Last week saw Mrs Moneo celebrate a semi-important birthday. Saturday night therefore saw us sitting in the local very swanky fine dining restaurant. A glorious setting on a wonderful summer’s evening. We worked our way through a very nice glass of champagne on arrival and were shown to our table in the newly refurbished restaurant. Menus duly appeared and we studied them diligently. Eventually we decided on the eight course tasting menu accompanied by the ‘wine flight’ with each course. Decision made, we sat back to await the arrival of the first course. We admired the refurbished surroundings and the quality of the décor.

At this point in walked a party of six diners and sat at the table next to ours. Now, of course, in these situations it is not thought seemly to earwig another table’s conversation but unfortunately it was difficult not to overhear what one diner was recounting due to his rather loud voice. I would like to share with you the gist of the conversation.

It would seem that recently he had been to an optical outlet as he wished to purchase some prescription sunglasses. His choice of establishment was driven by the adverts he had seen exhorting the great value great priced sunglasses that they had on offer for the summer. He duly attended and had his eyes tested and turned to the process of purchasing these excellently valued prescription sunglasses. He was then told that because of his prescription he ought to not have standard lenses but really should consider the ‘thinner lenses’. He was then encouraged to add special coatings on to these lenses ‘to make them last longer’. He was then told that the tint on offer probably would not suit him and that he should consider a better tint. Having worked his way around that little lot of information the person selling him these sunglasses then set about the issue of a frame to put the lenses in. He was told that the frames that were in the offer would all be the wrong size for him and that he really need something bigger and more robust.

He went along with this advice and then duly chose a frame that he was told was suitable. Up until this point he thought that the service was okay but was aware that he now had chosen something different to the original offer. Then came the moment when he was told the cost of the sunglasses. Now bearing in mind he had been lured to this establishment by what appeared to be a genuine offer imagine his utter shock when the price quoted was over £350. As he said, over five times the advertised price for effectively the same item! The noise of the gasps and ‘oh no’ and ‘I don’t believe it’ from the other diners seemed to echo around the dining room. Things then got worse as the other diners chipped in. ‘Well what do you expect from opticians?’ Then another diner at the table, ‘they’re all the same, rip off merchants!’ ‘They are just after your money.’ Then the original diner came back in to finish his story. It turned out that so great was his shock at what had happened that he had decided to go and buy his sunglasses and ordinary spectacles off the internet. So there he was in the restaurant sporting what looked like a perfectly respectable pair of prescription sunglasses and an ordinary pair of reading glasses both of which he had purchased online for less than a quarter of the price of the one pair of prescription sunglasses from ‘the optician’.

My embarrassment was acute. I sat there and actually felt shame welling up in me. This was my profession he was talking about. This was my profession that the other diners were roundly berating. This was my profession that was being exposed to public ridicule in front of a restaurant full of diners. Worse still I could hear people at other tables agreeing with the shocked response of the diners at the original table.

The sad thing is I know that as you read this many of you will have heard similar stories or possible encountered them with patients/customers in your own practices/shops. Why do we seem intent on alienating so many of our service users? So often these stories can be heard. Just one look on numerous chat rooms on the internet will reveal hideous stories. Why are we, by our actions, driving people to the internet suppliers? These sorts of sales tactics once used to be the domain of door to door salesman trying to get people to buy double glazing. These tactics are wrong. They demean our profession and undermine our professional status. What is worse they nearly turned my rather delightful meal into a bout of acute indigestion.

I felt I should go up to this gentleman and apologise for his experience at the hands of one of our profession. Did I? No, I was too ashamed to admit to him that I was an optometrist.