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Danny Wallace on discovering the real benefits of loyalty

We are soon to move house, and so it is with a heavy heart that I phone the curry house we have used every Friday night for the past 10 years or so to place what will be our very final order.

“It’ll never be the same,” I tell my wife as I pick up the phone. “For them or for us.”

And it’s true: the same slightly gruff man taking my order and losing interest the moment his second line starts ringing. The same other man taking the phone from him to complete the order. A third man turning up at the door and pushing a curry at me along with a tiny, unwanted complimentary fizzy water, then running off. Each one a magical moment in and of itself.

“Should I tell them it’s the last time?” I ask my wife, and she says, “Definitely, because they might give us the curry for free!”

She is absolutely right.

“Yes?” says the slightly gruff man answering the phone.

“Hello,” I say, politely. “I should like to order the following for immediate delivery.”

I don’t quite say it like that, but you get the gist.

“One garlic chilli chicken,” I say, and what was that I noticed in the pause after? Could it be an implied nod of recognition? That he knows it is me? His most loyal customer?

“One sag aloo,” I say, knowingly. “Two spicy poppadoms, two plain.”

That’s the giveaway. He’s taken this order hundreds of times on this day of the week. The poor guy, imagine his heartbreak in a minute.

“One large pilau ri…“

His other line goes off. He hands the phone to the second guy to complete the order.

“Yes please?”

“Uh, one large pilau rice,” I say again, and he jots it down, and as we near the end of the order, I try to work out how to phrase what I’m going to say next.

“Can I just say,” I just say, “I have enjoyed your curries and fizzy waters for 10 years… and tonight is the last time I will be able to order one.”

A pause.

“Really?” he says, confused.

“I’m afraid so,” I reply.

I wink at my wife. She sits forward, eager to see what will happen next, and how loyalty in this customer-centric age is truly rewarded.

“OK,” says the man. “So one garlic chilli chicken, one…“

He’s just moving on! What happened to rewarding loyalty in this customer-centric age? It’s like I mean nothing to this guy!

“What I mean is,” I say, interrupting. “We will really miss your curries.”

I’m determined to get through to him. Just give me a smile, a moment of gratitude, a warm farewell? Even just the promise of a tiny bottle of complimentary Cobra, the way they used to do before they inexplicably started packing tiny fizzy waters, which no one wants?

And there’s a breakthrough. Finally he grasps the gravity of the situation: this relationship between us that has held so strong for so many years is coming to an end. This will be our last ever moment together.

“Well,” he says. “If you’re ever back this way…”

Yes…?

“And you feel like a curry…”

Yes…?

“We would be happy to take your order.”

The call ends.

I stare at the phone for a second, like they do in films.

“What happened?” asks my wife.

“He said that if we’re ever back this way, he would be happy to take our order.”

“As opposed to what?” she says, frowning. “Happy not to take our order?”

I cannot believe it. This man has essentially rewarded 10 years of unwavering loyalty by telling me I am not banned.

“I feel so cheated,” I say. “You’d think that seeing as this is the last chance a commercial venture has to make money out of us, they would purposely not make money out of us.”

Happy to take my order? It is outrageous. Just because we’re moving out of the area and will never speak to this guy again, he thinks he can go right ahead and charge the going rate for a curry, plus the costs involved in staff wages, petrol and delivery. This is terrible customer service, particularly when you consider that I am no longer a customer.

But when the third man turns up at my door, all my fears are unfounded. Usually so keen to shove a curry and fizzy water at me and run, tonight he is full of regret.

“We will be sorry to see you go,” he says, and we shake hands, and there is a moment of mutual curry-based respect between me (the hunter) and him (the gatherer).

“Goodbye, old friend,” I say, with my eyes. “Fare thee well.”

And that’s all I need. I didn’t need a free curry. Just the warm feeling that I’d been a valued customer.

When I open the bag, I see that they’ve decided not to give me my complimentary unwanted fizzy water this time.

Well, I won’t be using them again.

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