I was recently invited by Mechelen Tourism to try out their Sense-Sations. This is a book of six coupons that you can buy (for 5 EUR), which enables you to visit six different shops in the centre of Mechelen and sample their local wares. Never one to turn down the kind offer of free food, and keen to explore more of this attractive city, I was quick to accept. Here’s a report of my experiences.
First up was Café Sava on the Grote Markt:
Next step was Bakery Vanderbeek & Godiva in the Steenweg:
Port of call number 3 was Schockaert’s Cheese Shop, Ijzerenlaan 28:
By this time it was approaching lunch, so I made my way to Chip Shop Korenmarkt:
Then it was time to walk off my lunch (!) with a stroll over to Sint-Katelijnestraat to pay a visit to Bakery Matthys:
After eating all those dry biscuits I was feeling rather thirsty so was glad that the final step on the Sense-Sations tour was Het Anker Brewery’s Brasserie:
So there you are. I had completed the Sense-Sations tour, handed in my six vouchers and received my six free samples of the best of Mechelen’s local specialities.
To be honest, I am none the wiser what I have consumed. No-one explained anything to me, showed any interest in me as a tourist, nor even as a potential buyer of more of their food and drinks.
Now, for 5 EUR you can’t expect a lot – so I have no problem with small portions. What I can’t understand is how no-one interacted with me, even though I could have been a potential customer of more of what I was sampling.
If this had been my first day in Belgium, and was looking forward to learning something about their local food & drink, I would have been disappointed. As it happens, I have lived in this country for 28 years so have grown well accustomed to a poor level of customer service.
You see, there’s nothing unusual or unique about this to Mechelen. It’s a Belgian disease. Customer service levels in shops, cafés and restaurants generally hover between non-existent and poor. There are notable exceptions of course; places where you are warmly welcomed, appreciated and informed. Once you’ve found such a place, you’ll want to visit it time and again. But generally, customers are given the impression that they are performing a great service to the shopkeeper or café owner by being allowed to purchase something from them.
I also find it quite amusing to read in the local press of the winners of “Friendliest Bar Tender” or “Most Customer-Oriented Shopkeeper” awards. I’ve been in some of these places, and notice that these award-winners are extremely friendly to their friends, their regular customers, and the people they know. But to strangers or infrequent visitors, they often give the appearance of being aloof, unfriendly and uninterested.
I would be interested in any comments on this topic.
Oh, by the way, I have a free set of Sense-Sations coupons to give to someone who is interested in doing the tour. Just drop me a line. You might have a different experience to me.