Food for thought about customer service

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This week has given me several opportunities to think about how I interact with someone while receiving service from them, whether it’s been the Sears repair man or the aesthetician last week or the waitress from a local restaurant.

Last night, my family and I met another family at a local Mexican restaurant we have frequented for years. The food is tasty and the service is usually fast. Yesterday, however, we had an abysmal experience from the get go. The waitress arrived before the second family had shown up so we asked her to return when they had arrived. Twenty five minutes later she returned to take our order. We ordered our food hoping that the food would at least arrive sooner than that. Ten minutes after we ordered, she returned and asked if she could take the order again because she had mixed it up somehow. At this point, my family was beginning to lose it. The four kids were hungry and filling up on chips and salsa (not my idea of a balanced diet). Forty-five minutes later the food arrived after multiple times that she came to tell us it would be out soon. One of the items ordered was not correct but by that point our friend decided he would just eat what he’d been served. To compensate, she offered us free desserts but by then we all felt that it would be better if our drinks were free since no one wanted to wait anymore for anything coming out of the kitchen. When our bills arrived our friends had gotten their alcoholic drinks taken off their bill but our non-alcoholic drinks were still on the bill. (My husband had originally ordered a beer, gotten the wrong one and when he mentioned it to the waitress he’d been told that his request was currently out of stock.)

Look I have waitressed. A lot. At many different kinds of restaurants for all sorts of different people. I know what it’s like to be busy and completely overwhelmed by the tables you have to serve. So I was patient. When she was late to take the order. I was patient. when she mixed up our order and had to come back ten minutes later and take it again. I was patient and appreciative when she offered to take our drinks of the menu. But I was not patient in the end when we received a bill for our meal with the drinks still on it and she couldn’t figure out how to take them off the bill for us at the register. I felt like we had just spent two hours of our lives being told our food would come when it wasn’t really ready and frankly I didn’t feel that our family had received any kind of compensation. In the end, at the register, I was irritated and after five minutes, I just said forget it, just charge me the for the drinks so we can go home. When I asked on Facebook last night what others would do, I received wonderful comments about contacting the GM and letting him know about our experience. People felt that the owners would want to know what happened to a family who regularly frequents the restaurant and had brought new customers as well. The best comment though came today from a friend who reminded me to think about this situation in this way. “Kind deeds are decidedly easier if we’re in a good place, and we’re directing them to someone who is already showing us at least common courtesy. It’s trickier when you are hungry, tired, stressed or dealing with something difficult and if someone is treating us poorly it’s tempting to return the energy. But wouldn’t performing a mitzvah in those conditions be especially meaningful? Would your irritation subside if you knew the waitress, say, just found out she had breast cancer or recently lost a family member?”

Thank goodness, I can feel that I didn’t really act in any way that I am embarrassed about. We even tipped her. I tried to behave in a way that was appropriate and understanding and was only irritated at the very end when it was clear we would receive no compensation from her at all for the experience. I am sure that I would have felt better in the end, if I had walked away thinking, okay well they certainly did compensate us for that experience. I guess it continued to  bother me because I just didn’t feel that way.

I’d love to hear from an employer or a restaurant owner. What do you do when a customer has a less than exemplary experience? Do you give away free meals, free drinks or something else? How would you want a customer to handle this situation. Based on the comments on Facebook, I know this situation is not unique so please let me know, so I can share it. Thanks for joining the conversation

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