Screaming children should be banned from a fine dining room. The parents usuallly are numb to the screams. Management is usually too afraid to offend or educate them on good parenting skills.
Cell phone users–well, there are those reception disconnectors which, although illegal, do disconnect calls, but really–why can’t diners have manners?
Recipe demanders–it used to be a way to get your restaurant into Gourmet, or Bon Appetit, which helped create publicity, thereby providing something back. The server could suggest the guest write one of the food magazines to request it.
But–ultimately, some people are just demanding and petulant. And they can run to their nearest “yelp.com type blog” and post their injustice–which is often a slight exaggeration of the incident.
I think the best way to handle difficult people is to provide tools to the entire staff.
Tools that help them communicate softly but firmly, with a gentle facial expression,
and tools that help them shrug off the nasty folks. Restaurant work requires a certain level of “groundedness” and equanimity, which few of us inherit, but most of us can develop with training.
I’m embarrassed to admit I have not been to Veil yet although I only live 5 blocks away!]]>
Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. If you are the kind of chef to whom their personal vision of a great plate is more important than making that customer happy, rock on. I mean that seriously. You wouldn’t ask Picasso to redo a painting, only with a little less blue. But you wouldn’t hesitate to say that to your house painter. So I guess that is the bottom line. You have to know if your restaurant is in the business of painting houses or masterpieces, and accomodate accordingly.]]>
We also accomodate a vast range of other requests. It seems like about every third order has a note. Splits, extra sauces, to gos, whole new made up pizzas that require a trip to the walk in and vegetables to cut, whatever. We generally try to do every one of them, in fact I don’t think I’ve seen a request turned down.
So is that the best way to run a restaurant? I don’t think there is necessarily one right answer. It works at Flora with our vibe and clientele. And I think we take a bit of pride in the kitchen in handling these requests. Other types of restaurants can “get away” with being less flexible.
I think for a place that is clearly creating an extremely high level dining experience, it is more tolerable to hold the line than at a comfortable neighborhood spot. That said, I know plenty of folks that feel that simply if they are paying, they should get what they want. And in a sense they are right, because they won’t come back if they feel uncomfortable or ill treated.
“annoying foodie customer” – I really liked your comment because it points out a “third way”. It isn’t just a question of whether you say yes or no, but the attitude presented to the customer. In fact I would bet that a gracious no is far better than an irritated yes!
The “bottomless beverage” issue is a great example. The large chain restaurants “trained” the majority of people (in the U.S.) to expect free refills. Initially it was heavily marketed as a “differentiator”, and these companies pay big bucks to get experts in marketing to craft and communicate this message. From a business perspective it is a shrewd tactic, since the larger the company the more leverage they have with Coke or PepsiCo which makes it economically viable for them, but harder for small businesses. Once the consumer is trained, then they expect it from every other “similar” establishment. Over time it trickles up from McDs, to Applebee’s to regional chains. At some point if you want to select the same customers you must meet this requirement.
So, how do you avoid this? Select different customers. How do you do that? Marketing. The problem is that most small businesses don’t do marketing well because it is a big effort that is largely made up of innumerable small decisions. In the case of a restaurant it includes the menu items, how customers are greeted, the interior decor, the exterior decor, the prices and on and on.
Here’s one hypothetical example of how one might select customers to only pick customers that don’t expect free soda refills. Do not offer any soft drinks at all. This will ensure that if someone expects free soda refills that they will not come for more than one visit. From a business perspective it must be understood that in the U.S. this is a substantial number of people. If you do offer soda’s -but without free refills – then you must understand that you will FREQUENTLY disappoint your customer. This should be a business decision – not an emotional one.
Of course the best marketing and communications in the world will not prevent all conflict. The question of how to handle people who become upset over a violated expectation is a great one. As the article pointed out, sometimes the expectation is reasonable and sometimes not. In either case conflict might occur. Handling conflict well requires a very well-defined and consistently applied value system. Take the recipe request example.
Someone asks for a recipe that is proprietary. If they ask for it, that means that they already have some level of expectation that they will receive it. So, what does values have to do with this? Let’s look at all the sides:
1) This is actually a compliment, since the customer clearly likes the dish enough to ask for the recipe.
2) The chef and/or owner may put a high value on keeping the recipe confidential because of the time and skill invested in developing the dish.
3) The wait staff values their gratuity, and may (mistakenly) equate compliance with a request with outstanding service.
It is a tough problem to balance all these viewpoints, however the values can be reconciled with some thought. We should start with the presumption that a conflict occurred over this – which means we are looking for a way to improve the response to eliminate future conflict. This means that the owner or manager needs to formulate the policy, communicate it to all the staff, and even rehearse it. So, how are the values reconciled?
1) First, there needs to be recognition from the entire staff that a recipe request is a COMPLIMENT. You must presume that the customer asked because they really really liked the dish.
2) Any response must communicate to the customer sincere appreciation for the compliment, but must also communicate clearly the time and effort put into developing new dishes.
3) The response should also convey thanks for the compliment in a way that makes the customer feel good about having asked – as opposed to be scolded for asking. If the chef is personable, perhaps the response could involve a brief visit from the chef where they present a “special” recipe that is not on the menu as thanks. Perhaps the manager could make a special visit on behalf of the chef with a petit four. The key is that if there is a small token of gratitude it should be negligible in economic value but thoughtful.
Will this always result in avoiding conflict? Probably not – but it is a good bet that it would become very rare. Although every circumstance cannot be predicted, thinking about common situations carefully and formulating a values-grounded response becomes part of your marketing and customer selection. OK, well I have rambled on long enough. Maybe even a little of this makes sense! Great blog – keep it up!]]>
If a rest. gets a reputation for being a babysitter, that’s what they’ll be. Check out Danny Meyer’s book– his hospitality philosophy keeps him in business but he doesn’t lick the bottoms of anyone’s feet!
When a place is new they need to please all the customers because each one is coming in for the first time, but it’s important to keep your integrity. We are an extremely privileged society. And we are known the world over to abuse this and continue to be bratty and ungrateful even in the face of pure generosity.
It’s important to have manager’s meetings to discuss why you make the rules you do and what messages you’re sending to customers when there are no rules.]]>