You can’t please all the people all the time

Listen: Letters 1

Listen: Letters 2

Many years ago, when I was in Journalism school, we were assigned a group project in a public speaking class. My colleagues and I put together our presentation and prepared for our big moment. Our idea was to provide a website to download music that came with a free magazine subscription. At the end of our presentation, we asked how many students would be interested in such a thing. Every student but one raised their hand.

One of my groupmates was incredulous. How could she not want our product? He tried to reason with her, he tried arguing with her, all to no avail. She was adamant, she wouldn’t get our product even if we paid her.

Of our group of five, one couldn’t have cared less, one was silent on the matter, two were angry that she took that stance, and there was me. I used a notion that I had learned early on in my then nascent bartending career. “You can’t please all the people all the time.”

Sure, you can try. But that is where the crazy starts. I have often likened busy bars to triage centers, whoever needs help the most, gets it first. Notice I didn’t write whoever “needs the most help”. Because that is quite often the problem.

In the restaurant business you learn to identify a losing proposition right away. It’s about time management as well as customer service, and if no amount of service is going to fix anything why would you bother investing more time? In my last column I ended on the notion that the weakest threat ever is from an unsavory customer who threatens to “tell all of their friends not to come here.” Another equally weak argument is the “we’re never coming back here,” one. People like this often don’t realize that maybe, just maybe, the people at that restaurant don’t want them too.

Last weeks column did seem to strike a nerve. It generated two “letters to the editor” nearly a dozen positive letters to me, hundreds of comments online, and one 500 word angry email about my characterization of “some” online sites. I thought I might share a few of the positive ones.

“Your column about negative online reviews reminded me of when I read reviews about a bunch of hotels that overlooked the water. Most of the reviews were terrible, about bedbugs, rude service, etc. My wife and I almost decided not to go. We took a chance and the hotel we picked was wonderful. The friendly manager even upgraded us to a corner suite at no extra charge with a sweeping view of the bay because they had an unexpected vacancy. He told us how all the hotels and restaurants got incredibly over-the-top bad reviews because people were looking for a free night’s stay or a free meal.”

“I just wanted to say that I so enjoy reading your column every week. And I just laughed out loud when I got to your very last thought after reading about that ridiculous review that I’m sure was posted on [name redacted]. 

I just think you are hilarious and I appreciate your commentary every week. I was a bartender for a number of years in my twenties and I just find myself nodding and laughing at your columns. Thanks so much!”

“After working at selling wine for too many years, I could write good restaurant and wine reviews, but I leave that to the pros.  I let management know privately if there is a problem with food or service. However, I have been known to write about something good in Trip Advisor.  I really don’t like [name redacted], because there are too many dumb people trashing perfectly nice restaurants and hotels.  I wonder what damage this causes the hospitality industry. Keep up the good work!”

“This is the problem with social media. B.S. runs wild and there are no filters or circuit breakers. Reasonable, critically thinking people can usually separate the truth from the B.S. But there are clever bad folks out there and it can take some work to figure out when you are being lied to. Unfortunately for the U.S., nearly half of us are either not reasonably thinking or are just stupid.”

All of which has left me with these thoughts.

-“Please all and you will please none” once opined Aesop.

-Thank you for all the letters (yes all of them) because that means people are reading, and more importantly, that they care.

-It turned out the silent guy in my journalism group had dated that girl, briefly. Just saying.

-I have a restratueur friend who has a saying, “All of our customers make us happy, some by coming, and some by going.”

-When some people say, “We are never coming back here,” rest assured there are other people who hope they keep their word.