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You Never Know Whom You Are Serving  

When the economy struggles as it is now, people want to tighten up the purse strings and watch every penny spent.  The restaurant industry feels this just as surely as the malls and department stores do this year, perhaps more so.  Dining out is a luxury most of us cut out first when watching our respective budgets.  Does that mean we ease up on our customer service skills?  Absolutely not!  I believe you cannot afford to let people eat in your restaurant once, only to determine that they will not come back, either in the near future or when their money flows easier.

Perhaps you might consider spending the money now to train staff that would like to keep their jobs and still make money.  Help them create future customers of the few you have now.  The economy and our response to it are rather like a faucet; the water is at a trickle now.  The faucet will be turned on again; the question is, "where will the water flow?"  You want it to be into your business.

Recently in an article in The Rocky Mountain News, entitled "Smart Companies Put Customer First," written by Harvey Mackay, he cited a story of how Herbert Marcus, one of the founders of Neiman Marcus, valued his customers.  His son, the late Stanley Marcus, recounted the story:

"A customer had ruined a dress she had obviously worn and was loudly demanding her money back.  When Stanley seemed resistant, his father admonished him and told him to give the woman her money back, no questions asked.  Later, Stanley argued with his father that the woman had worn and abused the dress and that the manufacturer would not help pay for it.  His father replied that the woman wasn't doing business with the manufacturer, she was doing business with Neiman Marcus.  He didn't want to lose a customer over a $175 dress.

Years later, someone calculated that the woman had spent more than $500,000 at Neiman Marcus.  The customers may not always be right, but it's a good idea to let them think they are."1

This may not seem practical to a restaurant owner with a guest who has just eaten an entire plate of food, when he/she was asked if everything was prepared to his/her satisfaction shortly after serving the food.  Yes, there are differences, but should you treat your guests differently than those of a department store?  I am not saying restaurants should adopt this policy.  It's a puzzle and only an individual owner/manager can determine the correct answer for his/her business.

But let me pose another situation.  I recently was part of a wedding party in Oklahoma City.  The wedding and most of the guests were housed in a well-known hotel, noted for its outstanding customer service qualities.  I must remark that it was indeed a physically attractive building; I can understand why my friends chose this particular hotel in which to have their wedding take place.  The attraction ended with the marble floors, wood trim and beautiful draperies.

Among many other things that were disastrous as far as customer service goes, this one event stood out to me as the epitome of judging someone by appearances and, happily enough, creates a great cornerstone to this month's newsletter!

The bride's uncle and his wife drove up from a small town in Texas.  I'll call them Jerry and Marilyn.  Jerry and his wife are unassuming in appearance and probably aged in their mid-sixties.  When they drove up the afternoon before the wedding, in their very expensive, shiny black Corvette, the valets eagerly awaited the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of the car to drive it 100 yards to a parking space.

Marilyn spotted a family member and went to chat with her in the lobby while Jerry stood back from the counter waiting to be acknowledged.  The hotel employees were assisting other guests.  When they were finished with those guests, they saw no other would-be guests to whom they should be paying attention.  They did see a maintenance man, dressed in dark work pants, work boots and a blue, striped shirt with a name patch, on which was embroidered the name "Jerry."  They ignored him.

Now Jerry is a smart man, a businessman.  He owns a company that paints commercial aircraft.  It's not a large, Fortune 500 company, but he is successful at what he does, in part because he is a hands-on kind of business owner.  He enjoys driving his Corvette and he is comfortable wearing his work clothes wherever he goes.  As I stated, Jerry is a smart man and he understood what was happening.  So he went to the counter and asked if he could check in.  He was a little angry, but he was willing to let their ignorance go.  However, the person he chose to talk to acted as if he might be insane to think that he could afford to stay in a hotel such as this.  He skeptically began the check-in process.

That is basically the end of the story.  You can be assured that no one apologized to him for ignoring him.  They happily took his money, though.  According to Jerry, and I believe him, they won't be receiving any more of his money in the future.

Jerry didn't complain to the hotel management; he didn't think it would do any good.  Who did he talk to?  His family, other guests, including me, all of whom were having their own issues with the hotel.  We all certainly told other people.  The tragedy for the hotel is that it is not only located in Oklahoma City; it is an international chain.  People came from all over the United States and Canada for this wedding.

Statistics show that, instead of complaining to an organization directly, 96% of dissatisfied customers will gripe to an average of nine other people.

You never know whom you are serving.  Appearances can be deceiving.  When you are serving a party of 65 for the holidays, know who the host is, whether it is an individual or a company.  Also remember that the rest of the people, nameless as they may appear, all have names, careers, influence on others, and many have reasons and means to pay for a party of their own someday.  Bad hair or a cheap-looking suit should not be taken for a bad person who has no value or influence.  Besides being extremely rude to someone who is a guest and doesn't deserve to be ignored, you may be quashing a future opportunity to make money and promote your business.

 I refer to my own site's index page table: 

Some startling facts regarding the reasons
restaurants lose customers:
Customer dies 1%
Moved away 3%
Influenced by friends 5%
Lured away by the  competition 9%
Dissatisfied with product 14%
Turned away by an attitude of indifference
on the part of a company employee

 
68%

Can you afford to have your wait staff having
an attitude of indifference toward your guests?
Source: THE PRYOR REPORT, Vol. 10, No. 4a

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