Monday, May 18, 2009

More on Yaroslavl and the service industry

As I said before, Yaroslavl is preparing to celebrate its 1000th birthday. With not quite a year until the big tourist event happens, the churches are all on track for being shown off. Weeds are cut, doors are opened, trash is collected. Yet, there is an overall lack of tourist spirit in the service industry.

Having lived in Yaroslavl about 5 years ago, Sarah did not expect to be able to find many places to eat. Fortunately this has changed a bit and there are quite a few different restaurants with various cuisines and prices. Unfortunately, the servers are of slightly lower quality than even Moscow servers. While Moscow servers generally don’t make eye contact and make it difficult for you to get their attention, they at least notice you when you enter a restaurant and aren’t scared off by a silly mistake on their or your part. Basically, they are used to dealing with foreigners.

On the other hand, servers in Yaroslavl seemed to be a little skittish of customers. Service at almost all places was slooooow. We would wait about 15 minutes to get a menu, then rush in the hopes of having made up our minds by the time the waitress graced us with her presence another 15 minutes later. Then, it’s always a hassle to get a check because a) you have to know to ask for it b) you need to expect to wait about 30 minutes before getting it c) once you pay the bill you will no longer get service. Basically, a lot of time needs to be devoted to venturing out to eat and when you are visiting a city and don’t want to spend all your time at your rental flat, then you should expect to spend most of your time eating or trying to eat.

The worst example of the simple lack of awareness was actually a bar with a great atmosphere. They had outdoor seating, so we waiting outside for about 30 minutes before someone finally asked if we had been helped, then once we got a menu and waited for another 10-15 minutes, we decided we would be better off inside. This was true until I made the mistake of wanting to know the difference between three different types of coffee. I asked Sarah how to say it in Russian, asked the waitress, and she ran off with the menu to the cash desk and promptly placed an order for the three drinks. Basically, if you are foreign, people stop listening to anything you say because it’s too much work, at least this was my impression. Needless to say, the city cafes have some lessons to learn quickly before next year. Granted many of the visitors will be Russian, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a fair amount of foreigners make it out there.


  1. We wonder if the Mexicans learned from the Russians (or vice versa) on how long to wait before you take an order or bring the bill. Maybe its more universal that we suspect. Was this an overnight trip and if so, what were the accomodations like ??

  2. We stayed two nights. Accomodation was not bad, we stayed at a flat with a kitchen, fridge, two pull out sofas, and not a bad bathroom. Wasn't exactly American hotel quality (of course)

  3. I recently got some insight into issues with service - A couple of my students pointed out that many Russians just expect bad service. There's no real idea that you should go to a competitor and force service to change. Acceptance of status quo is pretty normal, and I've noticed it's almost essential if I want to stay sane.