Memorable Customers – The Good Ones

Working in the restaurant industry, we face a wide range of customers. There are great ones and terrible ones. Among friends we have a special bond. What seems to attract everyone’s attention is sharing memorable customer experiences. Maybe it is because we can all relate and we can share similar stories. It is definitely something we all enjoy talking about.The following is a compilation of various short stories of customer service experiences throughout my career working in the restaurant industry.

No Tip?

I once served a young Chinese man and his friend for lunch. Everything they had tried, they seem to enjoy as they complimented on the restaurant’s fusion inspired sushi rolls. They even spoke of passing on positive word of mouth to family and friends and reassured us that they would be returning. I was feeling great knowing I must have done my part of the job for providing great service. That was what I had thought until I had collected the bill fold and was shocked at a zero percent tip. How could someone possibly leave nothing? I thought everything was going well. I was cursing in my head, but at the same time trying to remember every detail of the young Chinese man so that I would be sure not to serve him again. What a cheapo! He had enough to pay his friend but didn’t care to leave anything for myself. Almost 15 minutes had passed and I was I still fuming. The next thing you know it, a voice appeared,

“Hello Jay, sorry to bother you but…”

I couldn’t believe it. I looked up and there was the young Chinese man. He was on his way to work when he realized that he forgot to leave a tip. How did he know? As he was looking inside his wallet, he noticed his one and only $10 bill was still in there. He decided to quickly turn his car around to apologize for the confusion and to leave a full 15% tip. I later found out his name was Charles. He kept his word and referred new customers which he also later became a regular himself.

Too Kind

I was fortunate enough to have met a family of three; two sisters and their mom. They became regulars who visited the restaurant two to three times a week and never missed a week. They loved Japanese food and everything about the restaurant.

For some reason, I was always their one and only server who they ever requested. We clicked instantly and always had something new to talk about. They were my absolute the best customers. It wasn’t just because of the generous tip that they would leave behind, but they understood that sometimes a restaurant has it ups and down moments. Sometimes, it was one of those days when the restaurant got slammed and was short staffed. To my family, this was nothing and it would require larger problems than this to drive them away. As long I kept their drinks topped and refilled, they were happy. We all knew each other well enough that they were like my own family.

Today, we continue to remain in touch. I will never forget my last day at the Japanese restaurant. The two sisters and mother cried upon hearing the news of my departure. My final tip was 25%. Included in the bill fold was their home number. Having been so fortunate to have met them, the family has followed me to every workplace.

Not Enough Hands

As a restaurant dining manager most of my job required me to be on the floor at the very front of the restaurant. Unlike other full service restaurants, this was a limited service concept whereby you ordered your food and sat yourself down. It was very much like a gourmet cafeteria style concept.

One day, I noticed a mother wheeling her child in a stroller with one hand while trying to balance her tray of food and drink in the other. I quickly rushed over before an accident could happen. I carried her tray and found her a table. She was ecstatic and very much appreciative that she handed me a $5 tip. I could not accept her generosity as I told her it was my part of my job to help. She insisted but I graciously declined. Sometimes I wonder how come there are not enough good kind hearted customers like her.

Scantily Clad

This story is more humorous rather than a great or terrible experience. One day a couple of young female adults had come for lunch. Immediately upon entering the restaurant, one of the young ladies caught the attention of several seated customers. She was a thin figured Asian dressed in a skimpy see-thru top and wearing skin tight jeans with high heels.

The next table just happened to be mine and I was serving them. Not noticing my wedding ring on my finger, the young scantily clad girl placed a torn piece of paper in the bill fold along with a generous tip. Scribbled on the paper was her phone number with a note to call her. I never ever did, but I did bring it home to show my wife who had a good kick out of it.

These are some of the more memorable happy experiences I have shared. Stay tuned for Part 2 for the not so great moments of working in the restaurant industry.

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Who’s Stealing in Your Restaurant?

Stealing is a common problem that occurs in every restaurant. According to the National Restaurant Association, employee theft averages close to $220 per person each year. On a larger scale, if your restaurant employs 40 employees, then that is a total lost of $8800 per year.

Coupons and promotions

About eight months ago, we had introduced a customer promotion whereby customers could randomly win a complimentary food item (i.e. muffin, coffee, bread loaf) or receive a “buy one get the second one free” deal. The coupon was generated at the Point-of-Sale (POS) in which the customer’s receipt would print the winning prize. In order to redeem the coupon, customers were asked to keep the receipt for their next purchase. The goal of the promotion was to generate more traffic to the restaurant as well as to increase repeat customers. Sounded like a good idea at first until we noticed a period in which coupons were not being redeemed. There were only one of three possibilities; 1) customers were not returning or 2) a malfunction in the programming within the POS software or 3) employees were stealing.

Our management team had guessed it right. We knew the majority of our customers were regulars and most of them redeemed the coupons prior to the expiry date. We also had our tech people at head office to verify the system was running. We soon realized, what we failed to do was enforcing proper procedures and policies to prevent our staff from collecting the coupons for themselves and for friends. We monitored the cashiers over a week and noticed some of our cashiers were retaining receipts in instances where the customer did not wish to keep it. We also suspected that some of the customers were not informed of our promotion. We continued to monitor the situation and noticed one cashier in particular was regularly distributing winning receipts to friends who took food and drinks without purchasing any additional item. We quickly placed a stop to this.

