Working-Class Dog

Rude Awakening

Service with a sneer.

You know that old adage about the customer always being right? Forget it. That stuff about service with a smile? Absolute nonsense. The latest trend to take hold in customer service is premised on the belief that aloofness is actually appealing.

Well, sort of. As typified by a select circle of swank hotels and restaurants, these days it can be downright chic to be downright cheeky. "There's a slight edge without being disrespectful," explains Jim Eyster, a professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, New York. "It's an `exclusive' attitude. It sets [proprietors] apart and makes [customers] feel thankful to be there."

Thankful that hotel clerks never remember your name? Thankful that waiters admonish you to eat a little faster? OK, we concede this approach is unlikely to make much of a splash in mainstream America. Says Eyster, "It probably works for only a very small percentage of the customer base."

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This article was originally published in the September 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Working-Class Dog.

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