Periodically, during the Covid lockdown I received links from readers to bad restaurant reviews posted by oblivious people who couldn’t understand why they couldn’t have their exacting expectations met while under quarantine. A couple of them I weighed in on because they were so egregious that it was hard to believe that people so utterly self-centered existed.
Things like: “They wouldn’t allow us to sit inside” (when it wasn’t allowed), “the chef himself wouldn’t prepare me a special meal on Mother’s Day” (when the restaurant was both extremely busy and extremely short staffed) or “They wouldn’t accommodate our substitution request” (partly because they didn’t want to pay for it, and partly because the restaurant didn’t carry the item that they wanted substituted).
It was generally assumed that posting a bad restaurant review during a pandemic was akin to kicking someone when they were down. And for the most part, I agreed with that assessment.
But things are different now. Restaurants are at 100 percent capacity, and in many cases (with parklet outside dining) are at 150 or 200 percent. Staffing might be a problem, but that problem should not be the customer’s problem.
So, recently, when I received a request to weigh in on a bad review, I looked at it a little bit differently. Partly because the opening read like this: “We’ve gotten a bunch of these lately…”
The gist of the complaints (all 8 of them; from different people at different times and from different areas) was that the portions were far too small for the price.
Every restaurant (and every restaurant employee) gets that random complaint, the outlier, complaints that read so weird that they are almost comical. But that is different than getting the same complaint, about the same thing, over and over again.
Some years ago a restaurant opened near my house. It had been a very popular gourmet burger place before it sold to a new owner. That new owner opened a pizza place that struggled and struggled. One day I sat at the counter and ordered a “mini pizza” because they didn’t have slices.
“People keep asking for those,” replied the server.
“Do you guys have hamburgers?” asked a couple coming in the door.
“No,” just pizza.
“We heard this was a great burger joint,” said another couple.
“We just do pizza.”
“Do you have it by the slice?”
No less than six conversations like that happened while I sat there. Finally, I asked about it.
“It’s ridiculous how many people ask for a hamburger,” replied the owner. “It happens at least a dozen times a day.”
“Do you have a grill?” I asked.
“Then why not do hamburgers too?” I asked.
He wiped his hands on his apron and uttered a sentence so profoundly clueless that I couldn’t believe he was in the hospitality industry in any capacity, much less, as an owner.
“I don’t care how many people ask for a burger,” he said. “This is a pizza place, and people gotta learn that.”
Here’s a clue. They didn’t learn that, and now years later that burger place turned pizza joint is now back to being a burger place -under different ownership, mind you- and the ironic thing is, that it is doing better than ever.
Sometimes in the restaurant business, people become too insular. They stop looking at themselves objectively. And while the axiom “the customer is always right” is far too often applied, in many cases “the customer is always wrong” is too.
People and businesses make mistakes, or make miscalculations, and it is how they deal with those situations which really defines who they are.
If your steak is overcooked does the establishment accept responsibility and try and rectify it? Or do they want to argue about what medium rare is? If that drink is too tart for the customer’s taste, does the bartender tell them “You don’t know what you are talking about” or does he/she try to fix it?
The same is true for menu requests. If two dozen people ask you to put spinach on the menu. Guess what? It might be a good idea to put spinach on the menu. That is the essence of what customer service is all about. Furthermore, if you don’t, someone else will, and then you probably won’t have to worry about it anymore.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-No customers, no business: How to succeed in business Rule #1.
-Getting a random complaint about a random thing is not a reason to change everything. However, getting the same complaint over and over again might be a reason to change something.
-We can’t keep blaming things on Covid. Sooner or later we just have to take responsibility, both as consumers, and as providers.
-Burgers and pizza? Now there’s an idea.