(Blogger’s Note: Every Friday an excerpt from the soon-to-be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant ,appears in this space. It was thirteen years ago today that the following incident took place. Since that time Kranston has goten rid of her Migraine.)When I walked into Chez Foley on that cold, crisp, Minnesota December afternoon the air was thick with the aroma of a successful lunch. The wafting fragrances of garlic, tarragon, balsamic chicken, and roasted turkey were attracted to the front door each time it opened. The cold gusts of Lake Minnetonka continually sucked the perfume of the kitchen onto the street shortly fighting the frozen nostril chill of a Wayzata winter.
Panning the empty dining room, which had just bee reset for dinner, I could tell from the look on Michael Benno´s face that something had gone awry during lunch service. The manager, Michael Persian was looking perplexed- I knew we needed to talk- and Kranston who had been suffering from an intense migraine for three days was sporting a look of concern.
"What happened?" I asked as I perched on a bar stool in front of the plate of freshly baked complimentary chocolate chip cookies.
"Well, we had a problem today. Mrs. Rogers was in, complained about everything to everyone, and wants you to call her. Immediately." Benno explained. The woman is impossible. She complained to me, then to Michael and then to Karen. It was just stupid stuff. You better call her."
Customer service includes placating personalities. Sally Rogers was one of the regular luncheon ladies who added to the profitability of Chez Foley. Plus, she had a tendency to chat continually about here daily escapades. Not quite Paris Hilton, she was a pseudo celebrity on the lake and people did listen.
The phone more than a few times before someone answered "Hello."
"Yes, is Mrs. Rogers there? This is John Foley from Chez Foley."
"Oh, John, you are a darling.Thank you for calling. This is Mrs. Rogers. I must tell you I was very disappointed today at lunch."
"I am sorry to hear that. What happened?"
"Well, a number of things. First, I brought my daughter and two interior designers in for lunch and we wanted to try the soup- just a sample- but they refused to split a cup four ways. Instead, they brought us four spoons. Then when my Caesar Salad came, there wasn´t very much chicken on it."
"Mrs. Rogers, I am so sorry that happened. I wasn´t here otherwise I would have taken care of that for you."
"Well, John, that isn´t all that happened. It gets much worse. The grapes that came with one of the sandwiches, they were spotted. The coffee wasn´t very warm, the slice of Carrot Cake wasn´t very big, and it could have been fresher. I was so disappointed. On top of that, nobody did anything. I complained to everyone. You know John, I could tell all my friends about this."
"Pardon me? Mrs. Rogers, did you just say you could tell all of your friends about this?" I asked.
"Yes. That´s exactly what I said."
"That´s the thanks I get." I assertively volleyed back. "First of all, let me explain a few things. I have some very enjoyable hobbies. This isn´t one of them. This is a business. It is physically impossible and financially unrealistic to split a cup of $2.95 soup four ways. It would cost more to wash the silverware and china. As far as the amount of Chicken on your Caesar, it´s a chicken breast, six ounces. Have you ever seen an anchovy? They are tiny."
"I can´t believe your talking to me like this."
"Wait. I am not finished. As far as the grapes, the large, plump, Globe Reds that burst in your mouth with flavor- they come from Peru. Currently there is a Cholera epidemic there so we opted to pass on the possibility of killing anyone and decided to serve the smaller, safer, California variety as a GARNISH. The coffee may have been warm because you didn´t drink it fast enough – you were at the table for over two hours, and as far as the Carrot Cake, it was fresh. I enjoy a piece every evening and each morning and have gained thirteen pounds to prove it. Believe me, it was the freshest, most moist Carrot Cake this side of Nantucket. And, finally, anyone still worried at 4:45 p.m. about the amount of chicken on the Caesar they ate at noon needs more help than I can offer. And when you tell your friends about the experience at Chez Foley this afternoon, make sure you let them know that you are banned from the restaurant for at least six months. You are 86´ed. Have a pleasant evening."
"I´m appalled," I heard her say just before the phone hit the receiver.
The staff now fighting for position at the bar couldn´t believe what they just heard. Had the guru of customer service lost his mind? Had he snapped. They were awestruck. Kranston went into a state of shock.
"John, how could you do that? You can´t talk to a customer that way."
"Kran, maybe you weren´t listening. She is no longer a customer. This is my home. You don´t have to be invited to come in but you certainly have to act as though you were. She complained to the waiter, to the manager, and then to you, one of the owners. She should have stopped there. The bill for four people and two hours of entertainment was $62.00 including tip. That´s reasonable and I know how she is. Enough is enough. Besides, she´ll be back."
"John, you have to fix this. Now."
I had prior experience upsetting women. The knowledge I gained in another life, at another time, proved vital at this stage. I knew first hand what I needed to do to win the customer back. Calling the florist and ordering a dozen, long stem, American Beauty Roses in Minnesota, in mid December was more costly than the lunch Roger´s had eaten.
I was sure it would do the trick. Plus, the publicity I would garner from the circle of friends she would tell would be worth major advertising dollars.
When asked by the florist if I would like something on the card I simply said yes, write this: "May your Holiday Season be more plentiful than the chicken on your Caesar. Fondly, John Foley. Chez Foley."
That could have been the wrong message to send.