2 in the area I lived and worked about 300m apart. One served "hot chocolate" the other "hot cocoa". Before I knew that I would always mix them up and they wouldn't say, "we don't serve hot chocolate here." so I didn't know. But I insisted they have something like it and when told no chocolate here but we have hot cocoa, I said it's the same thing. They said it's different but it sure tastes the same. I guess they didn't know chocolate is made from cocoa. So after that when one was not available I asked for the other. But sometimes on the "hot cocoa" one I'd get Coca Cola given to me. I'd have to ask, "what's this?" and repeat it more slowly for them, "Hotto Kokoa!" and then get what I wanted. Frustrating but funny no less.

  3. Love the sandwiches at Doutor and I often ask for more mustard on the dogs with no problem. I'm very nice and polite about it and the staff are too. I love that shop and find it professional. Their smoking rules have greatly improved especially one where I told them that having 60 some smoking seats upstairs is great but that the 40 some non-smoking ones downstairs doesn't need to have 8 of them by the window as smoking because the smoke goes everywhere. The manager then changed this about a month after me writing this on a napkin for him and telling the staff to give it to him. So Doutor is good in my books. It's not usual for Japanese to complain so they aren't used to it but depending how you do it and how much you insist, sometimes politely sometimes not, you can get things to change.
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cleo a drink comes in a container of a certain size. If you don't want ice or only half the ice the drink should still be topped up to near the top of the cup where the measure is near. If a drink cup is 500ml, because you don't want the ice in it doesn't mean you're only entitled to 350ml. It's not costing that much to the restaurant and is more environmentally friendly as if there were no ice there'd be no need for the use of the energy to freeze the water. What ketchi place did you grow up in?

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Drink+Drink does cost more than Drink+Ice. If you ask for a drink without ice, there's no reason you should get more drink at no extra cost.

No actually the drink+Ice cost more considering Ice is more expensive than the drink. No there is a reason you should get more drink at no extra cost considering the Drink+Ice has more "drink" in it by that I'm talking liquid, sure when all the ice melts in the glass the level of drink goes down but it is still higher than a drink with no ice. Plus if you get a drink that contains no ice then technically there is no reason to charge the same amount of money for that drink now is there? In fact it should be cheaper but they still do now don't they? Especially when the glass is half full.

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It doesn't matter if the ice is more expensive than the drink or vice versa, if the order is 'No ice please' that is not the same as 'More drink please'. You still get the same amount of drink. If you want more drink, then order another one. If you order a burger without pickles/onions/lettuce/whatever, would you expect an extra patty to make up the difference?

Yes it does matter because if the ice is more expensive they can fill the glass up with more of the "main drink" and still cost less. Also you are not getting the same amount of drink in that a drink with ice has more liquid in it than just the drink. The burger one doesn't work because the patty is more expensive than the garnish.

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Dean, seriously, you should be thankful that "inflexible" service convinced you to stop eating at McDonald's in Japan. You should give up the golden arches elsewhere, too.

No doubt, food establishments in Japan are pretty tight with supplies of drinks, condiments, etc and it can make for a difficult adjustment for foreigners, and not just for big mac-eating Westerners. For comparison's sake, just go to Korea and see how much free food (in the form of side dishes) you get at restaurants there. I'm sure Koreans in Japan are initially dumbstruck to realize they have to pay for all those side dishes at Korean restaurants in Japan.

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If a drink cup is 500ml, because you don't want the ice in it doesn't mean you're only entitled to 350ml.

If the regular drink has 150ml of ice, then sorry but that's exactly what it means. The menu item isn't 'a 500ml cup full of stuff', it's a set amount of drink plus a set amount of ice in a cup the right size to hold that combination. If you choose not to have part of the combination, then you get what's left. And I'm not buying this 'ice is more expensive than juice' malarky. My fridge churns out ice cubes all day long for the cost of nothing more than the water and a bit of electricity - a few tens of yen a month at most for al the ice you can eat. (A restaurant works on a bigger scale, so maybe a few hundred or even a few thousand yen a month. Still paltry compared with their juice bill.) If I want juice with my ice, I gotta go to the supermarket and put down some real money.

You folk who complain about the half-empty cup - when you go to a classy French restaurant and get served a tiny posh morsel with a blob of sauce in the middle of a huge platter, do you complain that your plate isn't full?

Most times when I eat out I need to ask for some item to be altered because I don't eat meat. That's my choice. If I get them to leave the chicken out of my chicken salad, I don't expect to get more salad.

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I find the "I don't understand keigo" argument hilarious. It's only because they can only speak the same feminine Japanese their girlfriends or wives speak. Learn to speak some grown up Japanese if you want real service.

