One of the things that really drives me crazy in business is meanness and small-mindedness, and this is especially true when I feel ripped off. And my frustration just erupted when I had a meal in a restaurant recently. On the surface, everything appeared great. The food was delicious. The service was attentive. The decor and location was really attractive and desirable. The toilets were clean.

But when I ordered a cold-drink, the waiter brought me one of those little anorexic cans with a total volume of just 200ml. I just lost it. It barely filled the glass with ice that I drank from, and, as he set it down, I asked him if they didn’t have bigger cans. He said no, and I immediately – and unhappily – ordered my next drink. By the time I finished my meal, I’d had ordered three of these little cans, and I decided to skip the pudding. I vowed to never go back again.

I ate R150 of food, and paid R42 for those drinks. Those little cans were never designed as full portions of drinks: they are only used for mixers. Did you hear that Mr. Restaurateur: They are designed for mixers like brandy and coke. I know that a lot of profit is made from drinks, but that restaurant manager hasn’t realized that it’s far more expensive to replace a lost customer.

This experience stirred me to remember all my experiences with pettiness in companies. Managers often make bad decisions (sometimes for good reasons,) but quite honestly, it’s rather pathetic. Remember those little jam holders that are used in hotels as a single portion of jam? When they were first launched, they had a nice thick strong foil lid that peeled off easily. Then some bright spark said that they should make a flimsier lid from plastic that felt like Glad Wrap. They probably saved 0, 083c per container, which, when you multiply by 1 million, turns out to be a grand sum of R830. The only problem for customers was that it was impossible to get it off without getting jam all over your fingers.

What do paper serviettes cost? 5c each? 10c each? I don’t know, but when you are paying the better part of R50 for a cheeseburger and chips, you expect that they will give you more than one. In hotels I can’t understand why they give us that little bar of soap that keeps slipping through my admittedly podgy and stubby fingers. (And while we are at it, stop nagging me to save on your water bill! Not when I’m paying R980 to stay there for one night.)

We pay the better part of R500 per delegate per day at some conference centres, added to the R5000 to hire the venue, another R500 for a projector, and more for a microphone – and then get charged R40 for each person’s parking bay. This is the same venue where the cheap plastic pens never work, and where each delegate gets a total of three pages of pad to write on. Oh, and did I forget to mention that all the plugs at the podium haven’t worked for at least 3 years, so there are extension cords all over the place. When our clients do ask for my recommendation for a venue, guess who’s not on the list?

One American airline, almost bankrupt today, desperately looked for ways to save money, and decided that they would cut the number of olives in passengers’ salads from three down to two. I’m sure it saved them a whopping amount of money! SA’s oldest tomato sauce producer also decided to make the bottles much smaller, but without reducing the price by the same proportion. And whatever happened to those colddrink cans that used to be 340ml rather than the 330ml cans we have now?

There are so many signs of pettiness in business today: Obscene bank charges for small transactions, even worse when customers become forgetful. Extra fees for cell phone calls that were lost. All sorts of penalties when customers just do what people normally do, like forget to pay an account, or pick up an order on time. Closing the store at exactly the time advertised, (even though customers are desperate to come inside.) Charging a fee for staff to carry wedding presents from the ballroom to the car. (I swear, it happened to someone in my family.) Pay R12 for tap water. R3 per minute for local calls in a hotel room, and R10 for every faxed page that arrives. Signs at cinemas and other places proclaiming that “Only food purchased here may be consumed at these premises.” A “no-refunds-only-replace” policy even when customers are disappointed with the product. The list goes on and on.

So are there businesses that do things differently? You bet there are. Those of you from Johannesburg may remember the late Ian Gillies, owner of Giles Restaurant, who published his menu with a statement that he would not charge a corkage fee if you brought your own wine – even though his establishment was fully licensed.

And what about the owner of my local Chinese Restaurant, Li’s in Cyrildene, who, when he saw how much we enjoyed our meal brought us extra portions of the same – for nothing? On another occasion when we took the leftovers home he added extra rice. And the baker who always seems to make mistakes – by putting in an extra roll or croissant in your packet, or secretly giving your child a sweet behind your back? (It happens to me often at Fournos Bakery.)

And my favourite jeweller in Eastgate, who regularly replaced watch batteries for free, polished my watch face so that I wouldn’t have to pay for a full replacement for the glass, and even gave me advice about leaving my old Omega in the sun or over a lamp for a day every winter so that he wouldn’t have to send it in for cleaning?

Yes, there are many companies that refuse to be petty, who go so far as to break the rules for their customers, and go out of their way to be helpful. It may mean a short term loss for now, but the reward for your generosity in customer loyalty lasts for a very long time.