Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Customer service? Get it yourself.


 My friends either love going out with me or they hate it. They usually love it because I tend to get great service...but when I don't it isn't a pretty sight to see. 

I have spent more years being a server/bartender/restaurant manager/event manager/caterer than I will ever admit. All of that time taught me several things. First, hospitality, is hard. Rock hard. It's a tough business and you are relying on the good graces and social intelligence of perfect strangers (or strange strangers) to make your rent. Every time I read an article about how 10% is an acceptable tip I want to make the author wait tables on a Saturday night, so far in the weeds that a weed whacker would be useless.  Second, as a server, some people see me as entertainment. Sometimes that may be me telling jokes or being quick and witty. But other times, there are those "guests" that want to see how many times they can run you. Those are the folks that have lost all control in their daily life and by controlling you, they are getting a little of their life back.  I learned that you can't judge anyone. Yes, sometimes your spidey sense is correct and the table is going to leave you a crummy tip, but sometimes you are wrong. Most importantly, I have learned that in a restaurant or bar, you have your own business. Every moment you are "on" and making money. As much as I hated selling coffee, I would because by the end of the night, that extra money the guest spent would boost my check average, raise my tips and cover the busser tip out. Almost 3/4 of my tables would have an appetizer *and* dinner *and* dessert. Now I wasn't perfect, having those days where the 12 top was 12 ladies all splitting 6 side dishes. The point is, I had control over my section. If I wanted to make money, it was up to me to get my tables having a great time and buying lots of food and drink. More tip for me. 

With that little bit of history about me, it shouldn't surprise me that I am a stickler about service. I expect and demand good service when I go out. I know I am paying extra for someone else to wait on me and get my ketchup and refill my soda. Repeatedly. I tip well and I'm friendly.  If my dinner is taking a long time I don't freak out on my server, which I know they appreciate. I know that they have no control over how quickly my burger is taking to cook. I get it. I've been there. But when a server hides out away from me or is goofing off while my beer is going flat I start to get a little cranky. With most people if you keep them informed, don't ignore them and always fill their glass,  they are understanding.

Anytime I have bad service in a restaurant, I want to take the server aside and tell them what they are doing wrong. I want to explain why they are getting sub par tips. Not everyone can be a bartender or a server. It's OK if you can't hack it. There is no blacklist you'll be put on if you say it isn't for you. 

The last few times I have been out, for some reason I have had God awful service and not just from restaurants. I stayed at a hotel in Cleveland recently and for a period of time, I actually thought I was on some sort of hidden camera reality show, someone timing how long until I jumped over the counter and started screeching like a howler monkey.

I called and confirmed my room, 2 double beds, since several friends were going to stay over after the Indians game. A great girls night out. I arrived at the hotel early hoping to check in. I should have known then, with the angry people in the lobby that I was in trouble. I was told that the hotel was sold out and I couldn't check in until 3. Since I was going to the Indians double header, I confirmed again that even if I arrived late in the evening my room would be there. Absolutely ma'am. Yes ma'am.

Cut to later that evening and I am trying to check in. More people cursing at the desk clerk, the lobby was full of anger. Earlier that night, it had rained Matrix style, so I was wet and tired and I just wanted to go to my room. The desk clerk told me that I could have a single because everything else was gone. I went into the tale of my room confirmations and she tried to talk to her manager...whose response was "I don't care." Cut to my chin hitting the floor and the little vein in my forehead leaping out. 

My friends went home and I stayed trying to get in my room that I paid for. After about an hour I was given a room...an upgrade they said. My room was a lake view and at the end of the hall, a nice little quiet oasis. When I reach the room, the door is ajar, with the hotel lock holding the door open like the occupant had gone down to get a bin of ice. I felt like I was on CSI, inspecting the room to make sure that it was really mine and there was no one hiding in it. 

The next morning as I went to check out, I spoke to a manager and told her of my woes. She was omg shocked! omg appalled! Since I already paid for the room on a travel site, she offered me another night, plus parking and breakfast. Awesome idea. Let someone give your business a second chance. The manager asked if I had my parking ticket and she would validate it (I did not...the machine was broke anyway when I arrived). Never fear! She told me to inform the parking attendant that my parking was comped and to call if there was a question. 

I told the attendant exactly that, I told the parking attendant that Manager lady with the weird name had it taken care of. The woman growled...sneered..."What for? Why shouldn't you have to pay?" I politely informed her it was because I had a crappy experience in the hotel and to please make the call, because I am not going anywhere until it is taken care of. 

No matter how incredible the decor or business plan or food  the success of the business comes down to one or two employees.

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