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If the regular drink has 150ml of ice, then sorry but that's exactly what it means. The menu item isn't 'a 500ml cup full of stuff', it's a set amount of drink plus a set amount of ice in a cup the right size to hold that combination.

Not true, Cleo. These fast food places put much more ice than most people do at home. It's false advertising to serve a drink that's half ice. They are advertising Coke and they are selling Coke with an unreasonable amount of ice. MacDonalds is fine about giving you a full cup of Coke without the ice. (As I said before, who even needs any ice in midwinter?) Freshness burger and Kentucky will give you a three-quarters-full cup of drink if you ask for no ice. Which is why I don't go to those places.

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@mikehuntez

I suppose the idiom "sells like hotcakes" rings true in Japan as well. ^o^

On the whole ice/no ice debate, I have to agree with Nessie. In some places the amount of ice is definitely excessive. Where I live, if I order with no ice at McDonalds they usually fill the cup to the top though sometimes they forget. Although I feel a bit ripped-off when I notice my cup could fit an extra 30ml of drink, honestly I don't get too worked up about it. What annoys me more is cold/unsalted fries.

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Nessie, you choose where you eat based on the amount of soda they give you in the drink?

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It may be that some places do fill the cup up when you ask for no ice - in which case you're getting more than you pay for. It's still not on to ask for no ice and expect the difference to be made up in juice.

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cleo & others:

I guess you all have never worked or even seen the Drink machines at McD'd or other places!

I have never worked at any fast food place but I have worked both abroad and in Japan servicing these drink machine ( they are computerized) and they all have one thing in common, they all have a manual "top off" button so that the staff can add more if they need so that cups are full, in NA it is McD's policy not to serve a practically full cup thus if you order no ice they must top it off.

So the reasoning that the machines are preprogrammed is BS they can add more if they chose and before someone says how do I know that they ALL have this button well that is simple when they change the syrup and gas canisters they need the drain (prep) the machine so that the first drinks do not end up being undrinkable and that is the button they use for that!

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restaurants like mos burger, mcdonald's, to fill up a cup of drink, the employees just push a button so they don't really have to control the amount of drink they serve. one order, one push. there are also places like doutor coffee shop, they have a big jar of iced coffee/iced tea in the fridge, so they can fill it up when asked to put no ice... but usually there's specific rule of how much drink to serve per order, so, though i understand that you want more drink when you don't have ice in the glass, i don't think those one drink one button restaurants can really do much for you especially that those are just part-time employees ;)

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Cleo

The way I see it is you are paying primarily for a cup of coke or whatever beverage tickles your fancy. You aren't willingly paying for ice. The menu says "Coke", not "Coke with ice", which means if you order with no ice, the cup should be filled with coke because that is what is on the menu and that is what you ordered. If the menu explicitly states a cup of coke is 350ml with ice served in a 500ml cup, then I guess there would be no complaints. ^o^

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I guess you all have never worked or even seen the Drink machines at McD'd or other places!

And not everyone has studied Cost accounting I can see. The pricing is according to the volume of the drink. It is a standard measure for many restaurants. Having the different size drinks should give you a clue about how it works.

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I guess you all have never worked or even seen the Drink machines at McD'd or other places!

Nope, can't claim to be a frequenter of fast food joints. They have nothing I want.

The menu says "Coke", not "Coke with ice", which means if you order with no ice, the cup should be filled with coke because that is what is on the menu

I think you'll find the illustrated menu shows a paper cup with fizzy stuff and lots of ice in it. Maybe not as much ice as you actually get, but certainly not 'Coke without ice'. The McD's on-line menu information (comes up straight away when you google it) says that an M size Coke has 140 calories. The Coca-Cola product information page (ditto) says that's exactly how many calories there are in a 12 fl oz (355ml) can. So anything over 355 ml in your paper cup, regardless of the size of the cup, is extra.

Now excuse me while I go and have a bit of a lie-down, I'm come over all factual.

:-)

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Personally, I like the replacement idea. Next time I order a big Mac I'm going to tell them I don't want that little bun in the middle, but an extra patty, instead. I mean it's smaller than the bun so it should be ok, right??

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You can't compare the price you pay for your juice/coke at home compared to what they pay for syrup and then just add water. From my understanding, the cup you drink from is more expensive that the liquid IN the drink - and yet, they will double cup if for you at times!

Cleo, never go in any sort of service job. You won't last.

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Well, to cut long story short: imho- pay first the price, then request service. Otherwise it is ridiculous and naïve to ask for special treatment. And of course, in all western countries hamburgers are tailor made upon each customer’s demand)))

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If Japan wants more tourists they have to improve their customer service at restaurants.

Yesterday, I ate at an Indian restaurant. One of the staff was Japanese.

We had a (4 people ) party of 4 and we were ready to order.

