The lack of customer service in Armenia is often blamed on the Soviet legacy. But where there so many cafes and restaurants in the Soviet Union?

While in Armenia earlier this month I could not but dislike the bad customer service almost in all cafes and restaurants (with the exception of an entirely unknown cafe within a gift shop, “Treasures of Armenia,” on Abovyan street in downton Yerevan where customer service is the best in the world; “The Club,” “Art Bridge” were not bad either). In the gorgeous Astral cafe, for example, during our third visit my friends and I had to leave it because no one approached us to help in 30 minutes. In Jazzve, another famous place, I had to ask the manager to send a waiter to help us. And on Princess Marianna, a ship-cafe in the Hrazdan gorge, I had to give “tips” on how to be nice to customers to their waiter. And I’d better not talk about the funny waiters in Harsnaqar resort at the lake Sevan.

It feels like waiters in cafes are about to start a fight with you. Yes, WAITERS and not WAITERS AND WAITRESSES because for some reason 99% of cafes have male waiters only. On one hand, it is good that Armenian women don’t have to go through the regular sexual harrasment by working in cafes*, on the other hand I felt like I was in an Arab country where men serve in bars and restaurants. And I am pretty sure this new “fashion” of having men serve comes from many Armenians’ beloved Dubai, the place on the Earth I hate perhaps the most. Too bad that places like Dubai have become many Armenians’ model. But for some reason many like going to Dubai; well, those eastern Europeans are taking their introduction to capitalism/materialism obsessively.

Ironically, capitalism – I think – can help us understand the lack of customer service in Armenia. I was surprised to find out, for instance, that bills in Armenia’s many cafes include the “service charge.” This means you are not supposed to tip the waiter because they already charge you for it. For the customer, it may be a good deal because the “service charge” is usually only 5% in contrast to the 15% charge in the United States and other places in the world. Sadly, most waiters don’t even get this 5% because many cafes are said to keep a percentage from the “service charge.”

No wonder waiters don’t care about the customer. No matter how they serve, they are going to get the same paycheck which is very very little money to survive with in Armenia. And since they make so little money, all they can think about is what to do to make more. This was best observed in the beautiful Parvana restaurant complex in the Hrazdan Gorge, where the waiters – again all males – would gather in groups once a while and I guess talk about saving food from customers to later resell them or take them home. A former barman, who is now involved in the entertaiment industry, told me he would sell his own products at the bar in order to make money.

Capitalism may not be the only explanation for Armenia’s common lack of customer service. Still, I am pretty sure if the culture on tipping based on service replaced the precharged service fee there would be some improvements. And ordinary Armenians should also learn to tip. I understand that money is scarce in Armenia, but if they afford going to a cafe they should anticipate leaving something for the waiter. And the waiter should be a helper and not a headache.

And yes, I was looked at as a fool when I tipped 15%. But hey, I do it in the West and why not do it in Armenia?

*The other thing I noticed that the direct manager of the male waiters is often a lady.