The customer service nightmare


I won’t mention the place by name.

(Oh I’ll probably type the franchise name into this article a few times. Once or twice it might even be in that humorous way of saying something where you almost wink while slipping the details out there ever so innocently. Then I’ll laugh, debate erasing it, and finally remove it. Every time I give one of their locations a shot though, they disappoint me -- at their best I find their meals decent but no better. Still, they don’t deserve to be named because of the problems on one night in one restaurant. Right?)

It was a Thursday evening, and Tigg and I were running some errands after work. A long day… going to be a late arrival at home… still at least one more stop to make… and a matter of convenience became a decision.

We needed to get dinner.

There was a place right there. As in… right next to the car right there. It wasn’t a question of debating what we wanted to get, it was simply a matter of heading in.

I’ve already said I’m not a huge fan of the restaurant. And just the menu provides a good example of why…

We sat down and I opened the menu. One column offered a salad bar with your meal. Another page said if you didn’t want your two side items, you could pick the salad bar instead. A different place said you could add the salad bar for an additional fee. And really, all I wanted was a salad. Oh I’d enjoy a burger or a sandwich or a pasta dish as my meal. That would be swell. But what I wanted was to include a salad.

And I was confused. The two main items I was considering really didn’t list the salad bar in any direct manner.

In particular, I was looking at an item that offered two side items, but didn’t mention the salad bar. At all. Didn’t say something like “add the salad bar to your meal” as an additional purchase. Didn’t say “exchange your two sides for the sald bar” the way it did in another spot. So, I asked -- since, after all, in a different place it did say the salad bar and two side items were interchangeable -- could I say no to the two sides with this item and get the salad bar.

Our waiter told me no.

(Because there isn’t enough comedy in our evening, I’ll add this. After being told no, I ordered a different entrée, which was actually my third choice, simply because the menu said it came with the salad bar. As our waiter wrote down my request and told me that I could help myself to the salad bar, he added: “…and what two sides would you like with that?” Tigg was there. I have a witness. There was no way to avoid the sides. But getting the salad bar was a challenge. Anyway…)

So our water arrives at the table, as does a plate with two complimentary dinner rolls. The appetizer arrives and eventually I’m back with my salad. Water glasses are refilled. We move the appetizer plate to the side. Two more rolls arrive. Manager brought them. Wants to know if we’re enjoying our meals so far. I finish my salad. Salad plate gets taken away. And… the conversation is slowing at points as Tigg and I are beginning to become very much aware that our dinners haven’t arrived. Water glasses get refilled. We ask about dinner and get told it’s on the way. More conversation.

(I debated where to include this little nugget of information, and it seems just about right to place it here. It gives you some details to have in mind before the manager returns. And, it also allows me to finish with the great story of the manager.)

I left our table for a few minutes. Went to the salad bar. I thought I recognized someone at the next table, but she was talking to her dinner partner and I couldn’t immediately recall her name, and I didn’t want to interrupt if I was wrong. When I returned, Terry was talking to her. She works with us. And, polite conversation involved, we were now a bit more aware of what was taking place at her table.

Between the time I arrived with my salad and our asking the waiter about our dinner, our co-worker (and the person she was with): was brought her meal, ate dinner, requested a dessert menu, read the dessert menu, ordered dessert, had some leftovers wrapped, was served dessert, ate dessert, was brought a bill, paid her bill, said goodbye to us and left.

I know that all took place because I watched the entire show.

And -- after that took place -- Terry and I asked about our dinners and waited another ten minutes before asking again.

At that time, the second inquiry, our waiter said they were almost done and should be out soon. He apologized saying the kitchen was really backed up. So… we cancelled it. We told him we had been waiting too long, and if it wasn’t ready we’d like to pay for what we had and cancel the order.

(Exit the waiter… and, quite predictably, before the check arrived… enter the manager, this time without dinner rolls, wondering if we were ok.)

