Janet Wynne Evans finds her digestion undermined by a new obsession with market research
Some years ago, at the height of our 'DINKY' lifestyle (dual income, no kids yet) the other half and I went to Anguilla for a much-needed dose of Caribbean decompression. This tiny sand-bar remains resolutely British and boasts some of the best eating per square metre in the Windies, even if you have to be a 'LOMBARD' (loads of money but a real… well, you can imagine) to enjoy it for more than a week. It was certainly no place for 'SINBADs' (single income, no bloke, absolutely desperate).
The cuisine at our hotel was of the best kind, by which I mean that instead of peddling bland, air-freighted steak or lobster, the kitchen focused on fresh local produce, elegantly presented. The staff were attentive and friendly but slightly embarrassed. Wouldn't you be, if after every meal – and in some cases after every course – you had to hand guests a questionnaire, to be completed before leaving the table?
After three days, we were forced to insist on an end to side orders of forms and pencils with our coconut-crusted flying-fish. With the charming apology came the explanation that customer satisfaction was paramount here and while the American clientèle could and did express itself forcibly, we 'reserved Brits' could not be trusted to complain until we had left, and could do it loudly and unfairly to a consumer watchdog or national newspaper.
Readers of this column know me to be more bellicose Brit than reserved one, but even so, I'm not surprised that this bad habit has spread to our shores. Deeply private conversations, whether driven by love in bloom, divorce pending or a disciplinary from the boss are now fair game for a saccharine burst of 'Is everything all right?' Every plate is cleared to the strains of 'Was that all right?' or, increasingly these days, 'you enjoyed beef, yes?' in that faintly menacing, article-free basso profundo that makes Russian opera so thrilling in more appropriate surroundings. A well licked plate says it all, so this is just not, dare I say it, Godunov, Boris. If one of the most important rituals of my day is to be interrupted in this way, let it be by a genuine desire to listen, learn and improve, not by the fear of bad publicity or potential litigation, or just meaningless lip service.
Before I am upbraided for casting the first stone from a glasshouse, I readily admit that we are keen market researchers at The Society too, but members are not obliged to participate, least of all when dinner is on the table. We'd like you to do so at some stage, though, because feedback is the lifeblood of a co-operative enterprise such as ours. Around 700 How Did We Do? questionnaires are popped in random cases every month, covering practical aspects of service, from knowledgeability of staff to ease of ordering and promptness of delivery. The annual Member Survey, sent to a sample of around 4,000 members, canvasses opinion on a wider range of topics, including what you think of our wines and our website, and how they compare with those of other retailers. Finally Your Views on The Wine Society goes to a 1,000 members monthly, either by post or electronically, and explores how the unique nature of The Society is perceived by its members. Response rates are high, reflecting real engagement with our mutual relationship, and the honesty of the feedback, good and bad, suggests that the notion of the 'reserved Brit' is a myth, especially among Society members.
If you have not yet been asked to participate in any of these, it's worth remembering that we are always delighted to hear from members at any time, on any subject. But please, not with your mouth full!
There are many ways that members can give their feedback, in addition to the usual channels of post, telephone and e-mail, you can also comment on specific wines and articles on the website and our blog SocietyGrapevine.com and you can also look at wines most recently reviewed by members in the Features and Offers section of the site.