Recently a group of seven family members, all of us adults, went to dinner at a local restaurant. We ordered at the same time; in fact, I ordered the same thing my husband did, a simple, tasty Southern Chicken Sandwich. Everything was great until the servers brought the food out and everyone got their food except me. The server told me mine was coming right out—but it wasn’t. For the next 20 minutes—yes, 20!—the server and manager kept coming back to say “it’s coming, we are so sorry”… there was nothing I could do but say “ok, I understand, it happens.” Eventually, my food did arrive, but everyone was done eating and had to wait around for me awkwardly. The manger offered us free dessert, but for me, the evening was ruined. Shouldn’t my dinner have been comped? Is there a rule about when restaurants comp meals? I’m not looking for a free meal but this was a real mess.
Sincerely, Party of One
Dear Party of one,
What we have here is simply a mistake. It happens and it is lousy when it happens to you. As a former server, bartender and manager, I almost perfected the art of making mistakes in the restaurant. I wonder if the server was writing down all of the orders? I used to have the mental hubris to think I could memorize a large party’s orders. The silly thing is, who cares? It’s not as if the guests are going to be impressed if you correctly input the entire order in the computer. That’s expected. The only thing you can do by memorizing a large order is mess it up. I sadly learned that through age and experience.
The two key takeaways with this experience are 1) how can the restaurant ensure the guest will return and 2) how does this affect a possible return visit from the guest?
Danny Meyer writes in “Setting the Table,” his excellent book on hospitality, to “write a great last chapter.” He elaborates using the Five A’s: being Aware of the problem, Acknowledging the mistake, Apologizing to the guest, taking Action by offering something that can be served immediately and Applying additional generosity by either comping the item or bringing out a dessert as a gift. The expense you cover for not charging the guest for a mistake, and the ensuing dessert, far outweighs the lack of revenue you’ll miss by never seeing the diner come back. It is simple and brilliant.
For the guest, did this experience fill you with enough rage that you took to Yelp! and wrote a scathing review? I hope not, but you’re more than justified if you feel it’s necessary. At the point of realizing you didn’t have your meal, a soup or salad or anything that’s easily prepared should have been sent to you so the entire table could eat together.
To my restaurant people, remember, it’s just as awkward for the other guests at the table to eat their dish knowing their friend doesn’t have anything in front of them. Sometimes, a server will hide their mistake from the management for fear of looking incompetent, or the manager understood and didn’t react properly.
Either way, this was a mistake that turned into another mistake that snowballed into a mess. I believe in second chances, so I would return, especially if you typically like this place.
But let this be a lesson learned: you may not ever come back and now, that restaurant just lost a whole lot more than a free entrée and dessert.
Host of the NC F&B Podcast