Customer’s point of view

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Eating out

Let’s talk about service, shall we? Last Saturday I went out to a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try for some time now. I’ve been to their bar before and they have excellent, fun and different, drinks and the decoration is very sharp too.

The menu was promising, I had looked it up on the Internet and it wasn’t your everyday steak but ambitious takes on veal and char. My brother was in town since he was running the Stockholm Marathon (I know, seriously?) and we were going out after to celebrate. My guy was coming too, and they don’t know each other very well yet so I really wanted the evening to go nice and smoothly.

However, we were off to a bad start when our table wasn’t ready when we got there. I had booked the table for 8:15 and we were right on time, but were told they were running behind in the restaurant and it would be a few minutes. Fine, OK, shit happens, we’ll wait I said, but it ended up being 25 minutes of just standing in the bar before we got seated, watching everybody else getting served. We were now starving, including the ones who hadn’t run 42 k.

Now if you’re working in the restaurant business, know this situation can still be saved. These are not lost customers. Yes, they might be a little cranky and have very low blood sugar, but most of them will have an understanding for unexpected delays as long as they are accompanied by an honest excuse and maybe a complimentary drink or free starter. We got neither, though, and had to wait another fifteen minutes to order. That’s another thing: I don’t mind if the food takes some time to come out, hopefully that means they’re doing a good job preparing it for you. But you should get a menu and order your drink within minutes after being seated, and then you definitely should not have to sit around with your menus closed and wait to order for more than a few minutes. No one appreciates this restaurant limbo, so get the order so at least something is happening.

I’ve been in the service sector myself, working in the tourism industry, and I know sometimes it’s really busy. You’re understaffed because someone got sick and the cash register broke and then the coffee machine too and all of a sudden there was a bus load of 100 fat Germans coming in demanding post cards or whatever. I know, sometimes it’s hell working with service and there’s no way you’ll deliver even if you’re working your ass off. It’s OK. No one’s perfect. But, and here’s the key: a-pol-o-gize, explain what happened and say you understand the customer’s irritation.

A lot of the time, that’s enough. Sometimes it’s not, and then it’s great throwing in a free cappuccino as a consolation. When I worked at a crappy hotel in France, this was my standard routine. “Oh, it smells like mould in your room? I’m very, very sorry, we’re working on it. Would you like a coffee on the house?” Of course the mould was still there when the coffee was gone, but at least they felt acknowledged and as they were right to be upset (which of course they were, it really was a crap hotel). If you are in the restaurant business, please take this advice. It will cost you a lot less to give those cranky customers a glass of alcohol to get their spirits back than to lose your tip and get a bad reputation on top of that.

The service at this place wasn’t all bad. The staff was nice and friendly and I’m sure they wanted to do a good job, but it was just soooooo sloooooow. We got there at 8:15 and didn’t get our food until 9:45, at which point we were all starving and running out of conversation. We were just sitting there, staring out on the rain outside the window with hollow eyes, contemplating Subway instead. So how was the food, then? Beautiful. Fantastic. Delicious. So good I’m almost willing to give them another chance, maybe, on a weekday, if I make the reservation for about 5 PM and got nothing better to do with my time than sit and wait.

A while back, another restaurant handled what could have been a deal breaker-issue completely different. It’s one of my favorite restaurants and I keep coming back there because of their high quality meat, so I was really surprised when I found a pretty big piece of glass in my butter. Luckily I bit into it just before I was about to swallow. It was round and smooth so no harm done, but I mentioned it to the waitress so that it wouldn’t happen to anybody else and she was in shock. She snatched the butter away, apologized profusely and ran to the kitchen. Minutes later she came back, offered the chef’s apologies as well and asked if we would like coffee or dessert on the house. I agreed to coffee, but she came back and said the chef absolutely wanted to make us a special dessert to make up for it and we ended up with this fantastic dessert tray of like ten different kinds of chocolate (you know me, they had me at “chocolate”).

I was thrilled and bubbling on the way home, high on my chocolate feast. I wanted to call everybody I know and tell them about my fantastic dessert and I was ready to recommend the whole planet to go to this restaurant and maybe even plant glass in their food so that they too would get to experience this little bit of heaven. That, my friends, is how it’s done. In life and food, fucking up is OK, as long as you apologize and make amends.

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Malin Ågren is a copywriter living in Sweden. Food is her number one hobby.

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