Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making a Difference

We had the most awful time at dinner last night.

Well, I hope not everyone did. I did, because it was a work function, and I had planned it, and it didn't come out well. I won't name the restaurant. But it's a well-known local establishment with an excellent reputation, and I made the arrangements without any doubts about the quality of the service or the food.

Both, as it turned out, were awful. The servers were friendly and pleasant, but seemed very inexperienced, and were unfamiliar with the menu or with basic techniques for formal serving (serve from the left, remove from the right - exceptions are always allowed based on circumstances, but to splay out your arms and plop down two plates at a time, in locations where the diners have to grab them and scootch them into position, is not really kosher when the setting is supposed to be elegant), and also had to be prompted to begin taking orders, to begin serving coffee after dinner, and to begin serving dessert - which they were unaware was included in our catering package (the standard one). No plates came with the bread, so the tablecloths got pretty crumby.

These are just little things. But larger problems included the fact that some people's vegetables were cold on the bottom, that every steak served, regardless of the doneness specified, was between rare and medium-rare, and that (only) the first table served dessert was not given a choice of which of the two desserts on our pre-selected menu they would prefer. Or that the conference coordinator got missed for dessert altogether, so that two of her tablemates, on two different occasions, had to chase down a waiter to get it for her, and that it finally arrived after everyone else had finished and people were beginning to leave. Or that we never got spoons to stir the coffee. My table never got cream, so I didn't need a spoon anyway.

All that said, the biggest problem of all was that the manager on duty would not see us. Things had gone wrong, and the head waitress was very apologetic and visibly squirming, but wasn't in any position to do anything to help. We asked to see the manager; after being gone for ten minutes, the waitress returned to say, miserably, that the manager was just too busy with a table downstairs - but that she was the assistant manager and would be able to help with any issues.

That's really the part that gets me, I think. Screw up as much as you like, but to send someone to face the music who can't do anything about it is really chickenshit.

So we ended up just paying our bill and leaving. Still there was an ugly scene on the phone today with the restaurant manager, who was naturally very angry and belligerent.

Why is that, I wonder? I guess the assumption is that we're a bunch of cheapskates trying to weasel out of the bill. Frankly, I would have been much happier paying it if she had just rephrased things a little, in a different tone of voice.

Try this:

"Oh, no. I am so sorry it didn't work out for you. We really try to make a good experience for all our guests, and I hate to hear that we fell short of expectations. I couldn't be there last night. Because we waived your room rental" [according to their website, there is a $600 room rental for Friday and Saturday nights, and every day in December; so I had assumed there wasn't one for a Wednesday in October - but never mind], "and only charged you for the 38 entrees we actually served rather than the 45 you guaranteed" [this one's a legitimate, and duly appreciated, point], "I really can't waive any of the costs. I'm so sorry you had a bad experience. I wish I could do something to make it up to you, only I'm just not able to. I really hope you'll give us another chance."

Not this (more or less a paraphrase of what she actually said):

"So what exactly is it that you want? Look, I apologize. But you had my best staff last night, so I don't see how it could have been that bad. We waived the room rental for you. We only charged you for the 38 dinners we served instead of the 45 you guaranteed. I don't see what else I could possibly do for you, and based on what you're saying, it doesn't sound like you want gift certificates. Look, you got your room, you got your food. I guess I can talk to the owner again about it, but I don't really see the point. What, really, are you complaining about?"

Whatever. We had already paid it; the money isn't the issue, the issue is going back to my division director (whose husband, alas! ordered his steak medium well) and saying, I'm sorry. I picked this place. I thought it was a good idea. It turned out I made a mistake, but we did what we could.

I don't know if it's a decision, really, to be the type of person the manager is - a collection-agent-type, I'd say on first blush, someone who would be comfortable calling up complete strangers and demanding money in a belittling tone. Or someone like me, too far in the other direction, apologetic and afraid of stirring things up and making trouble, to the detriment not only of myself but of people who depend on me. I just know that every decision we make sends little ripples out one way or another, through our friends or our coworkers or our contacts with strangers through anything like a random "hello" on the hike-and-bike trail to a blog which not all that many people read.

All I've really figured out so far is to try to do the best I can, as much of the time I can, and hope that something, anything will make some kind of difference. It's not much of a revelation.

Everything will probably make more sense after dinner.

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At October 31, 2008 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was so good to get my Beth Blog Fix. Thanks :-) It had been so long. I have told you once and I will tell you again .... do not take people to Denny's if you are looking for a nice, expensive dinner.


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