August 25, 2007

Backchat Or Sweet-Talk?

'Our waitresses pinch back!'

Last week, I visited local retro diner Eddie Rocket's with my family and was reminded how much I enjoy their particular sassy brand of communication, especially the signage. Dotted around the walls are notices telling diners: 'Be nice, you might have to work here someday', 'In case of fire, pay the bill and get the h*@% out of here' and 'Be patient, gourmet food takes longer'.

You could argue that, in the words of the old wisecrack, 'I didn't come here to be insulted!' ('No? So where do you usually go?') but there is something charming in the irreverence of the one-liners that proves highly popular, not only with our family but with the dozens of teenagers and other families around us that help make Eddie's one of Ireland's most successful franchises.

So why do we go there to be insulted? I've long believed that the popular notion of the customer as king is flawed as it suggests a subservient relationship between seller and buyer. Instead, I think it's much more important to ask what role the customer (or situation) demands of the seller and to play that to the utmost. At Eddie's, it's clear that we like it when the seller is sharp rather than honey-tongued.

In part, it's because it matches our own sense of the type of service likely to be found in a classic American diner of the '50's. It's also charming when a brand doesn't take itself or its customer too seriously. Eddie Rocket's is quick to remind us that it's only American-style food after all; but with the assurance that what it does, it does very well.

Here, the customer isn't always right. Instead, Eddie's works hard on building rapport rather than old-fashioned respect and allows its customers to kick back and enjoy hospitality diner-style. And judging from the happy buzz during our recent visit, it's apparent that Eddie's does offer a cure for the summertime blues.

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