After we explained that we had been waiting far too long and just wanted to leave, the manager told us he checked the ticket and the food was just about done. Then, after we explained again that it was taking too long, he dropped this beauty. He told us that normally they like to give people a chance to eat and not feel rushed during dinner, and… well… I was really ticked off and stopped listening so I could concentrate on keeping myself composed, nodding, and not yelling.

See… the waiter had told us the kitchen was backed up. Manager never mentioned that. Nope. What he had just told us was the problem wasn’t the restaurant, or the kitchen, or business demands from a full dining room… it was that Tigg and I didn’t understand the pacing of their service. They were trying to help us relax and unwind, and darn it, their customers enjoy that. It was our fault for not being patient.

Let us review.

Woman we know is sitting next to us. Has the same waiter. Before we became truly aware of her presence and her table, we ordered. We had been to a home improvement store, so both Tigg and I separately went to the restrooms and washed our hands. When Tigg returned to the table, I got up and made a salad. Then, after my return from the salad bar, at our friend’s table… dinner service, eating, dessert order, dessert service, eating, bill presented, paying a bill, and departure. Still no meal for us. Waiter tells us it’s on the way. Ten minutes pass. We ask a second time.

And… it’s us. That’s what the manager says. He checked the ticket. Couldn’t be them. Most people prefer a relaxed and well-paced service. We’re ignorant.

He walks away.

(Here’s where it gets really funny.)

Tigg makes a prediction.

Before we asked the first time about our meals, at one point she saw our waiter was walking toward us -- she believes to get the check at our friend’s table, since that is what he did immediately after this -- he made eye contact with Tigg… froze… in her opinion looked like he was horrified and spun around to head the other way.

She thinks he never completed our order in the system and forgot the actual meals.

As she is telling me this story, she explains that over my shoulder she sees the manager at a computer and the waiter is talking to him. She is betting he is explaining that he forgot to place our order.

The manager returns with the bill. He explains that he cancelled the meals and didn’t charge us for the salad bar. He then says that he isn’t sure what happened, and perhaps there was some delay in getting the order to the kitchen. (Which, you may note, he never said before.)

Not once while I was there… not once… did he ever say anything even remotely close to an apology. Right now though, after first trying to get us to understand that most of the world dines at a leisurely pace... and after Tigg sees him talking with his waiter... there’s this off chance that maybe the order didn’t get to the kitchen right away. (As if… you know… like screws fall out all the time, the world’s an imperfect place.)

I could ask about that ticket he claims he checked. I might point out that he says he didn’t charge me for the salad bar as if that’s the huge favor to be found in his gracious nature… which sure seems nice, until you remember that I didn’t order the salad bar. It came with my meal. So he would have had to cancel my entrée (which he did) and then add the salad bar to our check. (Which would have been fine since he wasn’t doing us any favors in this process. I mean, I did eat a salad. Still…)

Tigg tells me to go to the car while she pays. I do. When she comes out she’s laughing. The manager returned as she was signing the bill and said he hoped we’d give them a chance to make it up to us.

Yeah… the guy who -- from what we can tell -- accused us of being the problem, learned from his waiter that it was his fault and not ours, then did us a favor by allowing us to pay for the appetizer… that guy is looking forward to our return.

That’s going to happen.

I’ll let you pause to consider the story again.

He didn’t apologize.

He never said something like: “I’m sorry for the inconvenience and that you’re upset. Please stay with us, your meals are ready so let me get them for you, and I’ll take care of your check tonight. Dinner’s on me and I hope you’ll join us again.”

Nope. He actually thought a good solution was bringing us a bill for $6.99 (plus tax) and smiling while saying he didn’t add the salad bar to it.

It’s me though. Obviously it’s me. I don’t expect something for nothing. Apparently though, hoping to be appreciated and treated as though my patronage is valuable is too much.

Sad but true… this experience is one I’ve seen in different ways in other places. Too many businesses no longer care about frequent and repeat business. They care about the bottom line from a single visit.

And, unfortunately for this place, this experience is just the final event. And with my friends… the ones that live in my neighborhood and where the name does matter… when I tell them the story in person, I will include the actual name of the restaurant.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at