Even during a pandemic, always check the reviews

I ordered ToGo food the other day. Understanding that local businesses are struggling, my expectation levels have also changed. One must now expect lines, PPE requirements, direction arrows, limited hours, limited menus, and in some cases limited service. This is also true of many other businesses. Rolling with the punches has never been more important.

At the beginning of restaurant reopening a restaurateur I know received a snarky online review complaining bitterly about their lack of a substitution option. I remember thinking that it takes a special kind of person to post a one star review about something so superficial during a raging pandemic.

When I picked up my ToGo order, I noticed a sign that read, ToGo cocktails, $12.

“Throw one of those in,” I said.

When I looked at the bill, I noticed some extra charges, a few new to me. An extra $1 for the ToGo bags, an extra $1 for a drink container deposit, sales tax, and then there was the gratuity, meaning that my $12 drink put me back, total, about $18. Nearly 50% more than the advertised price. I was happy to pay it. I love that restaurant and the people who work there. They have always done a good job and I want them to make it through this. It can’t be easy, because it isn’t easy for anyone right now.

Customer service is still customer service. There is a difference between struggling to adjust to an ever changing business dynamic and just plain delivering bad service. Or worse yet, using a pandemic to deliberately mislead a customer’s expectations. In the case of my $12 drink, there has always been sales tax – that is nothing new – the gratuity was up to me, and a deposit on a glass container makes perfectly reasonable sense. Nothing misleading about that at all. But what if, after everything was said and done that drink had cost $60? Now that would be outrageous.

Recently I needed a vehicle to move a piece of furniture. I have rented vehicles many times to do similar things: gardening, dump run, construction etc. This time I chose a company that was near my house. Local businesses, right?

Theirs is a widely advertised price with some small print. I have used the same company before (different location) and the small print extras usually work out to effectively doubling the overall price. But the end result is still very reasonable.

I picked up the vehicle, and adhered to Covid standards: mask, six feet, etc. etc. etc. They took my email and made a point of “contactless this,” and “contactless that.”

“We will email all of this to you,” said the clerk.

Three hours later when I returned the vehicle, the clerk was busy, covering the phone with his gloved hand he mouthed: “We will email the receipt to you.”

I never got one, nor did I receive a text, which was the back-up. But it was a three hour midweek rental, what could be easier?

A month later I received my credit card bill. The charge for that rental wasn’t twice as much as the advertised price (as expected), or three times the amount, or even four times, it was an astonishing five times the advertised price. A literal 500% mark-up.

I called the manager and informed him that I had never received a receipt. To which he replied, “That’s because we don’t have your email.” He also mentioned that Covid had been causing a lot of problems.

I then brought up the extra charge, and the fact that I had never before been charged such an exorbitant amount. He blamed that on Covid too, adding: “It was all in the contract we emailed to you.”

When I pointed out that it would be impossible to email me a contract without my email information, he immediately went into a spiel about how it wasn’t his responsibility to collect my email, and that I would have to contact the parent company, and how he bore no responsibility whatsoever. It became very obvious that this wasn’t the first time he had a conversation like this.

Afterwards, I checked their online reviews. That business had the worst overall rating I have ever seen. 90 percent negative and almost all mirroring my exact experience.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Even during a pandemic always check the reviews before you do business with a company. It just makes good sense.

-Online reviews can be wonky. But ten bad reviews by ten different people all basically saying the same thing, might mean something

-You can blame a lot of things on Covid, but deliberately misleading customers as a business practice, is not one of them.

-“Caveat emptor is the only motto going, and the worst proverb that ever came from dishonest stony-hearted Rome,” wrote Anthony Trollope in 1874’s Phineas Redux.

-Occasionally, instead of rolling with the punches, you have to punch back.