We have all experienced kitchen or dining room meltdown. It always happens on a busy night. It´s never a pretty sight. The first thing we see is the break in the rhythm of the staff, followed by the high decibel remarks of unhappy customers. The vision usually ends with the stack of dollars we saw going into the evening rapidly diminishing as we comp meals, offer complimentary desserts and cocktails indented to coax unhappy customers to keep their experience secret and give the restaurant, another try.
However, in the over crowded world of eateries, is that enough to keep customers loyal or do we need to do more than pick up a guest check and apologize for our inefficiencies?
Lat week, JetBlue Airlines faced a similar meltdown. The publicity they received has been crippling. Yet for JetBlue they may have turned lemons into lemonade. Yesterday- through email- everyone they know received a letter of apology. The heartfelt paragraphs seemed as though they were coming from a best friend. Phrases like – "We are sorry and embarrassed"?¦Words cannot express"?¦We are committed to you, our valued customer"?¦You deserve better"?¦" — were frankly, touching. Along with the apology letter, they published the Customer Bill of Rights along with a YouTube video of David Neeleman again, apologizing.
We should all learn a lesson from the airline and their marketing department. In many meltdown culinary cases managers, waiters, and owners just shrug it off as a bad night and hope that the customer will be forgiving. That seldom happens. All of us have experienced bad service, mediocre food, and atmosphere that is less that appealing. As owners, we often enjoy seeing others stumble. Nevertheless, as an industry which has difficulty continually reaching the raised bar of higher standards we should look at the one-step better than the free dessert to gain customers confidence and loyalty.
I have always been a proponent of the business card with the complimentary-meal-apology printed on the back. Simple to produce, the gesture made an impact on the customer. Usually handed out before the customer needed to complain, it had to be signed by either a manager, or a supervisor. The customer was urged to call me personally – my name and number was on the front of the card- to arrange for the evening. When they called, I would always probe until I found out what the problem was and apologized profusely for the experience. I would also make sure that on the evening they came back to the restaurant they had service comparable to Delmonico´s.
I learned early in the business that what you spend on keeping a customer is less costly than having them tell their friends of a bad experience.