The same bad service

We have a new extension to the shopping centre here. It opened a few months ago and it’s disappointing. It’s rather empty and most of the shops that were talked about haven’t come. But a week or two ago the much hyped Nandos finally opened.

I don’t get the big deal about Nandos but admittedly I’ve only been once or twice and that was years ago. My route to and from CAB takes me past it so I’d been occasionally noticing progress and looking forward to seeing if it’s worth the hype.

Then it began to look more and more like they’d taken their perfectly accessible new building and made it completely impossible to get a wheelchair in there. It’s built into the side of a hill and they’d levelled off the outside and put steps up to it. Or you could go up the hill slightly then turn back to where it was level. Until they set up an outside seating area that filled almost all of that and a tree blocked the small part that was left.

I was furious. Mum was talking about going down on opening day with the press. And a lot of other people had noticed – a friend had spotted it a day or two before I did and complained. When I posted about it on twitter their corporate social media team said all restaurants would be accessible “if possible”. Then when I pushed them and a lot of other people commented how inaccessible it appeared, they said they’d pass it on.

A message to the Nandos Didcot facebook page got the response that the layout was temporary and it would be accessible, it had always been going to change. I don’t really believe them. Experience suggests otherwise.

When I was talking about this with someone they asked if I would actually go. I said probably. Some friends and I go out to eat once every few months and before this came up we’d talked a few times about trying Nandos. But that it wasn’t about going there, it was about having the option to go or not as I choose, the same as everyone else. Rather than having that choice taken away from me by someone’s having forgotten about those of us who come with wheels when making design choices.

Fast forward a month or so and it’s been open about two weeks. We tried to go on Saturday and got turned away. They’d refused to take a booking and when we got there said it would be a 30 minute wait for a table even though there were loads free. They turned several other parties away when we were in there. Not enough staff apparently. The reasons and how long it would be was all a bit vague so we gave up and went to Prezzo. I’ve since heard a friend has been turned away 3 times.

It’s almost a perfect example of equality because it’s bad service and it puts me off going back. But as much as I’d rather good service, all I ever want is equal treatment. And that’s what I got this time – the same, equal, bad service as else.

In which I’ve become one of those stories

When I was looking to buy my Quickie Salsa in 2012 I had to go to a new supplier. I’ve used them ever since.

It’s a family business and the guy who owns it brought me the demo chair out. He told me a bit about the business, a lot about the chair, and a few stories. The chair they did this to, the customer they did that for. About the techs going to rescue people whose chairs broke down and giving people a lift home if they were local and could get in a van. And one mostly irrelevant story about a friend of his with Spina Bifida.

Sometime later a friend of mine was looking for a new manual. She ended up buying from a different supplier but she looked at chairs with the one I use and spoke to the owner. Who told her his stories, the same as he did me. Including the “friend with Spina Bifida” one.

They were obviously something he told a lot of people.

Fast forward 6 years and I haven’t seen him for most of that time as his son deals with repairs and was the one who sold me my Jive. But yesterday he took some chairs out for a friend to trial. She’s nothing like local to me. And they’re Oxfordshire based but on the other side of the county. So neither of them knew the other knows me.

He started telling her the story of a customer, living in Didcot, who got caught in the rain a couple of months ago. It waterlogged the joystick which caused it to trip and need to be replaced. At which point she asked “Was that Emma Crees?”

It was me.

In the six years I’ve known them I’ve done a lot with my chairs, meaning they’ve done a lot to my chairs. Broken things to fix, and worn out things to replace. I find they tend to be very good at getting out quickly when it’s urgent and great in a crisis. But can keep me waiting when it’s routine – probably because the prioritise emergencies.

And I’ve heard versions of “we would expect that to wear out but maybe not this soon” and “I’ve not seen one this badly broke before” after many of my mishaps and misadventures.

I was a bit taken aback to discover I’ve become one of the owner’s stories. But I’m now wondering how many of their staff have a “customer who…” story that’s actually about me.

For the record I am the one who got caught in the rain, the one whose joystick poured water all over the tech when he disconnected it. The one who fell out of her chair on a moving minibus while strapped in. The one keeps breaking gas struts. And who had the tech muttering “hit a train?!” in a bemused tone after an incident on the tube last year (I hit something on the train as I boarded)

But I’m also the one who in between the fails has been to more places in my chairs than I can remember. Hugged friends, drunk cocktails. Advised CAB clients and advocated for my rights. Laughed and lived and to use an Instagram phrase, made memories.