Dutch service quality

One of the things I noted over the past days in Holland, is that service in restaurants and hotels often is terrible. Not sure if it has gotten worse over the past years or that I am too used to the service level in China where people at least try to do a good job (not that it always works out!). Just a couple of examples from my stay in Amsterdam this week.

Yesterday morning when I checked out of my hotel in Amsterdam I asked the receptionist to call a taxi for me. She told me that I should ask the concierge to do that. Because the concierge was outside helping other people and I was in a hurry, I asked if she could help me. There were no other people waiting, but she still refused. This was not part of her job she told me. I told her that the day before the person at the counter had called a taxi for me, but she just ignored it. I waited a few minutes until the concierge came and he quickly got me a taxi. I now have a bad feeling about the hotel, even though I liked the rest of the stay there very much.

Later that morning I was meeting someone at the PICNIC conference. It was nice weather and we decided to have a drink outside at the WestergasTerras (a bar/restaurant next to the Wester Unie building). It was 10:30 AM and several people were already sitting there in the sun talking with other conference participants. The person running the restaurant was cleaning the tables and I asked him for two coffees. Bad luck. He told me they would not open until 11:00 (or 11:30, I forgot), so we would have to wait until then. I did not understand it, there is a big conference going on around your restaurant and you refuse to open earlier to serve many people already sitting on your terrace? How much easier can it be to make money? Maybe I should be glad he did not send us away, but allowed us to sit on his terrace…

Something similar happened at the espresso bar next to my hotel. Earlier in the week I was waiting there for a friend around 6:30 PM and several people entered the bar to grab a coffee or a small bite to eat. But the owner refused to serve them. I close at 6:30 PM, he told them, because I also want my private life. How can you run a business like that? As an entrepreneur I would be glad for every new client that would walk in, but this guy sent 3 clients away within 5 minutes! He even complained to a guest, saying that each time he closes his bar so many people walk in… The guy has been running this shop for years, so it does not seem to hurt his business too much. But of course his business has also not expanded over the past years.

Lunch at PICNIC was also an interesting experience. I had a business lunch on the terrace of Pacific Parc. We were lucky to get a table outside, but we were not so lucky to get the attention of a waitress. After about 10 minutes we finally got a menu, but she did not want to wait for us to order. So we had to wait for another 10 minutes, but still no one came. Eventually I went inside to order, but there I was told I could not order inside, only with the the waitresses. I told them I had been here for 20 minutes already but did not manage to order yet. The answer: “If you’re in a hurry you should not come here.”

When I see people running a business with this kind of attitude I think there are still a lot of opportunities to make money in Holland. And if I would have staff treating clients in this way I am sure they would not stay long in my company. And the strangest thing is that customers seem to accept it!

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  1. I discussed this topic before, debating the success formula of Chinese restaurants in The Netherlands. The Chinese cuisine became a part of the Dutch culture rather quick, and me; being befriended with a Chinese immigrant ever since I was 3 years old knew a lot about the restaurant business. I learned something valuable by knowing this poor family, trying to establish in the Netherlands… Let me tell you what their key to success was;

    When I was young, I helped them out with dishes, and waiting the tables. Thing was, I was getting payed well; but had to work hard!

    Guess what I want to say, is that in a small village where I came from, the Chinese were successful by giving a little more service then an average restaurant. For farmers, getting PERSONAL approach and things like a hot towel to wash up was never seen before! These things cost little, but made their business grow! Currently they grew to a million dollar business, driving big cars and enjoying huge success. Thing I learned was that their (easy to do, but hard to get) service is key to their success in the Netherlands.

    I live in Korea now, and I love the friendliness that I receive everywhere.

  2. Excellent remark Joop, good service is something that indeed makes Chinese restaurants in Holland stand out. Another USP is the fact that you always get too much food for a (relatively) low price. Just like in China!

  3. Hi Marc,

    I completely agree with you. Service in Holland is not what it should be like. I do not understand why people do not serve you better, that makes work a lot nicer for them and pleases yourself as well as you see customers are happy. I agree a lot of money can be made because of this bad experience.

  4. Hi Marc,

    Thanks for posting this – it confirms my experiences – but I’m still in NL, and thought I was getting crazy 😉

    Service is not getting worse, but it certainly isn’t improving either… you’ve just been exposed to Chinese service all too much 😉

    Researchers claim that the origin of this phenomenon is culturally determined. As an example – the USA is ‘equity’ driven (like China), and people in The Netherlands are clearly ‘equality/egalitarian’ driven.

    In other words, waitresses in America will ‘run faster’ to serve their clients in order for them to get a good tip afterwards.

    In The Netherlands the service-mentality is almost non-existent, as it does not appeal to ‘our’ drive… on the contrary: serving someone else is almost ‘not done’ because being humble and serviceable does not match with the egalitarian principle.

    As a result, there are many opportunities for business…if you can grow your revenues simply by deciding not to close the place when clients walk in and ask for your offering…geez i wish my life was that simple growing our revenues..

    Best regards,


  5. Marc,

    I agree with you. I often get arrogant, self-serving, and slightly hostile responses when I’m in NL. I’m there now and I’ll be glad to get back to Asia on Thursday. They’re not always as well trained in Asia, but they’re kind and they do try!

    Kind regards,
    Timen Swijtink

  6. Hi Marc,

    I am so glad I found your blog today! We were just talking about the mystery of restaurant service in Holland, and decided to “Google” it, and there you were, on the first page.

    We’ve been to the Netherlands many times, and could never figure out how to get waited on. We were afraid we were committing some huge faux pas, but had no idea what it was.

    Yes, as Timen said, we often got arrogant and cold treatment, and very very slow service. The great mystery was that it didn’t seem to bother the Dutch patrons.

    I am So happy to hear that Chinese restaurants with their friendly, customer oriented service, do well in the Netherlands. Thank you Joop!

    And THANK YOU Stephen Derksen for your explanation about Equity-driven vs Equality-driven cultures. Wonderful insight, and just what my whole family needed to put this whole experience in perspective!

    Marc ~ my daughter and I had a good laugh reading about your adventures in Amsterdam — it all sounded so familiar! Glad to learn we weren’t alone in that. (Must admit, there was one large hotel in Maastricht that had very good service, at least in 1991 — not recalling the name at the moment.)

    China sounds wonderful!

    All the best,