What did we do? We enforced rules whereby a customer’s coupon could only be redeemed with a purchase of a product. The coupon’s code had to be inputted into the system which would note the item given away. All redeemed coupons were to be written “void” on the coupon itself. Finally, the number of coupons used had to match with the number of coupons that appeared on the cashier’s end of shift report. Anyone staff that was caught collecting receipts and distributing coupons to their friends would face harsh consequences.

Where’s the Beef?

We never thought much about food theft only because it has never occurred over the last 14 years of operation. If there was food stolen, then we never caught it or it was in such small quantities that it never really made an impact. If there was any theft at all, it was often associated with cash. We trusted our staff and at times perhaps a bit too much. In general, our employees were trustworthy and hard working individuals. However, there was always a few that broke the rules. Over the last year, we noticed food missing from our inventory. Station supervisors would start the day only to notice blocks of cheese and deli meat were nowhere to be found. Unlike other restaurants where the kitchen is separate from the dining area, our restaurant was fully open concept design. So it was difficult to imagine how food was ever taken from the restaurant especially the items being stolen. We seemed like the lucky ones compared to our other locations. Shocking to hear the news, our downtown location reported two full cases of Striploin steaks missing, a total of 72 pieces. Truly hard to believe anyone would be that desperate to steal food. Something had to be done immediately.

What did we do? As much as we trusted our staff, we installed security cameras above various stations around the restaurant including all storage areas. The corporate office concluded that placing pad locks on fridge and freezer units containing high priced items such as seafood and steak was necessary. We also ensured that only managers had access at all times to the storage areas. In addition, we turned a problem into an incentive for our staff. Anyone wishing to purchase a full block of cheese, deli meat or any other expensive item could receive it at cost directly from the supplier. Fortunately, the stealing stopped.

Stopping Theft

There are few or virtually zero restaurants that have not experienced some sort of employee theft. In a business that carries high valued products such as food, alcohol and cash, opportunities and temptations will lead employees to steal. Preventing employee theft means implementing controls to protect your assets and your business.

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Hot Water Please – Part 3

This is the final installment of the hot water story. Will we finally get satisfactory customer service?

So you were probably curious to hear what came about this whole hot water fiasco.  Eight days had passed and I was skeptical about whether or not I would receive a response from corporate office.  Today, I finally received a call.

The Conversation

“Hello Jay speaking.”

“Hello Jay, this is Sam, the Hotel General Manager.  I received your email in regards to your experience of the hot water charge.  I am very sorry this happened and I do apologize for not responding earlier.  When I received your email on my blackberry, I was on my vacation, but I made note to immediately call you as soon as I returned.”

“Thank you for calling.”

“First, I wanted to express my deepest apologizes from myself and behalf of the staff including Raymond.  I have been here for 8 years as the GM and my job is to ensure our guests leave happy.  Raymond has been the Restaurant GM for 6 years and actually reports to me.  Raymond is a very good manager that has often gone beyond customer expectations, therefore I apologize how he handled the situation.  So just an hour ago, I had a meeting with Raymond and I showed him your email.  He felt terrible and wanted to apologize if he came across wrong.  I have also called for a retraining of the staff and I have shared your story with them.  There is absolutely no excuse for this to have happened.  We serve on average 290,000 covers a year and we definitely would not like an incident like this to ruin our reputation.”

“Thank you Sam for your concern and I am sure you understand that I was surprised at the charge.  I do not have a problem of paying as long as I was aware of the policy. I do understand why you would charge for hot water.  If there are guests that only order hot water then absolutely there should be a charge.”

“Yes, yes. Well Jay, we began to charge guests only about 2 years ago.  However, these were people who did not order any food.  So in your case, there shouldn’t have been a charge at all.  I am not sure why your waiter charged you.

I would like to invite you back to the restaurant and offer you a complimentary appetizer or I can offer you a $10 credit towards your meal.  I do hope you will return and give us another chance.”

“I appreciate your offer, but I am not sure if I will be back.”

“Well, most certainly it doesn’t have to be in the immediate future.  It can be at anytime you wish.  In fact, let me leave you my personal cell phone number so that you can give me call before you go and I will make sure that you have been properly credited.

“Thank you. If I do decide to return to your restaurant, I will definitely give you a call.  I appreciate your understanding.”

“Thank you Jay for taking the time to listen and to speak to me.  I hope to hear from you soon and Raymond is also expecting you to return as well.”

The Verdict

Unfortunately, the hot water incident was handled poorly by the staff.  As a restaurant’s GM, Raymond had an opportunity to fix the problem, but failed.  According to the Hotel’s GM, Raymond has been known to go far and beyond expectations.  He clearly did not shine this time.  In this case, a manager should do everything in their power to repair the damage that has been done and to sincerely welcome a customer’s patronage.

Sam’s offer may have not been enough.  Perhaps a restaurant certificate could have been more appropriate.  For many, $10 may sound cheap for such a large restaurant.  However, at the end, it was really how the situation was handled.  Unlike the rest of the staff, Sam was upfront and genuinely sincere.  He listened and spoke with care.

What are your thoughts on how the Hotel’s GM handled the situation?

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