In all my years of eating out, thousands of times, hundreds of restaurants, the single worst experience was one I had at a Houston restaurant last year.
And no, I’m not going to say which one. I’m not in the business of trashing people or places and this is my column, not a restaurant review.
But here’s a blueprint on how to lose a customer forever.
First, have the host completely ignore the people standing right in front of him while he enters something on the computer. I mean, what does it take to just smile and say, “Just a moment please!” For that matter, all the rest of staff was pretty much just standing around (we were the first customers of the day), but they wouldn’t acknowledge us either.
Second, have the now doubtful guests waited on by the rudest waiter you can find. I kid you not. This was the worst service person ever. (OK, maybe not, read these waiter horror story comments.)
If you hang with octogenarians you know they can get a little cranky if the food is slow.
We ordered wine, an appetizer and two entrees. Despite the prospect of a decent tip this waiter acted like it was a chore to serve us. Brought the wine, came back with the food and that was that. No follow up to refill wine glasses, check on the food, nada. By now the place was filling up but there seemed to be plenty of staff to handle the rush. But we couldn’t catch anyone’s attention.
And, as luck would have it, the food was inedible. My crab cakes were so dry — as if they had been sitting under a heat lamp all morning — that I took two bites and gave up. After about 45 minutes the waiter — and I use the term loosely — came back to collect the plates and present the bill.
Now you would think he would look at the full plate and ask if something was wrong, but nope. Not a word. He did come back one last time — because we hadn’t left quickly enough after paying — and asked, “You didn’t want change, did you?”
And yes, he was paid in cash with a 20 percent tip.
No thank you, have a nice day, come again. Nothing.
And that’s how to ensure a customer never returns to your restaurant.
Now even service folk are allowed a bad day. Things go wrong, accidents happen. But how the whole staff responds makes all the difference.
I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Nara, the Korean grill and sushi spot at West Ave. (And by the way, they are continuing half priced lunch through the end of April.) Dad and I had lunch there recently. I’ve been about five times and have taken new diners with me on two occasions. But I could tell right away this time that the waitress was new. No problem, I thought. And it really wasn’t.
He apologized, said the food would be out in three minutes and then brought us another bottle of wine, comped.
I was fine, but if you hang with octogenarians you know they can get a little cranky if the food is slow.
We had a nice bottle of wine, I had sushi, and Dad had a salad and was waiting for his entree. The manager came by and introduced himself and I told him I’d been there several times and enjoyed it.
And Dad waited for his entree. And waited. After about 20 minutes he started to grumble. He couldn’t catch the waitress and he finally said he wanted to cancel the order and leave. Our table, near the sushi bar, suddenly got a lot of attention. The sushi chef grabbed another waitress and sent her over. We explained and she disappeared into the kitchen pronto. Then the manager came back, listened and took off for the kitchen.
Turns out the first waitress was new and something had happened to the entree order. He apologized, said the food would be out in three minutes and then brought us another bottle of wine, comped. Food came out pronto, lunch was delicious and then executive chef Donald Chang came over and we all chatted and laughed and everything was hunky dory.
And that is how you turn around a mistake and make a loyal customer. You treat them like guests, not pests.
And no, they had no idea who I was or what I do for a living.
They’re just good, professional people.