Tips, Memorable Experiences & Old Timers

Alot has happened since we last got together, so here's more stuff to ponder. As always, I'm interested in your take on points I raise.

First, how about that story of a customer arrested for not tipping enough at an upstate New York restaurant? The 41-year-old man was eventually released and not charged by authorities, who said a restaurant customer can't be forced to leave a tip.

The patron, who was with a large group at the restaurant, did not leave the required 18% gratuity. He claimed he did not know about the restaurant's 18% policy, and wouldn't have left that large a tip, anyway, because of poor service.

Prosecutors explained that if a restaurant uses the term "service charge," as opposed to a tip, then the add-on charge is mandatory.

I'm interested in knowing how you handle customers who don't abide by your tipping policies. I'd also like to know if you have a service charge, and, if so, has it been legally bulletproof?

Make 'em feel good. The food at the above restaurant may have been great, but the customer in question was not happy with the service. This point relates to a trend recently reported in the New York Times. The trend corresponds to recent research, which found that most people, particularly as their income rises, prefer experiences to goods.

The idea here is that people no longer go to restaurants merely because they're time-starved or don't like to cook. They're coming to your restaurants for the experience, whether it's to taste a different cuisine or to enjoy the company of family and friends. This trend also suggests that good food and service may not be enough. The environment you create is also vital. "For successful restaurants," the Times, advised,"aesthetics is no longer an afterthought. Customers are paying for memories, not just fuel."

Do customers consciously expect a memorable experience when they set out to visit a restaurant? Not likely, but I'm willing to bet that they know when they've had one and are more likely to go back to a place that can deliver, as opposed to one that can't.

If you've recently provided an exceptional experience that your customers won't soon forget, please share it with me. Perhaps it's something your compadres can duplicate.

An old story. If your goal is to create memorable experiences, and that's a good goal to have, you'll likely have to achieve it with older workers in the nottoo-distant future. Predictions that there won't be enough young workers to replace aging workers are coming to fruition. The National Restaurant Association has long projected that there will be a shortage of 1.5 million restaurant employees by 2014. A decline of candidates for other jobs—nurses, air-traffic controllers, postal workers—is also taking place.

These statistics suggest a looming war over young employees and a need to accept the idea that older workers will be a part of your workforce. Embrace this latter fact and go after the best of the old timers. After all, 60 is the new 50, don't you know? If you're already hiring more mature staffers, let me know.