The Customer Service Gap – The Lukewarm Gyro

Here is a customer service story that happens far too often. My teenage son and I went to a local restaurant recently where we occasionally go to have pizza and play cribbage together. It is something we have done every couple of months together for years. We go to the same place and order pizza and have some father and son time together.

On this particular evening he wanted to have something different so he ordered fettuccini Alfredo and I tried a Gyro wrap. Although I thought the prices were rather high we had always liked the pizza so I thought, “Why not?” When my son’s dish arrived it was a large clump of noodles and sauce boiling in its serving bowl. There was nothing accompanying it on the plate – not much for $20, I thought. He was OK with it and dug right in.

My $16 Gyro, however, was something else. Although it looked nicely arranged on the plate the meat looked like it had been carved in hunks from a can of SPAM. It was lukewarm as though it had spent 10 minutes under the warming lights while the other dish was being prepared. A proper Gyro should have hot thin strips of pressed ground or sliced lamb on top of the cold tzaziki dressing with some feta cheese & red onions & tomatoes on top of a nicely warmed pita round.

I flagged down the waitress and told her it was not to my liking. She started to argue with me telling me that the kitchen had made it correctly. I insisted that it was not acceptable and although she took it back the manager came out and also insisted that it was made properly. When the replacement dish came back out it was poorly prepared and had an odd taste so I didn’t finish it. The waitress never came back except to drop off the check. The front of house staff did not ask how our meal was when I paid the bill.

Although my son and I had been coming to this restaurant for a long time and had enjoyed the food and felt the service was good here was one bad experience that has overshadowed all the others. Is it ever acceptable to argue with a customer? If it had been a $6 dish it would probably have been an acceptable dish. Because they tried to elevate it to the level of a Mercedes instead of a Ford in terms of price, I expected it to have Mercedes-level quality and scrutinized it more closely in terms of the quality I received. For me the value was not there.

The way to increase profits is to raise prices, not lower them. The restaurant certainly had raised prices. This was not, however, a high-class restaurant with crystal and linens and waiters in tuxedos with snooty French accents. It is a local place known for pizzas and ethnic dishes. If they want to charge high prices then the level of customer service must be at a similarly high level as well. At that price level the food has to be prepared well, nicely arranged on a plate with proper sides, served with alacrity by a knowledgeable waitperson. It must be well-seasoned and served without delay. If there is a problem the staff and kitchen must deal with it without complaint and with a fierce desire to make the customer happy.

A restaurant depends on repeat business. Without repeat business every customer who comes in is new and huge amounts of effort and money spent to lure in new customers to replace the old. The product a restaurant serves is not a meal, it is an experience. A good restaurant serves a good quality meal and provides an ambience that is warm and inviting, making the customer feel nourished both in body and soul. A restaurant that forgets this is doomed to failure.

Every so often a business needs to take a look at its customer service capability. How are customers served? Are they greeted warmly and quickly? Are they made to feel at home? Does the staff know the goods well enough to make suggestions and help the customer choose the product she needs? Does the customer feel looked-after and any product or service issues dealt with quickly and positively?

My partner and I were at a different restaurant and she discovered the greens in her dinner salad were wilted. The waiter immediately got her a replacement and took it off her bill. No questions asked. This is what customers want if they are to return again and again. This is what customers want if they are to recommend your business to their friends and family.

How much does it cost your business every time you fail to treat a customer the way you want to be treated yourself?

Larry Earnhart
Alchemist Business Consulting
September 20, 2014

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