We said, " Suimasen " the waitress came to our table, we asked 1 question about the type of curry that was on the menu.

Then she walked away, without saying anything for at least 5 minutes.

We were ready to order and she went to our table listened to 1 question and just walked away (repeat again)just walked away. What kind of person is that, she didn't say, "Sugu modorimasu " (I'll be right back ) No she just walked away did something for 5 minutes and came back. What the hell kind of waitress is that ???

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The McD's on-line menu information (comes up straight away when you google it) says that an M size Coke has 140 calories. The Coca-Cola product information page (ditto) says that's exactly how many calories there are in a 12 fl oz (355ml) can.

Touché!

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Not really. I realize the person was probably a little nervous (it was clear she was dealing with a foreigner), but it's easy enough to say, "Sore dake de ii?" or something off the books to get a similar message across. I'm not saying at all that the problem was with the person not knowing English (in fact, as I pointed out, I learned a valuable bit from the exchange), it's an inability to stray from a given script for most. And of course it's usually young and/or new staff -- the few I've met who could/did paraphrase or break out of character were managers.

My point is that it's not a "script" when a service person asks "Ijou desuka?". It's such a common phrase that a Japanese person cannot comprehend the fact that certain people don't understand such phrase much like an English speaking person who cannot comprehend the fact that certain people don't understand the figurative phrase "Is that it?"

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The site is not letting me post the link, but I wrote a blog post dealing with the same topic last year. go to japanintercultural . com and search in the box at top right put in "restaurants"

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is nobody paying attention to what the author is saying? This complaint is not how much coke you get, but how inflexible the staff are. And I would just add what year is it there in Japan? Coke and all fast food restaurants is so cheap, but the prices are so high that they put the machines out so that you can refill them to your hearts content in the States. And if you order to go the difference between a small medium and large is like $.10– presumably to pay for the larger cups. And can you just send something back in Japan and say I'm not paying for it? Serve me cold or unsalted fries and that's what's happening.

It is obviously a cultural thing that Japanese in the US have gotten over. Sushi restaurants are making money hand over fist and if you tell them you want a little more teriyaki sauce on the side, you get it with a smile.

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Nessie, you choose where you eat based on the amount of soda they give you in the drink?

It's more of a general principal. If I feel a place it trying to rip me off, I won't eat there.

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Absolutely, da5id. It's all about inflexibility--probably the single most frustrating trait of our fine host nationals. Some years ago I was having a complaint-fest about something with a fellow gaijin, and I said something about "what are they thinking?!?" To which he replied: "they don't think -- they're Japanese!"

Absurdly harsh, of course, and meant mainly as a joke--and insofar as there's any truth to it, it would be about a choice made not to think, not an inability. But too often it seems that is the choice that's made in the service industry -- and that's what makes it so frustrating. I think the author has put it very well, and quite gently. Even my Japanese wife laughs about this one, knowing full well what the annoyance is that we were referring to...

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Then she walked away, without saying anything for at least 5 minutes. We were ready to order and she went to our table listened to 1 question and just walked away (repeat again)just walked away. What kind of person is that, she didn't say, "Sugu modorimasu " (I'll be right back ) No she just walked away did something for 5 minutes and came back. What the hell kind of waitress is that ???

That is kind of odd. Generally speaking you do get rather good service in Japan provided you spend money, once its spent, then you are just another person, unless you go back again and start the process once more. I have never had that kind of an experience. That is strange though. I remember when my wife and I bought our Flat screen TV, the staff were really nice and professional, we also bought a DVR player and Skyperfect Antennae. The total came to about ¥200.000+ I thought at the time buying all the items, if I asked them to throw in some blank Blu-Ray discs there should be no problem, not a lot, but about 30 discs. But the sales staff sucked in the air (at that point, I was like...here it comes...) and said, let me check it might be a little difficult. Later he came back after talking to his manager and said, sorry, but they can't do it. Fine, whatever. The same thing happened last week when I bought a 3 month supply of contact lenses. Usually in the states, they give you at least 1 to 2 bottles of cleaning solution, but in Japan, usually NO. And the stuff here is so expensive! Again, It wasn't that much of a big deal, but I thought that maybe in Japan they value a customer so much that if they do see you spending that kind of money as an incentive and appreciation for your patronage they would think about something like how important "repeat customer service" is and that customer loyalty is EVERYTHING this is not well taught in Japan. I am not saying they have to provide service like in the states, but it would be nice if they would care a little bit more as a repeat customer and not treat you when you have a problem or a request like you are a total stranger whether you have your wallet with you or not.

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bass4funk.

Strange yesterday on the telly they showed how to get discounts at Yamada and a 157.000Yen tv got reduced to around 95.000Yen, etc. They even showed the handhelds that give them the prices at other stores, etc . Granted even son said it went overboard.

