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On Saving Customer Service


This is an account from one of our east coast consultants addressing customer service, how to do it well, and when it's best accomplished.

A few weekends ago, my family and I took a trip through New England to enjoy the leaves and, mostly, to eat to our hearts' content. After spending a Sunday morning in Providence, RI, we decided to try for a late brunch at Avenue N | American Kitchen.

As a restuarant consultant, I am generally sizing a place up from the moment I enter. My initial impression of Avenue N was a good one. Though the space was tight, the seating was cozy; the open bar area kept the light bright; and the decor was spot-on as industrial-inspired aesthetics go. We were seated right away by friendly enough staff, and I snapped this photo planning what might be the start to a nice little write-up of a nice little place.

Our waitress greeted us promptly with crayons for the kids and information on specials. She made drink suggestions and took our order for some lemon-ricotta doughnut appetizers, which I was rather excited about. We sipped hot coffee and settled in for a pleasant experience.

After twenty minutes, we were surprised to see our entrées arriving though the doughnuts had never come. The waitress quickly admitted her mistake and offered to bring some anyway. With plates of food before us, we declined and that was the end of it. The entrées were, really, subpar. But even with slightly overdone pancakes and tough tortillas under huevos rancheros, breakfast can be tough to screw up.

My husband, however, ordered a burger. He had ordered it medium-well. And when he cut through the middle, it bled red juices to reveal hot-pink throughout. We flagged the waitress and sent it back as politely as we could. She again apologized, and we began a longer wait for brunch to really begin. When a fresh burger came back, my husband cut into it again to check--still more pink than anything medium-well should be, but he decided to eat it anyway lest we wait any longer. 

When we had finished our food, we had to find the waitress to ask for our check. She never broke character of grace, and while not overly warm, she was still kind and certainly apologetic over the things that had gone wrong. But when a meal is not delivered upon on multiple levels, suddenly the environment that felt cozy and inviting can turn cold and uncomfortable.

I must applaud our waitress for her final efforts: When she arrived with the check, she also had the lemon-ricotta doughnuts "On the house," and wrapped up to-go. It was a good gesture and went a long way as far as her gratuity was concerned. But despite the offering, I left the meal feeling less than satisfied.

This raises some important points on customer service. Certainly we see it as the way we respond to certain situations; but in the eyes of the consumer, it's just as much about how you do things the first time. How would you have handled the situation in your restaurant? What practices do you have in place to avoid these types of mistakes? If you don't have answers to these questions, contact our consultants today. This is exactly what we do in our Operations Analysis--we find what isn't working and why, and then we can tell you how to fix it. Take your customer service into bigger consideration, and put a plan in place to get it right the first time.