Last Saturday night, our family joined my in-laws for dinner out in Parker, Colorado* in celebration of my mother-in-law’s 75th birthday. When my wife made the 6:00pm reservation for eight, she mentioned that it was Dianne’s birthday.
When we arrived, we were seated in a portion of the restaurant that was oddly separated from the energetic buzz of the main dining room and bar. It was as if there were two different atmospheres: one that was lively and inviting and another that appeared to be an afterthought – an auxiliary room for those parties that could not be accommodated in the main dining room. We were a large party of eight and there weren’t a lot of options, so we dutifully sat in the barren, sparsely decorated and garishly lit “overflow” portion of the restaurant.
Our waitress offered an efficient greeting and immediately segued to drink orders. I would later describe her service that evening as perfunctory – hurried and mechanical. Beyond detecting this in her body language and speech, it was evident in blatant lapses such as overlooking my father-in-law’s entrée order and leaving the table empty-handed again and again, ignoring a multitude of appetizer plates that began to pile up across the table. And her aloof demeanor showed when my 80-year-old father-in-law made one of those “wah-wah” jokes. Instead of smiling or playfully rolling her eyes, she appeared indifferent and too sophisticated to play along.
As the entrées arrived, our waitress and other servers appeared flummoxed by the lack of surface area available due to all of the empty appetizer plates that cluttered the tabletop. This created a cacophony of activity whereby we had to collect and stack empty plates and pass them off to servers just as our entrées were placed in front of us. As the dust settled and the servers scrambled back to the kitchen, I realized that one of my boys was still awaiting his entrée and I was missing a fork. As a family, we waited to begin eating until Cooper’s entrée arrived about three minutes later. In the interim, I wiped off my daughter’s salad fork in order to have a full complement of utensils and avoid any further delays.
Late in the meal, my wife requested a half-glass of wine, which our server said was not offered. I’ve never understood this. If a restaurant offers a 6 oz. standard pour of wine for $16, why not offer a 3 oz. pour for $8 in order to fulfill a guest’s request? To accommodate Julie, I went to the bar, ordered a glass of Pinot Noir, and then had the bartender split the pour into two glasses. I returned to the table and voilà, Julie had a half-glass of wine that was not possible five minutes earlier.
At 7:40pm on a Saturday night, we learned from our server, the kitchen was down to two options from the five items listed on the desserts menu: a chocolate tart and vanilla crème brûlée (and they only had a single chocolate tart). The server’s defense was that the desserts were so delicious, they had “sold out.” If you have “sold out” of nearly 80 percent of your desserts by 7:40pm on a Saturday night, then you haven’t sold out. You’ve miscalculated, disappointed guests – and lost sales.
Although my wife had mentioned that it was her mom’s birthday when making the reservation (and confirmed the availability of a celebratory, lighted candle) and again at the hostess stand when we arrived, there was no celebration when her dessert was brought to the table. Dianne, who was fortunate enough to have received the last chocolate tart, would have been fine without the ceremony, but my wife was less tolerant and asked our server to please take the dessert and return with a lighted candle as requested in order to celebrate her mother.
Value For Price Paid
Shortly afterward, the check arrived and, before I had a chance to take a peek, it was snapped up and returned after an adjustment. (Apparently guests celebrating birthdays are not charged for their desserts but, since our server was largely disengaged throughout our dinner, she hadn’t thought to comp Dianne’s dessert.) A tinge of buyer’s remorse set in as I calculated the server’s tip on top of a $290.33 dining bill. I ended up tipping $50 (closer to 15% than 20%), but I would have tipped $60 had the server demonstrated genuine interest in making our experience memorable. While I don’t withhold tips to “punish” poor customer service, I do tip generously to reward excellent service.
The final impression was made after the server returned with a set of boxed leftovers. The carton containing the remainder of my son’s chicken entrée was lined with tinfoil. As Cooper soon discovered, this was to contain copious amounts of broth that ended up seeping out of the sides of the container and spilling onto his clothing as we left the restaurant. Of course, liquids should either be strained or transferred to a separate sealed container. Another lapse.
Maybe you’ve noticed that there is no shortage of options when considering where to spend your dining out dollars. Restaurateurs and their employees must recognize this reality and regularly scrutinize and make adjustments to the restaurant’s atmosphere (e.g., décor, sound, light, temperature, and other variables). They must continually enhance their skills in the art of table service (e.g., never leave a table empty-handed, ensure that removed utensils are replaced, etc.), and make choices that bolster rather than erode value for price paid.
In addition to atmosphere, service quality, and value for price paid, what are some other factors that you consider when deciding where to spend your dining out dollars?
* The name of the restaurant isn’t important. My objective is not to publically shame the restaurant or server. My goal is to heighten awareness and improve customer service quality. I will, however, forward a copy of this post to the restaurant’s owner and see what happens.
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