A Tale of Two Restaurants

Sep 5, 2011

A co-worker and I were sharing recent experiences at two different casual dining spots.  What we had in common? A poor execution of a menu item.  What turned out to be the defining differentiator?  Management’s response.

Here’s what happened: I ordered a menu item that I had not tried before, on the recommendation of my friend and dining partner.  Nothing fancy:  just a tuna sandwich on Focaccia bread.  The restaurant is one of my new favorites, and I’ve probably been there three weeks out of every four for the past several months.  When my sandwich arrived – after a lengthy wait on a not-busy day, and separately from my friend’s salad – the bread was “crispy”, to say the least.  I labored through it, as I was pretty darned hungry, but gave up on the bread after the first half, and just ate “the filling”.

When the waitress, who had been pretty inattentive throughout the meal, brought my check, I mentioned that the sandwich had been way below expectations, as shown by the chunks of bread left behind.  She expressed a tiny bit of sympathy, and then came back after running my credit card, without another word.

My co-worker, on the other hand, had a similarly-unhappy encounter with a menu item during lunch with her husband at one of their usual lunch spots.  But in this case, the manager came to the table, apologized for the barely-cooked bacon in the BLT club, and gave them a $5 off coupon for their next visit.

Two similar instances of the kitchen under-delivering on a satisfactory customer experience.  But in my case, either because the wait staff has not been trained to do so, or because they have already learned that it does no good, this loyal customer was left with a feeling that my business is just not that important to them.  My co-worker, on the other hand, was heard, offered an apology, and encouraged to return.

We hear all the time how ferocious the competition is in the casual dining category.  So, a frequent customer is to be treated with respect, one would think.  I will give my spot another chance; this was, after all, the first time that I’ve been really disappointed.  But you can be sure that a second snafu will not be ignored.  My co-worker, on the other hand, can’t wait to return and use her coupon!

Editor’s Note: This experience underscores that in Loyalty, as in life, it is not what happens to us that matters nearly as much how we react to it!