Today started as enthusiastically as yesterday finished. Thank heavens for Louise arriving on time and sorting the teas and coffees. Louise now knows how dangerous it is to ask the evening before if any help might be needed; the answer is always going to be “oooooh, yes”.
With two more joining us today, we go through the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys’ again, and look at language simplicity around pitching the project. Alliteration is popular. “Authentic and affordable”; “delicious food, decently priced”; “fabulous falafel, fantastic price”. The use of language is delightful. One participant reminds us it’s exactly a year since he arrived in the UK, and indeed I remember meeting him so clearly - he couldn’t say a single word. Yet today, he asks if “coveted” would be a good collocation for the word “cost”. It is nothing short of joyful.
Our second session starts with the very brilliant writer, musician, director, performer and generally excellent Denise, who forces us onto our feet and puts everyone through a series of exercises designed to break down inhibitions about speaking to people, and control the breathing when the nerves are up. Tongue twisters, vocal exercises, discovery of everyone’s special talent (Den can do an alarmingly accurate walrus impression; I can close my nose like a camel; M can stick one leg out in front of him and lower himself to the floor and back up again; R can lick his own elbow... and so on) and everyone is noisy and much, much more relaxed.
And so to practise customer service. Den’s game “Difficult Customer; Dream Customer” involves the customer choosing different scenarios, and the participants responding as best they can. “Your falafel is delicious” was greeted with “Yes, I know” from B, though we all then agree that “Thank you - do come again” is probably better. The example of “I don’t like falafel - can I have a burger?” gets short shrift from K (“Go to McDonalds”) and so we discuss the importance of always being positive to gain custom (“We do only have falafel - but why don’t you give it a try?”). When Louise, playing the Difficult Customer says “I forgot my money and I can’t pay” most of them agree that she could be allowed to pay next week because that might bring her back; S, however, is cynical, and demands she gives him her shoes. “She’s pulling a fast one” he whispers to me, and I am so bowled over by the use of idiom, I can only agree.
Over lunch, Andy and Jemma, from a well-known local company, come to give them the chance to practise their pitch on strangers. Two of them are brave enough to try, and Andy and Jemma couldn’t have been more positive. Talking to strangers can be hard enough if strangers have not always been kind. Doing it in a second language adds another layer of difficulty.
One more protracted debate over the horrors of hairnets, and one apron trying-on session later and we are pretty much ready to go. We will open tomorrow at about 12.30 at the Electric Theatre in Guildford. We have no idea whether we will sell out, or have no customers at all.
As A said earlier, that is all part of the fun.
Huge thanks to Louise, Denise, Andy and Jemma for all your help today, and to Jo at the Electric Theatre for her continued unflappable brilliance.