Where I come from in the United States, our standards for customer service are SO high, that ONE bad review will literally make or break a restaurant! Reviews can be fierce, taint an image, tarnish a name; Google reviews - oh, and the forever-feared Yelp! - not to mention Twitter, which has also been known to drag establishments into their untimely deaths! What’s even more important for me is the customer service that must go hand-in-hand with that magical experience. And unfortunately, this critical part is often lacking here in Dakar.
All of this potential for negative reviews tends to result in restaurants trying their very best to avoid them at all costs; The responsibility is off the customer to be polite, and 100% on the restaurant to create an amazing dining experience, regardless of the customer’s demeanor, ability to pay, or problems that may arrive during their stay.
So...what did this mean for me, once I landed in beautiful Dakar? Allow me to share my very first and most important experience with you. Upon my arrival , my anticipation for good food and great dining experiences remained the same.
The time had rolled around for date night, my husband and I were dressed to the nines and figured we’d go someplace romantic. I won’t tell you where we went (but the experience has been repeated in countless establishments since then, so serves as a general example) but upon our arrival to this much-anticipated, very-beautiful establishment for our first date night in Dakar, we were left standing in the lobby - while about 7 staff members just stared at us. I looked at my husband in disbelief, and whispered to him ‘Babe, please say something...’ he greeted the staff and inquired if they were open. Of course they were open, so after being prompted, they asked if we would like a table.
The awkwardness of this situation at such a nice place, left me to wonder if this was the exception or the rule for other places in Dakar? The service was a little better, but reminders for extra napkins, a fork, and forgetting a side dish, remained steady throughout our evening.
Altogether, the food was delightful and the drinks were served with a “feisty punch” - As we gathered our leftovers and requested the bill, we were met with another shocking revelation - NO CHANGE. So as my husband, the waitress, and bartender were scrambling for change, we were met - once again! - with stares of bewilderment and confusion.
Our change was eventually found - but by other patrons in the restaurant!!
After this experience, I learned a few valuable things that have assisted me tremendously since I’ve been here:
When visiting any establishment; whether it be a restaurant, bank, gas station, fruit stand, or school, always speak first. This could be an easy ‘Bonjour ’, ‘Ca va?’ , or ‘ As-salamu alaykum’.
Be humble; you are a visitor in someone else's home/culture. Meaning when the discomfort sets in, remember you are not at home! Confrontation is to be avoided at all cost, so try your best to remain humble.
Always be kind, as immigrants/‘Expats’ our realities are not the same as a majority of the individuals we are interacting with.
It is okay to say ‘Deedet’ ,’Non, merci’, or Bayil ba beneen yoon (Next time)
Always count your change. Learn the currency/have a basic understanding of prices. For instance, bread, milk, eggs, and bananas. Try to bring exact change, or at least small bills!
Learn some Wolof, where possible. Just a few basic phrases can make your life much easier - after all, we are in Senegal, and Wolof is the main local language. French, while useful, is the language of colonialism, which evoques anti-colonial sentiment that Africa is trying to move on from.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST; if an establishment goes above and beyond- let their management know of the excellent customer service you just received. Also, be sure to share your wonderful experience with us, your associates, or social media groups.
So for now, that is all. I wish you the best customer service experiences in Dakar! You will find them in the most unlikely places.