Culture and Customer Service

My husband and I have a goal to travel overseas at least once per year.  Last year we had the opportunity to visit Barcelona. The Travel Channel had highlighted Spain as a culinary travel destination, so of course my husband being a big foodie wanted to go.  We were not disappointed.  We ate at Taller de Tapas, La Taverna del Clinic, and Ca l’Isidre.  What we found interesting during our trip was that even the 4-5 star restaurants seemed to take forever in bringing us the check.

At first, we joked that we were probably just inpatient Americans wanting to rush a meal.  We noticed how Catalans take their time to enjoy a cigarette with coffee after dinner.  My husband and I wondered if the waiter or waitress was waiting to see if we would smoke after dinner (we do not smoke).  After enjoying such wonderful dinners in Barcelona we felt awkward labeling the long delay for our check as poor customer service.  Was Barcelona a place not concerned with good customer service?

El compte, si us plau.

After conducting some research, I learned it is customary in Barcelona for diners to initiate the request for the check.  In fact, it is considered rude for the waiter or waitress to bring the check before diners ask for it.

“The customer is always right in Spain….The waiter will not bring the bill until he is asked to bring the bill by one of the diners.”

Source: TripAdvisor, Spain: Guide to Etiquette in Spain.

This was so interesting to me because I felt the opposite was true of my experience in American restaurants.  Hence, my disappointment with the waiter or waitress not promptly bringing our check.  Here in the U.S., waiters or waitresses anticipate when diners want the check and often initiate the conversation.  In Barcelona, the dining party is supposed to initiate the request.

Given my area of work, I think about how businesses are leveraging social technologies to scale customer service.  Learning from my experience in Barcelona, I am now more careful not to assume that good customer service interactions will be defined in other parts of the world the same way we define it in the U.S.