Recently, my family and I visited a casual restaurant for dinner — the kind of place where you order at a counter, they bring your food and they bus the tables.
We arrived at 7:45 p.m. on a Sunday night, and it was immediately obvious that we had just missed the maelstrom. The dining room was absolutely trashed, like a frat party had been held there. Every table was piled high with dirty dishes, glasses and cutlery; the floor was covered with wadded napkins and pieces of food. Even tables on the patio were covered in trash.
Clearly the staff was completely overwhelmed. There were just three employees working, one at the cash register and two at the grill. And people continued to pour in through the door after us. It’s little wonder the staff felt compelled to keep taking orders and cooking food.
I asked the woman at the cash register for a cloth so I could clean a table. She was quite flustered and replied that I shouldn’t have to do it, that she would do it for me. But she never did.
So my husband returned to the cash register and asked to speak with the manager, who was cooking at the grill. The manager wouldn’t stop his work long enough to come out from behind the grill and speak with my husband, so Mark literally yelled from the counter to the back, “YOUR RESTAURANT IS FILTHY, YOU SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED, AND WE NEED SOMEONE TO CLEAN A TABLE FOR US!”
The manager shrugged his shoulders at us — like too bad, so sad, nothing he could do. Then he turned back around and continued cooking food.
We should have walked out. Or at least had our food packaged to go. But it was late and our daughter was starving, so I relocated someone else’s dirty dishes, pulled out the baby wipes I carry everywhere in my purse and cleaned off a table for us.
While we ate, my husband and I discussed what the manager should have done, given the circumstances. And what he should have done was focus on longer-term business goals — building a positive brand image, ensuring customer loyalty — rather than the shorter-term business goal of cooking a pasta bowl.
The manager should have locked the door — or told incoming customers there would be a delay. Then he should have suspended grill operations long enough to deploy his entire team into the dining room to clean tables and sweep floors.
It would have taken the whole crew five, 10 minutes max, to clean that dining room. Then it would be ready for new diners and those of us already eating would have seen that a clean and pleasant dining experience was important to this manager.
He then could have passed out “free appetizer” coupons to anyone inconvenienced by his managerial decision, perhaps ensuring that people would return.
Since we eat at this restaurant frequently, I know ours was an aberrant experience. But imagine a patron visiting for the first time, walking into that filthy restaurant and encountering harried and disengaged employees. Chances are that chain lost a potential customer for life.
But the manager wasn’t thinking about brand image or customer loyalty; he was thinking only about having to cook the next bowl of pasta. He allowed a temporary business pressure to take priority over permanent business needs. And that was a mistake.
It’s easy for daily “tyranny of the urgent” to pull our attention away from longer-term goals of building a positive brand image or ensuring customer loyalty, whether we’re in food service or marketing communications. We must be vigilant so we don’t let that happen.