Saturday, 7 March 2009

An Unforgettable Dinner

Companies tend to stereotype customers. Most times this is done deliberately for marketing purposes, the underlying belief being, if we know the context in which the customer is placed, we can service him better. The context here could be gender, profession, industry, religion, geography, and myriad other factors.

But often, stereotyping can be an unconscious process which could be based less on factual data and founded more on our own personal and cultural biases and prejudices. Leading exponents of management theory caution you to tread carefully around stereotypes and one of them, Stephen Macaulay, puts it very bluntly: “Be wary of stereotypes—they may be a useful template but they conceal as much as they reveal. At best, they are a starting point for further exploration; at worst, they are totally misleading.”

When I read that statement, I suddenly remembered a dinner I had in Germany with BS who was my boss at that time and a customer who shall, for the purposes of this blog, be called Mr. Iyer.

We were in Dusseldorf to attend a trade fair where the company had a huge presence and where Mr. Iyer had signed with us for a substantial order. This, combined with the fact that Iyer had been a loyal customer of ours for the past two decades, made BS feel obliged to offer him dinner. BS wanted to take him to the old part of the town, the Altstadt, which was known for its narrow, cobbled streets, old churches, trendy bars, high-class restaurants and of course, the famously special beer of Dusseldorf, the Altbier.

I indicated to BS that there could be a small problem: while I knew for a fact that Iyer liked beer, I was equally certain that he was a strict vegetarian. He was, after all, a Tamil Brahmin from traditional, conservative, orthodox Chennai and maybe he would have eggs at the most, but fish and meat were definitely a no-no. BS, who was Danish, was rather dismayed by this piece of information, but finally we decided to go ahead with the programme anyway. In a worst-case scenario, Iyer will have to be content with a salad and some bread.

At seven in the evening, we hit Altstadt, which is also (rightfully, I must say) known as the longest bar in the world. The atmosphere is electric. The narrow streets are already filling up with friendly revellers and we get pulled in by the tide. A few hours later, after imbibing vast quantities of Altbier from many way-side bars, we land up at a quaint bistro, off one of the main streets. It’s a warm, cosy place with bright lights, loud music, and young, smart waitresses hurrying about with trays laden with food that looks absolutely delicious.

This is the moment of truth. Seated at a corner table, BS turns around to address Mr. Iyer, who is good cheer personified, after all that beer. “So, Mr. Iyer, what would you like for the main course?”

“What I would like,” says Mr. Iyer with great satisfaction, “is a juicy rib-eye steak, medium-rare, with a side order of fries, please.”

BS glances at me briefly and suppresses a smile. And I, the self-confessed expert in customer stereotypes, watch in fascination as, during the course of the meal, the rib-eye steak is polished off with clinical precision.

Photo Courtesy: www.nycotto.com

11 comments:

Amrita said...

Dammit, now I'm hungry!

Anonymous said...

Hey Radha ,

The Drupa trade fair and staying at Felea Rinee ship gives a intreseting memory.

I can remeber this Iyer whom you are refering to if I think the same. Some years back I did travel with him and I guess excepting a four legged Chair and Table he was game for every thing!!
Thats life mate

Maddy said...

That was a good one. I have seen this happen a few times, but closer to chicken, not steak...Chowringhee has in it this situation written about perfectly too by Sankar...

Iyer must have done the prayaschitam following the dinner..

sree said...

nice one, RK. medium rare, that too. abhishtu!

Rada said...

@ Amrita: For a rib-rye steak? :-)

@ Anand: Staying on the boat was real fun, I remember! Must write about it sometime.

@ Maddy: Once you cross over to the other side, you do so with a vengeance, I have always observed!

@ Sree: Thanks!

Varunan said...

btw, this reminds me of what happened with me in Paris...

I was non-veg those days and my buyer said, good I will take you to a very good restaurant...

he ordered ox tongue and strongly suggested I follow suit.

I excused myself saying I probably will not enjoy because of the consistency of the meet, similarity with liver etc which I hate...

Then my eyes fell on beef tartar and assuming it to be a steak in tartar sauce I plumped for that..

he said 'bon' and conversation resumed most of which consisted of paeans about how good the meats in the restaurant was, handpicked as they were by the owner himself every day at 5 AM in the morning from the huge city meat market...

when the waitress returned with beer I gently told, please tell her to make my steak well done...

His eyes brows went up, 'well-done?!!? but it is raw meat.........'

I swallowed hard... then some kind of bravado took over.

I said okay no problem I will eat it.

He anyway, assuming that the sight of raw meat isn't going to be my meat, summoned her and asked her to mix the sauce and the meat well and bring it...

eventually it arrived - thick vermicelli like meat covered in some kind of greenish cabbagey sauce...

I ate it... and I have to admit that I liked it too

litterateuse said...

:-)

g

Vijay said...

LOL... Mr. Iyer was a closet steak foodie :-)

awingandaprayer said...

Go, Iyer!

Gotta love it when they turn the tables on you:-)

Cynic in Wonderland said...

he went all anti-iyer on you eh? well i knew a parsi feller who was a veggie ( everyone used to think that was such a huge waste of a cuisine).

Ideasmith said...

Hehehe. I'm losing count of the number of people who look down their nose at me and say, "You're veggie of course?" and then gape when I go, "Uh, no. I'll have kebabs." What really gets to them is when I tell them I've eaten beef, crab and even octopus!! :-D

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.