What price service, when the customer is always in the wrong?

Two complaints within a matter of weeks, and the reception was far from helpful


Sir Terry Leahy admitted on Desert Island Discs that he bribed his children to stop his wife dropping into Waitrose on the way home from school. Brand loyalty from the former boss of Tesco is all very well, but there was a fail-safe remedy for his qualms – in fact, two: he could have done the shopping, and the school run. 

And if he had done the shopping, he might have called a halt to the spreading blight of self-checkouts. The makeover reached my favourite Tesco, on Jermyn Street in Piccadilly, before Christmas, and I hereby inform Sir Terry’s successor that 24 January was the last time I’ll grace its doors. Banks of self-checkouts occupy precious display space and at 7.30 pm a long queue snaked towards the one of five serviced tills that was staffed. Sorry, but playing checkout girl after a day at work is not my idea of fun, and judging by others’ weary willingness to queue, I’m not alone.

Where Tesco goes, of course, others follow, including M&S, which also seems to be going through a bit of a bad patch on quality control. I’m not a great taker-backer – it’s a hassle – but within six weeks or so, I made complaints at two different stores, eliciting a similarly unhelpful reception at each. The first time I returned a salad pack, within its  sell-by date, but already wilted and dissolving. The assistant did nothing to disguise her feeling that I was being far too fussy. 

The second concerned tulips; some of the heads drooped as soon as I unwrapped them; petals fell off others. The label seemed optimistic in saying they should last five days. I’d already thrown away the packaging, so I took photos of the ailing blooms on my phone and returned, with the receipt, next day.   

Memo to anyone else unhappy with M&S flowers – what you’re supposed to do is take them back in the original packaging. No one was interested in photos. “You wouldn’t expect a refund for a sweater without bringing it back, now would you?” was one of the dafter ripostes. In the end, they gave me a choice between producing the dead flowers or “complaining to head office”. But having recorded all my details, two assistants couldn’t make the computer work and a supervisor gently suggested issuing a refund and having done with it, which was rather grumpily done. Is it “your” M&S, or theirs?

A pre-TV cook for grown-ups

In a week that Delia Smith has complained about TV cooking programmes as entertainment, it’s cheering to read the tributes to Katie Stewart. Her The Times Cookery Book – not cookbook, note – was one of the few spared, when I pruned my recipe shelf.

Stewart – she was of an age and a demeanour that suggested only friends called her Katie – was the cook for those of us born too late to hail Elizabeth David as a revolutionary, but too early for Delia’s assumption you had to be taught to boil an egg. She treated us as grown-ups who had learnt the basics at our mother’s knee and were branching out. I had only one disaster: I’m pretty sure that the quantity of chilli power in the chilli con carne recipe should be in teaspoons, not tablespoons. So be careful. It’s always easier to add than take away.

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