One of the first things that I noticed upon moving to The Netherlands is that customer service was a little different from what I was used to. I can best explain by sharing what happens in an American restaurant.

When you sit down at a table, the waitress automatically brings you a tall glass of ice water. She greets you and sometimes will even introduce herself.  She will tell you about the specials of the day and then leave you with menus. Okay, you have placed your order and are now eating the meal from a large plate that accommodates the very large American portions. During the meal the same waitress comes back to check on you. She wants to know two things: are you enjoying your meal and do you need anything else? And without you even asking, she will fill your water glass. Some restaurants have free refills on soda, and if that is the case, she will take away your glass and bring you another one. Also, there are napkins at each table setting and the waitress will bring a pile of extras if needed. Once your meal is over, she will take away the plates and ask if you want tea or coffee and dessert. You will get free refills on both tea and coffee. When she sees that you are done, she will bring your bill to the table and thank you for coming. Most times you can pay the bill from the table. And now you can go home.

Now, we are in The Netherlands, and you might notice some changes. The wait staff are friendly, I have rarely met grumpy or rude waitresses or waiters. You will immediately be asked what you would like to drink and once the drinks are delivered, you get a menu. There are no glasses of water and there are some places will not give you a free glass of water. By the way, the Dutch are not too impressed with ice. If you ask for ice with your soda, then you get an ice cube, maybe two. But it is rare to automatically get any ice. You also notice that there are no napkins, if you ask for one you will get….one. Some places do have napkins with the silverware and it is always a nice surprise to find them. The meals come on more reasonably sized plates with much smaller portions. There are no free refills on any drinks, including tea and coffee. Let me prepare you, in case you visit, there are no free refills in The Netherlands.

The biggest shock for me is that you do not get the same waiter during the meal. You could literally have four waiters as they all share the tables. I think that is part of the problem with their customer service, that the wait staff do not feel a bigger responsibility for their tables. Once you have your food, you will rarely see a waiter. They do not come back to check on you, and of course there are some exceptions, but it is rare. Also, they are not coming back to fill your water glass, so they have less reasons to return. Once you are done, you have to wave and wait for the bill. Once you get the bill, you go up to the front and pay. You do not do it at the table, unless you have cash.

I am writing this blog today because I recently went to a Chinese restaurant called the Jade Villa in Maarssen. We not only had a perfect and fabulous meal, but the service was so…American. They gave such excellent customer service I thought I was back in the USA. The experience stood out to me as it was so different  from what I have had for over two years. I cannot wait to go back just because of the way I was treated. This is what is all about. For Americans, I think great customer service is taken for granted. Here, the Dutch could use some lessons on improving their business. I think the best way to describe the major difference is that the Dutch are more reserved with the way they treat customers and Americans are looser and want to give you more. And that is what I felt that night at the Jade Villa, they could not do enough for you.

Now the other big difference is that the Dutch workers are mostly bilingual and most Americans are not. It is rare to go into a café or restaurant and have a waiter not know English. Not only do they know English but they are very welcoming to non-Dutch customers. I have amused many wait staff with my attempt at Dutch and have gotten lots of encouragement from them. Each time I order something in Dutch, they answer me back in English. For some reason, they know I am not Dutch. Maybe I should start wearing wooden shoes….

To my American friends, I wish you all a fabulous Thanksgiving. Whether you are going out or staying in, I hope it is filled with great food and that you show lots of gratitude to those who made and served the meal!

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  • krunn7  On November 26, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Your blog is the reason I like to blog with other folk around the world…to learn about other cultures. I find it all fascinating, not better or worse, I just like to learn about the nuances.

  • krunn7  On November 26, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    I would also like about 3 more bloggers from overseas in Africa or Asia or South America. I had to drop the ones I found as they had agendas I was not interested in. So I am building up a contact list again. I am not sure why yours always shows up in my e-mail, which is just fine, but it never appears in the latest posts on How did I meet up with you? I can’t remember.

  • Sumitra  On November 27, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Great story. Happy Thanksgiving Jane. Love and miss you

    Sent from my iPhone

  • Shers Gallagher  On November 27, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Perhaps I’m one of a minority of Americans who never appreciated knowing a wait person’s first name. In fact, I could care less. Nor do I like plates whisked away from me before I’m finished, or my conversation interrupted by the selfsame server whose name I now know asking me personal questions like how I am and if I am visiting my family, etc. I also don’t appreciate continued interruptions, such as a query as to if I’d like a refill or more to eat and drink. No, I rather enjoy the laid back continental attitude of allowing me to not only finish my uninterrupted meals but also uninterrupted personal conversations without knowing the wait person’s name or how they feel about their day…and/or mine. With that said, I too enjoy your take on the habits of our borrowed land. And Happy Turkey Day to you too. I haven’t celebrated in years, but I sure miss family during these holiday times!
    Take care now – from the lower lowlands than yours in the Randstad!

  • judy savage  On November 27, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    In the US, waitstaff usually say, “Hi. My name is **** and I will be your server today”. Sometimes I reply, “Hi. My name is Judy and I will be your customer today.” It’s fun to see their reaction.

  • Beth Turner Lavergne  On December 7, 2013 at 12:30 am

    Do you leave a gratuity? That would change everything!

  • colderweather  On January 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I’m a Swedish person, living in Canada. I’ve made exactly the same reflections on service. Also the bilingual part [in Sweden].

  • Ien in the Kootenays  On January 18, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    The lack of refill is always a shock! My first job in Canada was in a hamburger chain named Salisbury House. I came across some customers that were French, and one couple was Dutch. Naturally, I used my languages. In Amsterdam stores list the number of languages spoken as a matter of pride. Management called me over. Instead of a raise I received a reprimand, I should stick to English, otherwise people might think I was talking about them. Things may have
    changed since then.

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