English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator


Sometimes, I really think that the Viennese need lessons in customer service. They appear mostly uninterested in the experiences of their guests and even less interested in making money. In Vienna the staff rule. I have managed to make lots of serving staff very unhappy by my expectations as a customer and so I would like to share my knowledge of what irks them most.

They don’t like making eye contact. They are expert in snaking round tables ignoring everyone in their path who may be waving at them.

They don’t like being asked more than once for something. Even if a period of twenty minutes has elapsed and you understandingly think that perhaps they have forgotten, it makes them irritable, so much so that they are likely to complain at how much work they have. They will gesture around the room demonstrating how rude of me it is and other customers to say that very offensive word ‘bitte’ (please) to try and get their attention.

They don’t like to let you pay. You can wait for an eternity, all empty cups and plates having already been cleared, for someone to see if you would like something else or perhaps pay. You would think they’d like to get the bill settled and get more paying customers seated; you’d think they’d like you to pay before you started seriously considering doing a runner, but no, you can wait an age to pay your bill and all attempts at waving your wallet at them will not make them want to take your cash. I was once in a coffee shop where a customer tried to pre-empt this problem and tried to pay when her coffee arrived; she was unceremoniously instructed to put her money away and pay at the end because, in the waiter’s actual words, it was “not Starbucks”. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the waiting game, so surely it would be better to let someone pay when they like so they can make a hasty exit rather than them not come in at all. Shouldn’t the customer who chooses to spend their money in their establishment be treated a little better? But I am forgetting the waiter; he was probably very put out on that occasion, distasteful as it was for someone to want to have a ‘quick coffee’, something totally contrary to coffee shop culture where you are supposed to linger for hours.

Staff don’t like to be flexible. Last week for example, I fancied an early evening drink in a place with a nice view of St Stephen’s Cathedral. There was the bar, which was unfortunately a smoking venue and really really smoky and so we tried to have a drink in the restaurant. To be allowed only to drink we had to sit near the door, in a windowless section, which defeated the object and so we politely asked if we could sit near a window. No. It wasn’t allowed. To drink, you had to sit in the most un-atmospheric part of the practically empty restaurant and stare at rust coloured walls. When we politely asked if we could sit just for half an hour in the practically empty restaurant near the window we were told to go in the bar. The fact we wanted a non smoking seat fell on unsympathetic ears. They were happier to see us leave than to bend ever so slightly and make a bit more money that day. Madness.

They like you to be ready to order when they are, even if you have literally only just sat down. If you try to choose quickly because you fear they may never come back if you don’t, they will sigh in exasperation as you make sense of the menu and decide between wine or beer.

I could go on, but I won’t. All I can say is that you cannot please them no matter how hard you try and you can’t get them to change. All you can do is be yourself and grow a thicker skin.

To follow are some pictures of a very nice café, where we experienced very good service last weekend. But then again, perhaps we got good service because we were good guests; we were ready to order exactly when he wanted us to and we didn’t wave him over, rather, we let him attend to us when he was ready because for once we weren’t concerned with time. I also think he was very flattered that I wanted to take a picture of his tie.

Waiter with a cool Gustav Klimt tie in Belvedere cafe

Lovely little cafe in Belvedere Palace and art gallery

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4 thoughts on “Service?

  1. You should have started screaming SUMIMASEN SUMIMASEN!!!!!!!

    Guess they haven’t caught on to the whole “consumer culture” yet.

  2. Well written! From the lack of eye contact to the customer “annoying” the waiters with silly requests of wanting to pay, everything you mentioned is right on. My addition to your story would be the spotty custom service in some clothing retailers, particularly a store that rhymes with “Tango”. One day while wearing my “mom jeans” and naked face I was given zero effort to help search for a size of an item. I decided to return the next day stylishly dressed with full make up and freshly washed hair as an experiment and low and behold the same sales associate searched for the same item in the “back” and found it! Moral of the story? Viennese will provide good service only on their terms.

    • Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing.

      You know, recently I was on holiday in Italy and the waiters were all having a good time during a busy Saturday night in a restaurant/bar and I couldn’t stop watching them because they were smiling so much!!

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