Updated: Mar 9
We all make mistakes, for sure and, in hospitality in particular, it has been well publicised over the past few months, that the way in which customers react to them has become increasingly polarised.
'Waiter, there's a fly in my soup' , the well cliched and illustrated parody of customer behaviour when complaining in restaurants hasn't been brought up to date in a while, it seems!! Whilst the vast majority of customers are extremely reasonable, cool and understanding, the increasingly unreasonable and vocal minority are certainly getting louder and, in some cases, downright hideous. The examples in the next few paragraphs are all real, by the way, though not necessarily our own!!
With everything from brutally excessive demands in light of very minor oversights ('This salt cellar is empty, that's disgusting - tell the manager that we do not expect a bill this evening as our night's ruined') to outrageous treatment of staff (To 16 year old waitress: 'We've been waiting far too long for our food, can't you or your chef do your f*****g jobs or what?')
We get that the mistakes we make can cause a bit of bother on an evening. They are not intentional, are infrequent and, please believe me when I say that we try extremely hard to cover for an increasingly varied set of eventualities - it's not an excuse.
There is actually a way of turning round the impact of a small mistake and even (God forbid) a major catastrophe.
Let's take an example. 'Excuse me, there's a hair on my plate'. Both parties first take a deep breath. Bear in mind that neither of you wished this situation to happen, though it has. It's a chef's worst nightmare, can be pretty gross for a customer and it will, at some stage, happen. The only surefire solution is to have a pre requisite for all staff to shave their heads - oh, and to refuse entry to customers and suppliers that do not do the same. The hair will not poison or harm you in any way, or affect the flavour of your food, though it may creep you out a little. Factually it has more than a 50% chance of coming from someone in the dining room. Is it a big deal? Perhaps. Though what would be the appropriate reaction, in this circumstance? Seeking advice from our peers we asked the question to a number of diners as well as operators. Examples of reactions we were told of ranged from no reaction at all, customers saying nothing until they had finished their food, a gentle and discreet notification of the fact and a request for the food to be replaced, punishment by trip advisor, demands for the whole evening to be comped for the entire party, swearing at staff, disturbing other diners through raised voices, refusing to pay and requesting a future, free dining experience as well, to walking out without paying and promising retribution. Are these reactions dependent on character alone? Certainly everyone reacts differently and that is their entitlement; though, after all, it is just a hair on the plate!!
How would we respond? We'd be mortified, naturally, for starters. If the customer said nothing until the end, we'd be upset as we'd have effectively missed out on a chance to remedy the issue straight away. A gentle nudge and a request to replace the food would have been dealt with immediately and would also result in additional recompense - everyone can still have a superb evening - this sounds reasonable, doesn't it?. Swearing, any rudeness directed at staff and disturbing other diners in this instance would be wholly inappropriate and would not encourage a mutual resolution - in fact totally the opposite - there is really no excuse for that, whatever the mistake. Most errors can be easily overcome if both parties are calm and reasonable as, thank God, most of us are.
Be nice, don't be a c**t
No matter how severe a situation is perceived to be, it has happened and how we all behave subsequently determines the outcome. Be reasonable, calm and a solution normally follows. Mistakes that happen, sadly, include wine or food spilt on a customer, food cooked incorrectly, items on the menu not available, slow service and admin errors on booking, amongst others. All inconvenient, though between us we should be able to sort them out (shouldn't we?).
I was told recently, of a customer who proceeded to remove (and smash) light bulbs that caused offence in a restaurant not too far from here, as they were too bright (the restaurant's 'mistake'), despite them being on a dimmer switch that they didn't request to be turned down! They were then mortally offended that they had to pay for the damage - wff??!!??
On another, extremely busy evening, again in somewhere not to far from us, the venue was understaffed both front and back of house, with everyone rushed off their feet for what seemed like an eternal 3 hours. Most folk were perfectly happy to wait and understood the situation; one table of mature diners brought a 16 year old waitress on her second ever shift to tears and one couple, right next door to them, tipped 30% of their bill to the same waitress, as they knew how hard she was trying.
How we react to these types of situations both defines our character, as well as determines the outcome. Most of us are pretty cool, then there's the uber cool, then there are the c***s.
Dim the lights, be kind to staff and we'll all enjoy life, despite its little bumps