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When restaurants should respond to customer comments

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I ordered a shaved sirloin sandwich for lunch at a recently opened restaurant. Like many people at lunch during a weekday, I was operating on a time frame that required me to get in and out in a reasonable amount of time. Though the service was a bit slow, I chalked it up to the restaurant kitchen working out the flow.

When the sandwich arrived, I was disappointed. The shaved sirloin was terribly dry, and neither the mustard-onion jam nor the white Cheddar accompanying it could save the day. Luckily, I was with a friend who ordered another sandwich with roasted barbecue pork. We had instructed our server up front to cut each sandwich down the middle so we could each have a half. The pork sandwich was very good, so it wasn’t a total loss.

As I said, I was on a tight schedule, so I didn’t send the sirloin sandwich back. At the end of the meal the server approached and asked, “So, how did you like your sandwiches?” I wasn’t going to bring it up, but since he asked, I replied, “I didn’t like the sandwich. It was too dry. Has the kitchen thought about serving the beef medium rare or, at least, medium?” “I’m so sorry,” he replied. “The sandwich is supposed to be served medium rare. I’ll pass it along.”

He left and returned a minute later with the check, which included the cost of the sandwich that we (me, my friend and the server) all agreed was less than satisfactory. I could tell you I was a bit taken aback by all this, but I wasn’t. I’ve had more than a few restaurant folk (servers, managers) ask how something was and then not act accordingly when they got an answer.

In any case, don’t ask customers at the end of a meal if everything was okay. It’s a bit too late, no? Despite the server’s bad timing, if one is going to ask the question, shouldn’t he or she be prepared to take some action based on the answer? A lack of action suggests you’re simply going through motions and don’t really care about making things right. In my opinion, the server should have taken the sandwich off the bill or made some other gesture to prevent a customer (me) from leaving disappointed. Everyone agreed a mistake was made.

From my side of the table, where all your other customers sit, I say, “Don’t ask a question you’re not prepared to act on.” More importantly, do ask the question and ask it shortly after the food is delivered. And without a doubt, make good on the reply. Why would you send an unhappy customer back out into a world where your competitors will gladly make you look bad?

If the server didn’t have the authority to make good on a mistake, then shouldn’t a manager be called in to make a fix? Should a server have instant authority to make that fix without running down a manager? I’d like to hear your thoughts about this scenario. Please email and I’ll share the best responses on our letters page.  

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief  
e-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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