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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Death Wish Café

“I’m sorry, Brad, but I can’t serve you the grilled focaccia for breakfast any more. We have it in the kitchen, ready for lunch hour, but the chef won’t let me sell it to you at breakfast.”

Now my husband has been a good customer since they opened their doors for business. The whole staff knows him by name. He often brings in friends at lunch, which helps to increase their exposure to new clientele.

Brad doesn’t eat red meat, fast food, milk, visible eggs or cheese. He’s weird that way. He also gets sick of oatmeal every day for breakfast so when his favorite restaurant added focaccia to their menu, he began ordering it grilled and was in seventh heaven. I don’t know why, because to me it’s just wads o’ starch, but he likes it. He’s weird that way.

So after months of this treat, he objected to getting it snatched from his jaws. “Why can’t I get the grilled focaccia?” he asked.

“I don’t know. The chef just won’t do it.”

“Go try again. Tell him Brad is asking politely.” So off she goes, into the open kitchen. Brad can see her in discussion with the chef. The manager of the restaurant eventually joins the group. Frankly, it’s a long conversation for one lousy piece of focaccia.

“I’m sorry, Brad. But he says, no. We’re trying to cut down on food costs.”

Now how refusing to sell focaccia to a waiting customer cuts down on food costs is a mystery. Brad thought that maybe it is a time factor: maybe the chef is too busy to be stopping to grill a special focaccia order. But he looked around the restaurant. It’s after 9:00 a.m. and there’s only one other couple in the joint. He can see into the open kitchen and the chef is just standing there, chatting with a waitperson. Frankly, I’m a multi-tasker: I can chat and grill focaccia at the VERY SAME TIME. But maybe that’s just me.

So Brad tells the waitress, “Go back and tell the manager that I’m willing to pay extra. I don’t care how much it costs. I want a piece of grilled focaccia.”

More three-way huddling in the kitchen. The Geneva Convention took less time to negotiate. Finally the waitress emerges beaming, “The chef says that he will serve you a piece of ungrilled focaccia and the manager gave me permission to toast it in the toaster.”

Brad’s response: “Are you f***ing kidding me?” OK, no that wasn’t his response – at least not out loud. He sure was thinking it. But he’s a nice guy and so he merely said, “Never mind. I’ll just drink my coffee and leave.” When he went to the cash register the manager told him, “The coffee is on the house, Brad. I’m sorry about your breakfast.”

Brad tipped the waitress generously, walked out the door and has never returned.

In a lousy economy you’ve got to get creative in order to stay alive. And one surefire way is to increase your customer service. Sure, you’re constantly trying to find new customers, but your number one priority is keeping the customers that you already have – keeping them happy and comin’ back for more.

By the way, back in February, the manager of this same restaurant was complaining to Brad that business was way down and they were worried about making it through to the other end of this recession. Their answer: They increased the prices on some of their most popular dishes. They INCREASED their prices at a time when people were watching their money.

I notice that when Downtown restaurant in the State Art Museum began seeing customer numbers drop they countered by adding a $9.95 combo dish to their sit-down menu. You can pick any three items from a daily list of five or six selections. They made sure that you could still have lunch with your client at Downtown and guarantee keeping your expenditure under $10. Now that’s smart thinking.

Raising your prices and lowering your customer service. That’s a death wish. Gee, but I miss that place…..

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of that hilarious scene in the movie Five Easy Pieces where Jack Nicholson tries to order a ham and cheese sandwich in a restaurant. The menu listed a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich. No matter how much he argues with her the waitress refuses to serve Jack a ham and cheese sandwich because it's not on the menu. It was a funny scene because it was so stupid.