Service Sans The Attitude

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 12, 2007
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I was sifting through my e-mails the other day and was struck by the fact that the majority addressed to this column are complaints. Not complaints about me, I’m happy to say, but complaints from people unhappy with their restaurant experiences.

The recurring theme is always the same: disappointed customers who want to share a restaurant tale of woe. I try to sort out as many of them as I can. I contact the restaurants involved, pass on e-mails and most times put the two parties together so the complaints can be resolved. There’s almost always a happy outcome, because most restaurant owners really do appreciate the opportunity to rectify a complaint.

But in some cases, the disgruntled customers don’t want anything done. They want to complain to as many people as they can, but they have no intention of ever setting foot in the offending restaurant again.

“Don’t pass on this e-mail,” one disgruntled gentleman wrote the other week. “We will never go back, so there’s no point in telling the owners. We just wanted to tell you.”

He told me more about his expensive evening at one of the city’s fine restaurants, but insisted he was done complaining.

“If they don’t know enough to know we were unhappy,” he said, “then they shouldn’t be in business.”

Another highly aggravated e-mailer told me, “Don’t let them know we’re complaining to you. We already complained once and the manager didn’t seem to care.”

Caring is huge. Restaurant owners, servers and chefs are forgiven almost exclusively for a range of errors. Everything from too long a wait to cold food or adding a gratuity to the bill will, in most cases, be forgiven if we believe someone cares. But give us a hint of attitude or a modicum of disinterest and we’re taking our business elsewhere. I had one e-mailer who wrote that on complaining about her very small portion of highly priced food, the waiter commented, “Well, what do you expect? We have to make a living.”

I’m guessing what she expected was a little less attitude.

When people go to a restaurant for the evening - particularly a fine-dining one - they bring some pretty high expectations along with their appetite, because dining in a nice restaurant is not just about sating hunger, it’s about satisfying needs. If customers respect a restaurant enough to spend their hard-earned dollars there, then the least the restaurant staff can do is to treat them with respect. Great service and a genuinely caring attitude beat outstanding food with a bad attitude every time.

I know that heading into the holidays it can be tough. Scheduling is tight, staff calls in sick and days are long, but it costs far less to be gracious and deal with a complaint on the spot than it does to lose a customer.

I’m hoping that the holiday season for restaurants is bustling and busy and bright, and that everyone remembers that a little bit of caring goes a long way.

Happy eating!

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