How not to keep your customers

The other day my wife, my youngest son, my mother-in-law, and I were doing some shopping and needed to grab some lunch. The area we were in only had a few dining choices within walking distance, so we ended up at an over-priced, allegedly Asian, bistro chain. This is the type of joint I usually try and avoid like the restroom stall next to Larry Craig. If that mental picture makes you queasy, then you know I feel when I walk into most chain restaurants.

We walk into the reception area and there was a group of 4 older women in front of us who were talking to the staff members, three of them, at the front desk. One of the staffers went off in search of a table for the women. No one had yet acknowledged my presence, when another group came up to the desk. The greeter immediately started talking to them, so I waited for a pause and let the young woman know that we had come in first. She snapped “Sir, I know that! We will get to you.”

Now I am pissed off and not inclined to hide it. I let the hostess know that she should have let us know she was aware we were next and then turned to my wife and said loudly, “I guess we have to be insulted before they let us eat their shitty food.” Not the most adult reaction, I must admit, but it did ensure us ample room on the waiting room bench and, apparently, made the hostess want us out of her area as soon as possible.

My son ordered a bowl of wonton soup and they brought him a very large serving bowl but no bowl to eat from and no spoon. We point that out and our server promises to bring it, but never does. With a little improvisation, we get him a bowl and a spoon ourselves.

After I finish eating, I stand up and look for the restroom. There are no signs or obvious doors. As I look around, one of the servers asks if I am looking for the restroom. After an affirmative answer he starts to give my directions, using flight attendant-style hand signals to demonstrate to me, and anyone else in the vicinity, how to find it. I did that exactly once when I worked in restaurants before being told not to ever point when directing a customer to the restrooms. That was when I was a 16 year old busboy at a greasy spoon.

Which brings us to both the cause and solution to the atrocious service we received. Restaurant front of houses, especially chains like this one, tend to be staffed by young people. Many of them have little or no work experience. They need to be properly trained and managed. Managers need to be trained even better, and their number one priority is to see that all of the staff are providing the best service possible for all customers.

The young people at the restaurant the other day weren’t trying to be bad at their jobs, they didn’t know any better and no one was telling them how to be good. In fact, other than the snippy hostess, most of the staff was friendly and trying to please. They just did not know how.

I am of the opinon that these chains should feel very lucky that many people in this country value familiarity and consistency over quality. They get away with charging the same prices as superior restaurants while serving mediocre food. How long do they think that they can get away with poor service, too? America is developing a true food culture these days. Combine that with a poor economy and less disposable income for many people, and it would seem that good service would be more important than ever.

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