Month: June 2015

Belfast has a Business Problem


Being a bi-coastal student has many pros and cons – getting a break from parental guidance, homesickness, money issues, malnutrition – but one thing that remains a constant is comparison between the two places. Having a perspective of living in two places at different times of the year, I’ve noticed a lot of differences between Edinburgh and Belfast other than the obvious (weather and the accent). .Most significantly, their business approaches.

Edinburgh is a plethora of culture – widely known as one of the most diverse cities in the UK, it is home to the annual Fringe Festival, one of the biggest arts festivals in the world. Furthermore, with its long stretch of gardens and pathways along the main street, it takes full advantage of its onslaught of tourism during the holidays. A massive German Christmas market in November and December and the Meadows Festival in one of the most beautiful stretches of park in the city. Every time I go into a cafe, I am greeted with a pleasant demeanour and an enthusiastic disposition. In a way that mirrors a rather American attitude to customer service, Scottish waiting staff treat you with good humour and are always friendly and welcoming. They actually remain open until their actual closing time.

It’s unfortunate that I can’t say the same for Belfast. Speaking as a young person, I have immeasurable disdain for the young whippersnappers working in Subway who ask me in a reefer-induced haze whether I would like jalapenos on my sub. They can’t see me, the don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t care, but at least pretend.

Recently, I was having coffee with a friend in a new independent coffee shop in the city centre. We ordered and paid at the till, as per their system, and took our place at the window. A while later, my friend got her pot of tea. I was waiting rather a long time for my coffee, and when it came it looked like your standard instant joe – nothing like the creamy artisanal Americanos you would find in an independent Edinburgh coffee shop. We were wondering where the plate of mini biscuits that we ordered were, when I spotted them up at the till, not too far from a bored-looking barista standing reading a magazine. I rolled my eyes and went up to take the plate away, the barista mumbling “Oh, sorry” in the monotonal twentysomething drawl I’ve come to loathe.

It’s a trend that I notice in Belfast a lot more when I come home from Edinburgh during winter and summer. There just doesn’t seem to be the same ambition, drive and passion for industry here. No wonder there are so few independently-owned shops – there is generally very little business savvy and very few employees passionate about customer service. It becomes unpleasant to give these people money for mediocre service, and depressing to be served with such indifference. Sure, they might be having a bad day, but it’s hardly my fault. Also, aren’t they getting paid to be sort-of polite? You would think.

Anyway, I realise I might be coming off as an old man yelling at a cloud, but it makes me sad to see so much wasted potential in my beautiful city, which could be so much more if it just tried, It has so much to offer, and so much more could be done to better the economy and the infrastructure. It just needs a good kick up the arse..