August 5, 2009

Industry standard: Insider info for those who dine out

When restaurants attack

It happens to every restaurant patron at some point: disappointment over poor service, a substandard dish or an unpleasant atmosphere. The trick to getting a satisfactory resolution in such situations is twofold. First, attempt to pinpoint the source of the trouble. Second, make your dismay known to the proper parties — that means management.

For instance, if service is poor, is it because the server seems inexperienced? Or is it because the place is packed to the rafters and the serving staff seems overwhelmed? Try to gauge the situation so you can relate it to a manager in a calm, reasoned manner. “Our waitress sucked!” is vague and inflammatory. Better: “Our server seemed so busy she wasn’t able to give us as much attention as we would have liked.”

Or let’s say you weren’t happy with the food. Was it cold? Did it take too long to come out, or come out in the wrong order? Instead of saying, “The food here is crap!” try being specific: “I ordered my steak ‘medium,’ but it came out very rare” or “We had to wait 20 minutes between our appetizers and entrees.” This will help management identify the point in the process where their system broke down.

Almost without exception, restaurant owners and managers want to please their customers. When mistakes happen, the only way they can learn about it is for the patron to make their displeasure known. Leaving in a huff and then telling your friends about it on Facebook doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t give the establishment a chance to rectify the situation and/or re-train the offenders.

Good managers will always try to make amends. Statistics show that when people have a good experience at a restaurant, they will tell three people, but when they have a bad one, they will tell 25 people. Good managers know this and act accordingly. They’ll offer to take something off your bill, or give you a discount good for your next visit. Of course, sometimes an experience is so awful that you wouldn’t consider a return visit, but at least you’ll know you’ve done everything possible to bring a problem to their attention.

But maybe you’re hosting a group and you don’t want to make a scene; or perhaps you’re so disgusted that all you want to do is go home and drink bourbon on the rocks until you forget about it. That’s perfectly understandable. You can always call the establishment the next day, or send a reasonable e-mail. You will almost never be sorry if you do.

Finally, if you do make a reasonable complaint to management and receive no satisfaction in return, the gloves are off. Tell everyone! Restaurants that don’t have a good system in place to address customer complaints won’t survive, and shouldn’t. We are sublimely lucky to have such a vibrant dining scene in Louisville, so support the good places and let the poorly managed ones sink into oblivion without your business!