Is great food enough?

While waiting recently for a table at a restaurant - on a Wednesday at 4:30 PM, mind you - I wondered with this many hungry people in the world how it is possible that so many start-up restaurants fail to stay in business. The answer quickly came to mind: customer service! The bottom line is that the customers will not come back if they feel they are not appreciated and valued.

After more than seven years, my wife and I still talk about the time we were at a Macaroni Grill and the waiter was awful! You can forgive someone for making some mistakes but this guy was the worst! He blatantly ignored all of his tables of hungry people except for one table where he was carrying on a loud and expansive conversation about his personal goals - none of which had anything to do with waiting tables (surprise surprise).

And yes, after seven years I still remember this event in perfect detail. How did management let this happen? I think that incidents like this are just a sign of larger issues. It is satisfying to write that this branch of Macaroni Grill closed a few months after that incident. (My wife is not so satisfied – she misses the bread and oil they used to bring to the table.)

But it just proves my point – customer service is everything and sometimes and you only get one chance to get it right. If the first experience at a restaurant is not at least average, most people will not give it a second chance. Well maybe they will give it a second chance if it’s a free second chance. My wife loves to write reviews on Yelp. There have been two occasions that restaurant management read my wife’s reviews and then offered us a chance to come back and try it again on the house. The first impression may have been a bit lacking but the free meal was a smart move toward winning back our business.

We all have different sensibilities when it comes to a great dining experience. I am an easy going person. I can find something to like about most experiences. I do not like dining at any restaurant with my brother, though. He is the guy who is always sending his food back. He expects to be treated like a king, which is annoying to me. My only pet peeve? Having to wait. Waiting for a table. Waiting for someone to take your dinner order. Waiting with a parched throat and an empty glass for someone to bring you another drink. That last point is more than a customer service issue, though – it is just bad business. Besides having thirsty disgruntled customers, you also have a lost opportunity – that’s customers who want to spend more money that the restaurant will not get and smaller tips for the staff.

It does not matter if it’s a great value like Taco Tuesday (great tacos for $0.75) or a pricey five course wine dinner, if done right people will come back. Again and again. You know people love it when the place is packed at 2PM on a Tuesday like at Grande Mexico. The food, drink and service are all great at Grande Mexico. If that was not the case the place would not be packed no matter how cheap the tacos. This is even more the case for a fixed menu five course dinner that we almost never miss at Keon’s, our favorite local restaurant. These dinners are fun and indulgent and a great night out. This is a very pricey event yet you have to reserve a table weeks ahead of time to get in. And we keep going back.

Sometimes it seems that we just eat at the same places over and over. It is a little bit of a catch 22. If you eat at the places then you know for sure you are going to enjoy the experience, but then you will never find a great new experience. I have the idea to put on the calendar one day a month to try someplace different. Hopefully all the restaurants we try going forward will be customer-service focused. If not the first time may be the last time.

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