It's Always the Waitress' Fault

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I try to write about three times per week. Most of it is pretty good and will probably help you grow your business. If it doesn't, then I probably can't help you.

You can use a traditional RSS Feedreader with this fancy-dancy link. I think this approach is harder but if you want to do it the hard way, who am I to say otherwise?

You can use a traditional RSS Feedreader with this fancy-dancy link. I think this approach is harder but if you want to do it the hard way, who am I to say otherwise?

posted this on Monday, October 3, 2011 at about 2pm.
Kids at Costa Vida

Yesterday I was traveling with my children after a weekend out of town. If you’ve read my bio, you know that I have five wonderful children. I love them, but, as you can imagine, I have to take some considerations in how I approach things… especially when my bride isn’t with me.

At restaurants, I look for tables that have a combination of two characteristics.

  1. They need to be close to the bathrooms.
  2. They need to have fewer people around.

My children are very well behaved but I am a realistic person.

Yesterday, as we were anxious to get our food, eat and get back on the road, the restaurant was very slow. There was no one waiting in the waiting area but it took nearly 10 minutes to get our table. Staff just walked around and really didn’t pay attention to us.

Finally getting to our seat, the hostess gave us three kids menus (remember how many I needed?) and a large handful of crayons. We had about 12 crayons… 10 were blue and two were red. That doesn’t divide well… nor provide for many coloring options.

The waitress came and, during the order, one of my daughters spilled her water. It was innocent. We had two napkins on the table and, as I was struggling trying to wipe up the water with only two napkins, the waitress read back the order to me… didn’t help at all.

If you know me, you’ll know that I can be a bit impatient, but I bit my tongue. I did ask for two more menus for coloring and additional crayons. They never came.

After being in the restaurant for about 30 minutes, the waitress came and said they were still working on my food then went to the kitchen and told them what my omelet order was. I heard from across the dining room.

Finally, after being in the restaurant for 50 minutes she commented that they were still waiting on my omelet. #doh!

I had her start bringing the kids’ food out and commented, rather brusquely, that we’d been there a long time. Thank heavens my children were being well behaved.

Finally, as we got our food, my meal wasn’t even prepared properly.

I haven’t even shared half of the problems that occurred during that long hour and fifteen minutes but it prompted a tweet indicating that my tip would reflect how I felt. As you can imagine, I had a number of comments like, “Well, a tip should reflect the server and not the restaurant as a whole,” or, “Well, you should talk to the manager and ask for a discount.”

Here’s the reality: Whomever you are talking to at a business is where your perception of that business is defined. In a restaurant, it’s the host/hostess or the waiter/waitress. That person is responsible, fully, for your experience to be the best.

My point of it’s always the waitress’ fault is that the waitress is the one that represents the restaurant. It’s her (or his, if the boot fits) responsibility to make sure that I, as the customer, am well taken care of. Even when there are problems in the kitchen, she should be proactive in getting the manager involved. She should be proactive in getting more crayons for the kids. She should be the one to proactively apologize that the kitchen is backed up. You see my point?

Let me give you a positive example. I love the food at Costa Vida. At our local spot in Meridian, Idaho, the staff and management are spectacular. I am not sure what it is about them, but the staff has very little turn over and they really take great care of their customers. (Much better than other Costa Vida locations I’ve been to.) I was in line today for lunch and the person behind me asked a question of the server, “Can I get the daily special but pay an extra dollar and make it a large?”

The first response from the server was, “No.”

However, she paused, then said, “Let me go ask the manager.”

I was smiling a bit because I was thinking about this blog post. I was hoping the answer would come back as yes to further prove my point. She talked with the manager for a good 45 seconds then came back and just started making a large. The customer was very happy that the exception was made and even the manager came over and said something to the effect, “Just don’t tell anyone because we aren’t supposed to do this.” (I hope I don’t get anyone in trouble)

The server at Costa Vida went out of her way to make a customer happy. A customer that would have just been satisfied was now thrilled.

If you are in the restaurant business, your customer doesn’t care what is going on in the kitchen. Your customer doesn’t care that your delivery truck didn’t make it. Your customer only cares that his or her experience is made the best it can be made.

In any business, this is true. You can be in retail (Home Depot, Target or Old Navy). You can be in business to business (copier sales, Web marketing or computer services). It doesn’t matter. The customer experience starts and usually ends with the one, single person they talk to. An attentive server, customer service rep, cashier, project manager, technician, etc. can make the difference between a thrilled customer and a customer that never wants to come back… or worse, a customer that will tell others to never go.

Don’t assume that customers will be as vocal as I am. Assume they will leave angry and, upon being asked, will simply nod their head and say, “It’s fine.”

Oh, and the end result at the restaurant from yesterday? The manager caught wind of my frustration and asked me how things were. I responded, “Your service is terrible.” I enumerated why. He gave me a 50% discount on the meal. But, the most impressive part was the waitress, recognizing her part in this, came and apologized for her part of the problem. She was sincere and genuine. She was new and was open to a few kind recommendations from me. Because of that, I ended up giving her a 15% tip on the total amount the bill would have been before the discount was offered.

I was minimally satisfied that I received a discount. However, I would have preferred to pay full price and have a great experience than get a discount and be frustrated. A discount at the end never makes up for a poor experience during the process.

Corey Smith and his wife are the proud parents of five wonderful children and live in Meridian, Idaho. He is the president of Tribute Media, a Meridian based Web Consulting firm.

He is the author of two books, "Do It Right: A CEO's Guide to Web Strategy" and "Tweet It Right: A CEO's Guide to Twitter." You can learn more about his books here.

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