Tonight The Boy and I went out for teriyaki. It’s a Friday night, and we’ve been in the deep trough between checks for quite some time now and then one came in yesterday, and, well, it’s Friday night and we felt festive. We go out to eat often, but usually it’s in our own little town. Tonight we wanted to do something special. We talked it over as we drove to the Big Town down the the road, and settled on our favorite teriyaki place. We don’t go there often; but when we have gone the food has been uniformly tasty, and the service excellent.
When The Boy and I walked in we saw a number of people already in the place, but there was only one person in line. It looked good. The Boy and I settled on our orders and I got in line while he went to the bathroom and found us a table. The person ahead of me ordered, and it seemed to take a little longer than usual, but I chalked it up to a new counter person. When it was my turn I stepped up to the counter, opened my mouth–and the phone rang. “Wait, please, while I take this order,” the counter person said. And then, without waiting for my agreement (which I would have given, because I am a Nice Person, but still, it would have been nice to have been given the opportunity), she proceeded to slowly, slowly, take an order–a big order–over the telephone.
The counter person hung up and I placed my order and paid, which is how we do things at this teriyaki place. Because I am a Nice Person, I even added a substantial tip to the receipt. And then I went to the restroom and found The Boy, who had chosen a table with backless stools. Because I’m a fat middle-aged lady, I pulled rank and moved us to a table with chairs, with actual backs. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. Other people came in. A couple sat down at the table The Boy had initially chosen. The waitress came out carrying part of another table’s order. Everybody got their food except for one man, who sat and watched his friends eat. The couple who had taken our first table got their food. And still we waited. A lady at the table told the server that her meal was burned. The server carried the plate away and returned a few minutes later with another plate of freshly cooked food.
And still we waited. When the server passed our table I flagged her down and asked about our food. “I think our order might have gotten misplaced,” I said. “I’m seeing people who came in after us being served. Can you check?”
She agreed and hurried off.
Glaciers formed and melted. Species evolved, flourished, and went extinct. And still we waited.
The last man at the table next to us finally got his food. A different server brought it this time. I got her attention and asked about our food.
“I don’t know when it’ll be ready,” she said. “We have a lot of orders. Call-in orders. We cook everything all together. In the order it comes in.”
“But I see people who came in after we did, and they’ve been served,” I objected.
“We cook everything in the order it’s placed,” she said stubbornly.
“Can you just let me know how much longer we can expect to wait? If it’s going to be much longer we’ll need to just get our money back and go somewhere else,” I said.
She grudgingly agreed to check.
A few minutes later she came back and said it would be five more minutes.
And sure enough, a few minutes later our food arrived. The server had also brought along the order ticked. She had also brought the ticket that she said held the order that had been placed by the couple who took the table The Boy and I had vacated way back in the beginning. In a stunning feat of detective mathematics she proved to her own satisfaction that I was completely unjustified in complaining about the wait “because their order is time stamped at 5:10 and yours is time stamped at 5:15.” She didn’t mention anything about the other people who had come in after us, and been served ahead of us. Apparently her one example, how ever problematic, was all she needed to completely discount our objection to having to wait more than half an hour for food that, even if it was cooked from scratch, should have taken no more than fifteen minutes to prepare–and that’s if the restaurant did no preliminary prep at all.
She swished off, secure in her mathematical superiority. She didn’t bother to explain how it could be that they had taken the table we had left, so had clearly not been in the restaurant before we were.
And so it was that The Boy and I ended up spending our evening not enjoying each other’s company, but wishing we had gone somewhere else, and discussing the importance of customer service. It was annoying to have to wait and wait and wait first to order, and then to be served, but that wasn’t the biggest issue. “The thing that got me the most,” said The Boy in the car on the way home, “was that when she finally brought our food she brought those tickets along to ‘prove’ that no one had been served ahead of us. Maybe they called their order in. So what? Bringing the tickets was just rude. If she would have just said, ‘I’m sorry you had to wait so long,’ that would have been enough.”
And he was right–it would have been. The restaurant was busy. It was busy enough they really needed another person working the counter, handling the call-in orders while the first counter person took the walk-in orders. They apparently needed another cook or two. They needed another server. The crowd tonight was not an aberration, if the conversation I overheard at the next table was accurate. “We’re always busy on Friday nights,” the server informed the man who had spent fifteen minutes watching the rest of his party eat their dinners. And somehow that was supposed to make it all right.
And so we ate, and on the way home we talked about how disappointing it was–this should have been a special evening. We were going to a restaurant we enjoyed and didn’t go to often. We’ve been busy–this was the first time in quite some time we’d spent an evening together. It might have been just another “slammed” Friday night for the people running the restaurant, but it was more than that to us. It was family time, time we’d expected to enjoy. Instead we spent the evening paying to be treated like an annoyance, and then being shamed when we asked about the service that we should have been able to simply expect.
I doubt if the people who run that restaurant are reading this, but if you are, here’s what I’d like to say:
1. Your food’s great. Seriously. Great.
2. You need to figure out the counter. Having a line build up in the restaurant while your one harried counter person is hunched over the phone taking hundred-dollar orders doesn’t work. Not only does it mean we have to wait and wait and wait, but we know that that huge order means we’re going to have to wait even longer to get our food. Take the call-in orders in the kitchen. You’re making your walk-in customers feel like second-class citizens.
3. Learn the value of a simple, graceful apology. When you run a restaurant sometimes things are going to get busy. People are going to have to wait. Customers are going to get served out of turn. Plates will be spilled. Food will not meet customer expectations. Those things are going to happen. And most of the time customers will be happy with a simple, sincere, “I’m so sorry about the wait/dish/accident.” And, if necessary, “Let me check with the kitchen and get this worked out.” We don’t want to litigate who’s at fault–we’d just like to get our food and get on with enjoying our evening.
And that’s it, really. I’m not saying I’ll never go back. The food’s good. Really, really, good. But I have to also say that this evening has left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m willing to chalk tonight up to bad luck, but if it happens again, I’ll be voting with my feet. I’ll start looking around for another place that not only serves great food, but also understands great customer service. So watch your business. I’ve got my eye on you.