As a former cashier at a local restaurant serving Penang and kopitiam style food in Mutiara Damansara, I’ve witnessed just how Malaysians love their food. I was doing one of those part-time stints, you know, like after secondary school, nothing to do, so might as well earn some money.
Working in a restaurant made me realise that your typical restaurant worker (meaning managers, waiters, cashiers, cooks, etc.) does a lot more than what you see. Meaning, the waiters don’t just take orders, the cashiers don’t just take your money, and managers don’t just sit around, shake leg and watch CCTV while counting money,
Their tasks stretch to remembering daily specials or items that aren’t available, splitting bills, handling customers who want to switch tables, resolving misunderstandings, taking specific orders, checking on food that may be taking a while to come, and of course, dealing with all sorts of questionable customers.
As a customer, there are a lot of things we don’t realise about how we treat F&B staff. It was only until I stood on the other side of the cashier counter, that I’ve truly understood how difficult it is walking in the shoes of F&B workers (and not just because they are on their feet all day).
I’m sure anyone facing customers in their jobs has had to deal with their fair share of weird customers and cashiering is no different. Over time, I’ve noticed that these odd encounters happen more times than one would expect, so here are 5 things we wish customers would realise.
1. Making extra specific customisations to your char koay teow isn’t as easy as it seems
A woman once asked us if her CKT could be fried with olive oil instead of regular cooking oil because she didn’t want to put on weight. Since our restaurant serves Malaysian food, there’s no way we’d have olive oil in the kitchen, so for a request like that, it’s just not sensible for us to run to Tesco to buy a bottle of olive oil just to make it “healthier.” (But FYI, olive oil isn’t necessarily healthier or less fattening than cooking oil). If we did that, it would make her order late too, which she might probably complain about… either way, we kena also. 🙁
If you thought that was strange, there was another time where someone, who after inspecting her plate of CKT, insisted that the waiter take the plate back to the kitchen, remove the veins from all the prawns and return it to her. We get that the “vein” is not literally a vein but rather the digestive track of the prawn, but there isn’t anything harmful about eating it. Plus, most hawkers in kopitiams leave them in too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Also, we know that nothing beats your home cooked meals, so as much as we’d like to make your meal a good one, we can’t cook your dish the way your parents do it, even if you give us step-by-step instructions. Once, a customer tried to teach us how to hard boil an egg: “You have to wait until the water reaches a certain temperature and then you take your egg and put it into the water and you have to keep watching it while it’s over the fire for 10 minutes, then your egg will be perfectly cooked.” Pretty much what she said, except she gave an actual number for the temperature which I don’t even remember.
As the cooks have other orders to prepare, it would be inconvenient for them to stand and watch over every egg as it cooks.
In a restaurant, us workers want to serve you as quickly as possible. We know that customers may like their char koay teow with less taugeh, or their nasi goreng tak mau chili and that’s totally fine coz sometimes we like it that way too, but then there are those people who make pretty odd requests. Some of them are time consuming while others just don’t make sense, so they kinda slow us down and prevent us from doing our best.
Thankfully, we’ve not encountered super over-the-top requests, like this customer in the US who demanded the staff make a new sandwich using a clean knife, clean cutting board and new gloves. Phew! We’re glad we’re not the servers there. It would be great if Malaysian customers would realise how customizing every order really slows us down and ultimately we cannot give you peak service because of that.
2. Giving cashiers coins AFTER we key in the initial amount will cause brain malfunction
As a former cashier, this one is extra #relatable for me.
You know how sometimes when you pay for your food and you give the cashier a big RM100 note, then after they’ve keyed in that amount into the cash register to calculate your change, you find coins in your pocket and you give that to them? Yeah that’s the number one reason why cashiers quit their jobs. 😆
Ok not really la, but it used to be quite embarrassing for me when this happened as I would sometimes totally freeze up and blank out, and it made me seem terrible at math.
Normally, us cashiers will ask and give you time to dig around for small change, so giving us extra coins and notes after we’ve keyed in the original amount you gave us just breaks our flow and holds up the line.
This may seem like a small problem that we can fix with quick mental calculation, and it’s not like we’re bad at math, but us cashiers have got our own personal momentum we follow to help serve you as quickly as possible, so we rely on the computer to calculate your change. Though we’d love to be one, we’re not all human calculators like West Wong.
Not to say that you shouldn’t do this anymore, but I guess if you’re gonna keep doing it, we really hope that you’ll understand that it will take us time to get our brains back on track to calculate your new change for you. 🙂
3. Your kids become less cute and more threatening once they’ve got a hold of the chopsticks
Every restaurant has seen its fair share of hyperactive kids who run around screaming, playing with food and even trying to climb over booth table dividers, but when you’re working in a Malaysian restaurant, you’ve got to deal with a whole new category of kids: aspiring drummers. 😎
Lots of us use chopsticks to eat (or apparently use them to make murals if you’re that talented), and it’s kinda ambitious that you’d like your kid to start immersing him/herself in Asian eating culture as early as 2 years old, but allowing them to PLAY with chopsticks and use them as drumsticks is noisy and potentially dangerous. It has caused numerous accidents involving kids.
