Restaurant Manager Sets Bad Customer Service Example

Posted on October 24th 2012

Restaurant Manager Sets Bad Customer Service Example

The other night I had dinner at a favorite restaurant.  Unfortunately, a bad customer service experience tainted the evening.  The good news is that this event created a learning opportunity.

By the way, you don’t have to be in the restaurant business to appreciate and learn from this story.  As I take you through the story and the lessons we can take away from it, think about how they apply to your business.

On that evening I ordered the pasta dish that I’ve been ordering for years.  It came out wrong. It had peas in it.  Not just a few peas, but loaded with peas.  And I hate peas.  I picked up the menu and confirmed that I hadn’t misread the description.  Nowhere did it say peas.  I motioned the server over and told her about the problem.  She had a great attitude and was happily going to take care of the situation.  But, just about then, the manager who had been observing, stepped in.  I had never seen this manager before.  He didn’t apologize, and instead told me that they have two chefs and that this one likes to put peas in the pasta dishes.  He said that most people find that the peas are a pleasant surprise.

Ah, that explains it.  A pleasant surprise – not for me!  And I nicely told him so.  He just stared at me.  I could tell how uncomfortable the server was at this interaction.  She wanted to do something, but the manger had taken over, and he was blowing it.

Eventually, the manger asked if I would like to get a different pasta entree. I asked if they could make the same dish without the peas, as was on the menu.  He finally took the dish away.

Several lessons come out of this incident:

  1. The server was handling things just fine.  The manger got in the way of her taking care of me.
  2. The manager didn’t respond with the same enthusiastic attitude of taking care of me, the way the server did.  He didn’t even apologize.  Managers should set examples – good examples.
  3. The manager should have immediately taken the dish away.  If you can get a problem out of the customer’s sight, do it quickly.  Once the dish has been taken away, then launch into recovery mode.
  4. The manager made an excuse rather than give an explanation.  There is a fine line between excuses and explanations.  An explanation comes with an apology and doesn’t come across as defensive or aggressive.
  5. The manager wasn’t listening to me.  Why would he call the peas a pleasant surprise when he knew I didn’t want them in the pasta?  Because, he was defending the decision of his chef to change the ingredients. (Read that as changing a process if you aren’t in the restaurant business.)
  6. Finally, the incident broke the consistency of prior experiences, which now leads to a lack of confidence.  The next time I order this pasta dish I’m going to have to ask if it has peas, because you never know who’s cooking in the back.  Will it be the chef that likes to “pleasantly surprise” people with ingredients that aren’t listed on the menu or the chef that follows the recipes I love – the ones that make me want to come back again and again.

The restaurant is great, and I’m going back, because I know this is an isolated incident.  But, what if this was my first or second time at this restaurant?  Given all of the good places there are to eat, would I want to spend my hard-earned money at a restaurant, or with any type of business, that makes mistakes?  My friend Tom Baldwin, former CEO of Morton’s Steakhouse says, “Great service is mistakes handled well.”  That’s great advice for any business.

Shep Hyken is a   customer service expert, professional  speaker and New York Times     bestselling business author. For information contact (314) 692-2200 or For information on The  Customer  Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken
(Copyright ©MMXII, Shep Hyken)

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Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees.

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Posted on October 25th 2012 at 5:23PM

Thanks Shep. Your eatery story made me laugh out loud this morning. More peas for everyone!

Jeff Marmins
Posted on October 25th 2012 at 11:41PM

This is a terrific example of something that you and I probably pay too much attention to Shep!  I often try to consider, am I hyper-sensative to these issues around service, hospitality, etc.? The answer is yes. BUT, others I've talked to are put off and sometimes not able to say exactly why.

You've had conversations like that before, right? "I'm not sure why but I felt uncomfortable and I wouldn't go back." 

Your point on consistency is so important and a critical matter when it comes to training employees. I also believe that it really stems from an understanding of hospitality and why Better Customer Service comes from Generosity

We mitigate some of the risk at isuggest by providing resteraunts with private, annonomous feedback for their customers. 


dean iodice
Posted on November 2nd 2012 at 12:15AM

Shep, great article I enjoyed reading it. Funny thing is that this sort of sitution is so common. Customer service is just not what it once was. I hate that people blame it on the Interent age, but the fact is that:

A. People just don't care anymore

B. Standards just seem to get over looked.

Look at corporate advertising, McDonalds or Burger King as a example, their commercials are all service with a smile, yet you would be lucky to get someone to say hello when you walk through the door. It's sad but people just don't care. This manager is the typical I'm right and you're wrong type of person. 

Pleasant surprise, that was classic, I would have loved to have seen your face.

Great post. :)