Monday, November 24th, 2008
It’s 9:10pm and my wife and I have just arrived at a local restaurant known for its exposed kitchen, eclectic menu, and deep wine list. We had just seen a movie and recognized that, since it was a weeknight, the restaurant may no longer be seating guests.
As we entered the front door near the hostess stand, we immediately noticed one couple seated at a table in the dining area and three employees gathered at the bar: the bartender behind the bar, a manager seated in a barstool with his back to us, and a server who was leaning against the bar facing the manager and the front of the restaurant.
The server and bartender looked at me as I approached to determine whether or not they were still seating. Only when I was within about five feet of the trio did the server pull himself off the bar and take a step toward me. His body language clearly said, “Please don’t ask me if we’re still seating. I was just about to present the check to my last table and get out of here.”
I asked if they were still serving and he said, “Only small plates (their term for appetizers).” I said, “Well…then great. Table for two please.”
From there, the service was perfunctory at best…but the wine and company were wonderful!
Contrast this experience with one that I had at another local restaurant two weeks later:
It’s 9:10pm and I’m on my way home from tennis and thinking that fresh sushi is sounding better than leftover pasta. So, I swung into a neighborhood sushi restaurant named Wasabi Japanese Restaurant.
As I entered, I noticed that—with the exception of the smiling hostess and sushi chef—there was no one else in the restaurant. It was a weeknight and, similar to the experience above, I wasn’t entirely sure they were still serving so I asked the hostess and she confirmed that I had plenty of time because they were open until 9:30pm.
With that, I sat down with a sushi menu, penciled-in my order, and handed it to the sushi chef. As he began to prepare the to-go order, the hostess came around to where I was seated and engaged me in conversation about where I lived, how long I’d lived in the area, whether or not I’d been in before (as they were relatively new)—that sort of thing.
During our conversation I mentioned that I had four young children. She took the opportunity to share the children’s menu with me and encouraged me to bring the entire family to dine-in sometime soon. She even took several minutes to blow up and fashion an intricate poodle from a balloon. As she handed it to me together with my sushi order she said, “Here’s something for your preschooler. We hope you will return with your entire family sometime soon!”
Wow! What a different experience I had at Wasabi as compared to the first restaurant. At 9:10pm on a weekday, both restaurants were within minutes of closing but only one made me feel welcome and valued. Needless to say, I’ll be returning to Wasabi soon and—if my preschooler’s reaction to the poodle was any indication—I won’t be alone!