On Memorial Day, while most of America had family gatherings that involved food cooked on grills, I ate lunch in a contemporary Mexican restaurant with my girlfriend. The place was nearly empty as the young, upbeat server approached to take a drink order.
“Sure,” I say. “Are you using a sour mix?”
“Yes,” she says, noting that the house margarita is dispensed from a tap. “But if you upgrade to Patron, the bartender will shake it for you.”
“Does the upgrade involve fresh-squeezed limes?” I ask, hopefully.
“No, it's the same mix, but the bartender will shake it for you.”
My girlfriend, who senses this conversation is headed to a really bad place from the look on my face, jumps in and orders the Patron margarita for both of us.
Restaurants should be fun, she frequently reminds me, but you often get so angry. I do, and this lunch was just beginning. My girlfriend wants the Mexican “pizza,” and what baby wants, baby gets. The pizza can be ordered with either chorizo or ground beef. I like chorizo, but she doesn't.
“We'd like the pizza with half chorizo and half ground beef,” I tell the server.
“Don't think we can do that,” she says, “but I'll see what kind of mood the kitchen is in.”
All of a sudden, my hopes and dreams fall on the shoulders of the guys in the kitchen and what kind of mood they're in. The server returns with a big smile on her face.
“It's your lucky day,” she says. “The kitchen will do it for you. They don't usually do this sort of thing, but today they will.”
My girlfriend gives me this “don't-you-dare” stare. Surely, there must be a CIA grad in the kitchen. Who else would be able to spread chorizo on half the pizza and ground beef on the other half?
Okay, I know I sound like a jerk, but the aforementioned girlfriend, two nights earlier, ate in an upscale bowling alley/martini bar with her pals and each one of the six were disgusted by the quality of service, food and overall experience. The manager, who was beckoned, couldn't care less about their concerns.
Just about every editorial I've written in the last year has discussed how important it is to keep the customers you have and attract new ones during these tough economic times. Yet, there's just so much dumb-ass stuff going on in restaurants. And the blame falls directly on the shoulders of managers.
The war is won and lost at the managerial level. Good people leave bad managers and what remains is a sloppy operation. Take a hard look at the people running your place and your procedures. Customers are eating out less, so when they do dine out, it counts more than ever. Don't needlessly disappoint them. In this economy, you may never get a second chance.