I am all about great restaurant experiences and I love dining out in new places when I travel. Recently, I was on the coast of Maine and had a chance to visit a new steakhouse I had heard about.
I met a friend for drinks and we first took a seat at the bar. The space was comfortable and the shelves were well-stocked with every spirit you might want. As we settled in, the two male bartenders were super friendly and professional. They engaged us in conversation and it was clear that this was both their craft and vocation—not a passing job just to earn a few bucks. Both were extremely knowledgeable about their beers, wines and spirits, ready with a suggestion or to answer any question…the kind of staff who make you feel like you’re old friends. Instead of promoting their pricy cocktails, both bartenders were quick to point out the happy hour specials, which were quite extensive and much appreciated.
We ordered drinks and they were expertly prepared, poured into appealing glassware and properly garnished. After enjoying our first drink and their gracious service, we decided to stay for dinner and move to the dining room to join two additional friends.
That’s where the experience dramatically shifted and fell short.
We had menus in hand and immediately noticed a shift in pricing. The menu listed mostly steaks, with a few seafood and poultry options. The steaks and seafood started at $42 and increased in price up to over $60. A chicken dish was nearly $30. The menu offered several ala carte side dishes, mostly starch and vegetable choices ranging from $6 to $10 extra. I get that some restaurants costs are high, but do I really have to pay a premium for their overhead?
Maybe, I would feel differently if the ambiance was over-the-top elegant, but while it was comfortable, this place was nothing special. Not the kind of comfort and atmosphere that dazzles you and compels you to return.
Then the service (or lack thereof) began.
Our female server took our next drink order, which took some time. After delivering the drinks, she would disappear for 20 minutes at a time. I have always believed in gracious, attentive servers who are knowledgeable and in control of the table, yet never obtrusive. This was the opposite extreme. We weren’t in a hurry, but the long disappearances were blatant and annoying. Water glasses went unfilled, orders were taken with no suggestions or upsells that would enhance the meal (not that we weren’t already spending a sizeable sum on dinner) and once the food arrived, she disappeared again. The manager on duty said hello once but was not the driving personality of the place making guests feel at home and building relationships with her customers. She mostly stayed up front chatting with staff and never venturing far from the bar.
The food was prepared to our expectations and the steaks were wonderful, but the perceived value was clearly lacking in the overall consistency of this restaurant’s delivery. Great food doesn’t make up for not feeling truly cared for or valued as customers.
The takeaway here is regardless of price, your restaurant should focus on value, consistency and great service across your team, no matter where the customer chooses to sit.
Want a little more food for thought? Listen to this brief podcast about a restaurant in Columbus, OH that nails it across the board!