Some of the linked article images are graphic, but take for instance, a Malaysian boy narrowly escaped going blind after his eye got impaled by a chopstick, while a Chinese toddler got a chopstick lodged in his brain. Needless to say, it would be horrible if things like these were to keep happening. We really really don’t want something like that happening to your child on our watch. 🙁
So if you’d like your kid to be the next star drummer of Malaysia, or to dong dong chang for a lion dance troupe, perhaps they could start out in a music center and not in a local restaurant.
On top of that, kids’ hands are as dirty as you can imagine, and a microbiologist/mother proved it by checking the dirt on her child’s hand after playing with their pet dog. And that’s just bacteria from a pet; we’ve seen kids’ hands and fingers go pretty much everywhere from the floor to their mouths and even up their noses, so unless you’d like to risk eating with dirt covered chopsticks, it would be best if your kid didn’t manhandle (or childhandle) them.
4. Unless you’ve made a reservation, you can’t potong queue
Throughout the few months I worked at the restaurant, I’ve witnessed a number of queue jumpers. A bit weird right? I mean, you’d think that queuing up to wait your turn is simple enough to understand. It’s something even Standard 1 kids would know how to do. Unfortunately, there are still people (adults!!) who don’t know how to wait their turn in restaurants and it’s really upsetting to see. 🙁
For example, I had a customer who totally ignored the queue outside the restaurant and headed straight for a table. When the manager approached her and told her that she had to queue up because there were other customers waiting, she just responded with, “Too much!” and walked away.
Anywhere you go, you’re gonna have to queue to wait your turn from public toilets, to supermarket counters, to tolls on the highway. It makes the service system more organised and FAIR for all.
Try to imagine if you were a few people away from being served and someone came along and cut line – you’re gonna be pretty mad, kan? Please remember that there are other customers waiting to be served as well. Also, it doesn’t just disrupt the flow of service; it also kinda embarrasses us to have to tell that person to queue up properly.
Alternatively, if you still don’t feel like waiting, just give us a call beforehand and make a reservation.
Plus, if you didn’t know, there are some restaurants (including the one I worked at) who have their waiters take your orders WHILE you’re queuing so you don’t have to wait for a table and then wait for someone to attend to you. So as long as you can respect the queue, we’ve got you covered. 😉
5. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t finish three quarters of a wrong order before asking for a replacement
We all know that the other thing Malaysians love just as much as food, is free stuff, so free food is like Merdeka 2.0 for us.
It’s understandable that if you ordered a beehoon goreng but got a mee goreng instead, you’d want a replacement. Similarly, if you’ve been told your nasi lemak is only gonna take 5 more minutes to prepare, but you’ve been waiting so long you could balik kampung, we’d be totally cool with removing your item from the bill.
Our goal is to serve you well and make sure you makan puas puas! 🙂
However, there have been customers who don’t realise that eating MORE than half of the dish, complaining to the manager, requesting for a replacement dish and then insisting that both dishes are free of charge is a biiiit over the top.
Of course we’ll do our best to make sure your dining experience is as enjoyable as possible, but it would be better not to finish three quarters of the wrong order before complaining and asking for a free dish (on top of the one you just ate most of). It doesn’t really make sense, unless you really really really want free food.
At the end of the day, we just hope customers will be understanding
Back when I was searching for jobs online, I noticed that most part-time waiter, barista and cashier positions only got you about RM7 per hour, and some without provided meals. I know it’s cliché, but all we want is for you guys to maybe to look at things from our perspective so that our jobs can be a little bit easier. It is not very sensible to take a plate of CKT back just to de-vein every single prawn after all, right? Or would a noisy restaurant filled with sounds of cutlery drumming on tables be more favourable than a quieter atmosphere? ?
We know that you’re not paying RM6 for a bowl of asam laksa at a kopitiam, so it’s up to us to give you a slightly higher standard of service, but at the end of the day, it would be nice if Malaysian customers could be considerate and didn’t put us through these odd situations all the time. We just wanna make sure you get your money’s worth.
On the other hand, despite a few of these being annoying to us restaurant workers, some of these odd customer quirks are quite funny and they make work interesting. I mean it’s nice to return home after a long day at work and share these stories with family so everyone has a good laugh.
So after a few months of working in a restaurant, I’ve gained a lot of experience on what it’s like to be behind a cashier, and as a result, I’ve learned to be extra extra nice to the restaurant staff whenever I go out to eat! 🙂