I can get a pretty good deal but don't like to push it too far as it often comes out of the sales-guys comission/pocket.

Said that I learned haggling in the jewish, etc quarters of the town I grew up in. Slightly different in far east though.

But as with all haggling there are rules to follow.

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@Zenny11

I'm not saying that what happened to me is always the norm, but to say that overall there isn't a problem with repeat customer service and that more than often in Japan they treat you as if now that we got your money, you revert back to a customer without extending the loyalty, so as long as you keep slinging cash their way, you will get the red carpet treatment.

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A Starbucks store is less than a minute walk away from both McDonald's in Fussa and Kotesashi. And asking for a larger cup at McD only costs 20 yen more. There was an article about "unrelenting complainers" here on JT and this author perfectly fits the profile of such customer. What a whiner.

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Most times when I eat out I need to ask for some item to be altered because I don't eat meat. That's my choice. If I get them to leave the chicken out of my chicken salad, I don't expect to get more salad.

That is because your salad bowl is already full of salad, what would be the point then?

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I hope folks won't mind if i play devil's advocate here. My comments are not directed at any of the responses, nor are they meant to imply that anyone is wrong or insensitive. I merely want to offer a different point of view.

I haven't yet had the experience of being a resident in Japan, but I have spent quite a bit of time there. Furthermore, as someone who works for an international company that does business with big companies in Japan (both the modern and the antiquated ones), I think it might be a mistake, categorically, to draw inferences about Japan's ability to compete in international business based on the experiences of customers in Japanese shops and restaurants. Since this article is primarily focused on the experiences of the latter, I'd like to focus on that.

I know people are fond of the 客様は神様 "Customer is God" proverb、but it's important to remember that there are other factors at work in everyday Japanese consciousness that work in the opposite direction, as well.

I'm reminded of a passage in a novel by 向田邦子 (Mukōda Kuniko) in which the author observed a group of western ladies ordering breakfast at a hotel. She was very surprised that the ladies were so incredibly particular about the way they wanted their meals prepared. She reflected on the example her mother had set for her as a child, and on the idea of having compassion for the wait staff and the chef and cooks who will prepare the meals. She concluded that it's better to stick to the menu and keep it simple when it's tolerable to do so. Here, it might be suggested that the concept of "Customer is God" may include the supreme compassion of a god (lowercase 'g'), and not just the omnipotence of one. Now, Mukōda-san was a Showa era writer, of course, and we might conclude that things are or should be different in modern Japan. With this thought in mind, however, it may be more than just a coincidence (and more than just mere complacency) that "The common (Japanese) man or woman on the street generally accepts the way things are delivered in their vanilla form," no?

The examples given in the article appear quite extreme, so if I may, I'd like to relay an equally extreme experience I had not that long ago. My wife and I were waiting for our waitress at a restaurant in our neighbourhood in Chicago. The waitress was busy with a customer at the next table who was asking to have one of her ordered items substituted for something else. She then started asking about what kind of bread they have and if she could have a bagel instead of the choices she was provided. When the answer was affirmative, she went on to request that the bagel be split in half, lightly toasted and that the center be pulled out. I couldn't help but think, "What the hell?" Maybe this is supposed to be OK, I'm not sure. It seemed really extreme to me and bordered on rude considering the tone she used when speaking to the waitress. Regarding the experiences such as the beer with no foam, couldn't it be that the measurement of portion size in Japan is all about the volume/quantity and not the size of the container as it seems to be in the West?

Anyway, no conclusions here-- like I said, I just wanted to offer a different perspective. I would like to end by wondering something, however. If we are to expect of Japanese customer service the same standards we've become used to in the West, are we perhaps trying to inject a sense of western individualism into a society that basically operates just fine without it?

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I used to eat often at subway as it was close to a major training center I used, Plus I like their sandwiches.

Usually the service is great and if I say I don't want X veggie they will ask if they should increase another one. Of course can't swap a veggie for a cheese or meat addition. ;) Same way they ask if my chosen bun should be toasted or not.

As for customizing sandwiches at a cafe I found Excelsior to be good but "Cafe de Crie" beat them hands-down. Used to be one close-by and they MADE the sandwich after the order so changing bits was easy and expected.

I think many people are complaining not realising that their orders are defined/pre-determined or even pre-cooked/arranged and delivered to the shop to be sold as is. That also includes Family Restaurants like Coco's where they staff in fact mostly reheat pre-packaged meals from the factory.

Saizeriya has ONE cook that prepares all meals so he can customize to a certain degree.

I tend to see the same names mentioned whenever this topic comes up, never see names like Rakeru, etc.

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I loved your insight on the subject. Thanks for taking the time to write about this.

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