Friday, June 25, 2010

Customer Service 101: Don't Be This Guy

Customer Service 101: Don't Be This Guy

It's no secret that I love food & drink. I enjoy experiencing new restaurants, new flavors, and new experiences. I'm no Anthony Bourdain, but I get around. I'm fortunate in that I have the financial means and the metabolism to allow me to indulge without too much lasting damage to my budget or my waist. Of course half the fun of coming up with new cocktails at work is the tasting process.

When I am looking back on my dining experiences, I rate a restaurant on three points.

  • Service – This one is pretty simple. You don't have to be a customer service professional to know bad service when you get it.

  • Atmosphere – A little more subjective, atmosphere can relate to the location of the restaurant, d├ęcor, music, or general ambience. Different strokes for different folks on this one, but clean is a good start.

  • Food & Drink Quality – Again, people have different tastes. We might not like the same foods, but stale bread and overcooked vegetables are universally frowned upon.

I use this three prong approach because I rarely encounter all three in the same restaurant. For example, I might get some tasty food and great service at a truck stop restaurant or small-town cafe, but neither would score high on atmosphere. Maybe I have the best service ever sitting at a poolside Tiki hut surrounded by sunbathing models, but the food is only so-so. Both would be considered successful adventures, because two out of three ain't bad.

Both examples above have something in common, good service. No matter how great the view or delicious the food, bad service never fails to ruin an experience.

On a recent trip to a local restaurant, I had the following experience. Use this as a example of what NOT to do as a server or bartender.

We arrived to find the restaurant nearly empty, with one more server on duty than there were occupied tables. We seated ourselves and our server made his way to the table. He was unshaven, wearing a shirt half tucked in, and a baseball cap flipped backwards. He was chomping gum and didn't smile when he greeted us. I still haven't figured out why he was allowed to wear a cap, no matter what the orientation. This was a casual, but not sloppy, restaurant. We were inside and it was air-conditioned. I generally wear a cap when I work behind the bar at the Golden Lion, but room temperature there is 90 degrees during the summer and 50 degrees (or less) during the winter (the hazards of open air dining). In my case, a cap serves a purpose (either keeping the sweat from running down my face or keeping my head warm, depending on the season). He then flipped an empty chair around and sat backwards in it. This familiarity is a turn off for many guests. I generally don't mind if the server actually knows me. In this case, it just added to the impression of laziness sloppiness.

Our server greeted us and asked if we had ever been to the restaurant. Score a point for him. When I responded that I had only really been to the bar, he replied “I don't blame you, I'd rather drink here than eat here, too.” I am literally shaking my head while typing. If you are a server, you're first job is as salesman for the restaurant. Never EVER talk bad about your company to a guest. This includes blaming the kitchen when food is slow to arrive. It might be the kitchen's fault. Then again, it could be the fault of servers not timing their food orders which overburdens the line. Whatever it is, the only thing you should say to a guest is something like “I apologize for the delay, I will stay right on top of it so you're order will come out hot and fresh”, accompanied by a big smile.

We ordered soft drinks and looked over the menu. Not once did our server make a suggestion or recommendation. Didn't he just ask if we had ever been to the restaurant? Servers, this is your cue to go into sales mode. Pick two or three pet items on the menu. When you see someone struggling with the menu, take control with “If I can offer a suggestion, my favorite items on the menu are [insert your favorites]”. Even if the guest has been there before you can guide them by saying “You must know how delicious our [insert pet item] is.” Please, please, please do NOT say “Everything is great!” when asked what you like on the menu. Everyone knows you are lying. For instance, I would never eat a Salmon Club at my restaurant or any other. I just don't like salmon very much. It could be the best salmon club ever created and served to me by a cute redhead with green eyes and freckles on her nose and I still wouldn't enjoy it. Okay that might qualify as good service and good atmosphere, but I would still rather the cute redhead serve me something else. Back to the point, why would I lie to a guest by saying everything on the menu is great when it isn't (because taste is subjective). What I do is give guests a top five list of my favorite items. If you don't have five favorite items, tell them what is popular. Say it exactly like that. “Our most popular dish is”, or, “Guests are raving about the”.

With no help from our server, we ordered some nachos to share as a starter. For the record, they were delicious. At this point our experience is not terrible but we certainly weren't raving fans yet.

After a few bites of my nachos, I decided I would like a cocktail. Our server was nowhere to be found. Not once did he as us if we were enjoying our nachos or if we would like something else. Here I was, ready to feast on some food & drink (translation: I was ready to spend some money) and my server couldn't be bothered to come to my table. As we munched on our appetizer, my wife asked me what I was thinking about ordering. I told her we were going somewhere else to eat. She rolled her eyes. She has been through this with me before and is usually a good sport.

We finished our nachos and our server magically appeared. How did he try to entice me to order something else? This is an exact quote. “You want anything else?”. There are so many ways to ask a guest if they would like to order anything else, that would be better. Believe me when I say, you would have to hear me say it the way he did to understand how truly bad it sounded. I asked for the check, grudgingly left a 15% tip, and left.

We drove a few minutes down the road to a restaurant we had never visited. We had one of he best dining experiences we have ever had as a couple. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable about the food & drink specials, made personal recommendations from the menu and even sold us a dessert that wasn't on the menu yet. A very nice touch was when she boxed our leftovers and labeled them “his” and “hers”. She received a 35% gratuity for her efforts and I have been back several times since then.

Server #1 cost himself money. That's his problem. He also cost his restaurant money, because I will never set foot in that place again. That is a bigger problem. The server won't last, but my impression of the restaurant will.