Frequently the source of my editorials centers on a bad dining-out experience a friend or I had. I do so with the hope that we can all learn from missteps by discussing better ways to handle sticky situations. And frequently I’m scolded by many of you for not alerting the general manager or owner of the restaurant about the problems I experience.
Let me assure you that every time I do have a bad experience, I’ll let a top person in the restaurant know about it. And I never do it with a sour attitude or from a position of arrogance: “I’m Mike Sanson, a big-deal editor of Restaurant Hospitality magazine and I know everything.” In fact, I rarely bring up the fact that I write about your business. It shouldn’t matter. Any customer with a legitimate complaint should be dealt with as if he or she is your most important customer.
But this leads me to a bigger issue. Too often, when I bring a mishap to the attention of restaurant managers or owners, they are not really interested in solving the problem. They’re more interested in rationalizing why the mistake took place.
There are legitimate reasons why these mistakes happen, like one recently where I learned during a bad dining-out experience that three servers called off sick and the remaining servers couldn’t adequately cover the floor. You can explain to customers why things went bad at your restaurant, but they really don’t care why the mistake was made, they just want you to fix it.
What customers really want is the mistake quickly fixed on the spot, long before their evening is ruined. Excuses, even legitimate ones, won’t repair an order that was messed up. Excuses won’t make anyone at a four-top feel better when only three of four orders have been delivered and the fourth has gone missing. You didn’t just put one person in a bad spot, you made all four uncomfortable. You also delayed service at the table, which means others waiting for that table have now been affected.
So forget the excuses and have a plan in place to fix the problem, and I mean any problem that may arise. Speed and efficiency during a crisis save the day. Most customers will deal well with a problem if they know you’re doing your best to fix it. What they don’t want to hear are excuses.
I know I’m ranting and raving again, but I’m really losing my patience with second or third-string players in the restaurant business. I know your customers have, too. Separate yourself from the pretenders and excuse-makers. Solutions to just about any problem should be thought out long before anyone shows up in your restaurant. If you haven’t figured out your game plan, do so now. It’s your chance to be a hero when things go wrong.
In the scenario above, where three people at a four-top are given their meal and the fourth has not, do you know what quick menu item you’ll place in front of that fourth customer while their original order is being refired? You should. Tell me about how you deal with mistakes and whether you have contingency plans in place to solve any crisis that may arise. My email is below.
Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief