As I often tell my audiences, I am blessed and cursed. I am cursed with the fact that I can’t have a Customer Experience without analyzing it and defining what they should do differently. But I am also blessed, because my Customer Experience knowledge has fed my family for 20 years!
So I shouldn’t complain. But my blessing/curse does get in the way of enjoying simple things, like restaurant meals. There are three things in particular that drive me nuts at a restaurant, because they blatantly show that the restaurant is not customer centric. And they would be so easy to fix.
1. The Server Who Can’t Remember
I was out for dinner recently with my wife Lorraine. She ordered a pasta dish and I ordered chicken. When the waiter returned to our table holding a steaming plate, he announced: “I have the pasta,” clearly unsure where it belonged.
Now Lorraine had to shout, “That’s mine!” as though she was trying to claim a prize on a game show.
I cannot fathom why service people don’t simply write down who ordered what, especially when there are only two people at the table. It is easy enough to note that the man ordered chicken and the woman pasta. Remembering shows that the server paid attention to a person’s preferences and cared about them. This is one of the ways I quickly judge whether a restaurant is good or not.
2. The Server Who Interrupts
This one has happened to me on more occasions than I can count. I’m at the table and my companion is talking — perhaps sharing a funny anecdote from a recent vacation, or discussing a customer experience strategy for Beyond Philosophy. The waitress comes by. I see her out of the corner of my eye, but my companion is in the middle of a sentence. I don’t want to interrupt him. But the waitress is happy to.
“Can I get you anything else? How about some dessert? Something else to drink?”
Expecting you to interrupt your conversation the minute a server shows up at your table is just rude. The server should either wait at a polite distance until we signal that we’re ready to talk to her. Or she should visit another table and come back by a little later.
3. The Restaurant that Pretends to Be Busy
How many times have you walked into a nearly empty restaurant, asked for a table, and had the hostess say, “Do you have a reservation?” When you sheepishly admit that you do not, she studies her sheet of paper for a bit, then consults with another staff member. Then, without a word, she picks up a couple of menus and seats you right next to the only other filled table in the place. Whew, you think. It’s lucky we got in before the big dinner rush.
So you have your meal and as you’re getting up to leave you realize there was no dinner rush. There are now a total of four filled tables in the place, including yours. Why did they pretend they were doing you a favor by fitting you in at the last minute?
We often talk about the role emotions play in customer experience, and this behavior starts things off on a negative foot by causing anxiety. Will we get a table? How long will we have to wait? Why didn’t we make a reservation? In the end, we feel tricked because it seems we were made anxious for no good reason. Imagine how different you’d feel if the hostess instead said, “It’s a slow night. I’m so glad you came in. Where would you like to sit?”
It’s the Company Culture
All three of these things happen because the restaurant prioritizes its processes over the customers it is serving.
- When the waiter doesn’t know who ordered what, there is probably no system in place for recording this at the time orders are taken. In some restaurants, the person who brings out the food is not even the same person who took the order!
- A server who interrupts may be socially tone-deaf. But more likely, the management expects servers to handle as many tables as possible, always look busy, and up-sell customers on drinks and desserts. Servers are rewarded for advancing these goals, and they are not trained or encouraged to respond to customers’ social cues.
- The hostess who reluctantly seats you is probably just following protocol. The trouble is, the protocol is the same regardless of whether the restaurant is packed or empty.
To correct these issues, restaurants need to train employees to empathize with customers and pick up on cues they are sending out. And employees must be empowered to respond to individual situations instead of sticking to a set script or set of behaviors in every situation. As we discussed in our Podcast recently, a restaurant — or any business — that does not develop a customer-centric culture cannot deliver a great customer experience. It’s no wonder so many restaurants fail.
These things drive me NUTS! Have they happened to you? Tell me about it in the comments section below.
To find out more about creating a customer centric culture listen to our podcast Creating and Sustaining a Customer Centric Culture
These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX