I received a comment this week, on my review of Vietnamese Home Restaurant, that made a valid point about the level of English of most, not all, waiters in Vietnam. The argument was that people who can speak English well have more job opportunities than people who are most likely to become waiters. It is true, why would someone with a good command of English become a waiter?
It is no secret that waitstaff here in Vietnam and indeed around the world are not paid well. I would estimate that other than at big resorts most waiters in Danang would be earning less than 1,000,000 VND a month ($56 USD), the rate is probably closer to 500,000 VND. On top of this is the fact that staff in some cases are expected to work upto 12 hours a day, 7 days a week with 1 day off a month if they are lucky.
Tipping, which can provide waiters in some countries with a substantial potion of their income, is not common practice in Vietnam. I have to confess that I am not much of a tipper, it is not part of my culture, I think it is up to restaurant owners to pay their staff well. Having said that I no longer apply the rules of my country to Vietnam and tip good service, a good effort or in an attempt to train waitstaff.
Most of what I consider to be poor service in Vietnam results in a lack of common sense or cultural understanding, not in a lack of English. All of the following situations I have experienced first hand and I believe that a conscientious waiter would make the small adjustments needed to secure his job and more than likely increase his income significantly through tips, promotions or other job offers.
A waitress knoked a customer’s spoon off the table as she was putting a bowl of soup, she then picked the spoon off the floor and put into the customers bowl, the customer reacted angrily.
Three waiters stand in the corner of a restaurant, look and point at and giggle while watching a customer eat.
A waiter brings a dish which is different to what the customer clearly pointed to in the menu, the dish is usually more expensive than the original order.
A waiter with dish in hand, walks past the customer who ordered the dish, puts the food on a different table then picks the dish up again, takes it back to the kitchen then finally brings the dish to customer. This is an organisational issue.
A waiter who doesn’t speak English comletely ignores a foreign customer, then says “no, no” when the customer tries to order by pointing or speaking Vietnamese. This is a lack of effort rather than a communication problem.
I have seen good waitstaff move from restaurant to restaurant with increased pay or even move into restaurant management all because of the extra effort they made to make their customers happy.
Good service is more than just the customer and waiter sharing a common language. The staff at Bread of Life are a perfect example for Vietnamese Home to follow, showing that good service with a smile and a joke can be achieved without any verbal communication at all, all of the waitstaff at Bread of Life are deaf.
I agree with Linh’s original comment in part, I believe it is up to restaurant managers and owners to train staff on how to deal with customers, not just foreign customers, but locals as well. A large portion of responsibility should go the staff themselves, if they have few employment opportunities then it would make sense to make the best effort possible at being good at what they do.