Even though I‘ve lashed out online before about the appalling service in Reykjavík’s cafés, I was highly encouraged by my editor when I voiced my desire to write about it some more. We both live abroad over the winter and have perhaps developed other standards than our fellow countrymen, or at least higher standards than waiting staff in this city’s cafés and bistros have.
In short, service in most of these places sucks.
This wouldn’t be so frustrating if we could at least “punish” the staff by NOT tipping them. But since service is included in the oh-so-expensive menu prices, you’re bound by law to pay for the shitty service. It’s pretty lame not getting what you’re paying for and not being able to do anything about it. And the paradox is that in most places, there still is a tips jar by the cash till so if you’re exceptionally happy with the refreshments, the atmosphere or (but rarely) the service – or simply in a good mood – you can pay double for the service you’re getting! So, de facto, the only way to show your discontent is to…just pay the bill.
If you dare to utter something about the sloppy service, almost without exception the waiting staff has some excuse for it, and tells it to your face. Hearing an apology, rather than an explanation, from the mouth of a waiter/waitress in a Reykjavík café is as rare as seeing live polar bears in Iceland. I know I’m generalising but it’s simply so common to get bad service that when you actually get good service, you’re taken aback a bit. Then you leave a tip and tell all your friends about it, ‘cause good service is even rarer than seeing a penguin around here!
Sometimes I can’t help but admire the staff’s technique of not having to work too hard for their salaries, which they get in full regardless of how badly they do their jobs. It’s as if they’re wearing blinders like horses, only focusing on the space right in front of them so they can convincingly ignore all those customers to their sides trying to catch the staff’s attention. Because then they might have to take their orders or listen to their whinging requests, which would then mean having to carry stuff over to that table and fill it with clutter, only to empty it again before other guests arrive and repeat the whole process over again! Who’d want to do that same boring routine over and over again?
And you know what? This won’t change, there’s no need for these places to improve their service because they’re located right downtown where it’s crawling with tourists who just don’t know better and might never come again. The few locals who drop by are so accustomed to bad service that no one hardly ever complains. And if someone gives up hope of catching the staff’s attention to be able to place an order and leaves, after sitting unattended by a table for twenty minutes, the staff simply doesn’t notice anyways and never knows about all the unhappy customers who have come and gone!