IHOP Restaurant and the Almost Hidden Text Message

Last week I stopped into the local IHOP Restaurant with my wife to get a quick lunch.  Nothing fancy just a burger or two.  The food was fine, service quick and waiter mostly attentive.  But then a funny thing happened…

We were seated towards the rear of the restaurant and off to the side nearest the kitchen.  Not necessary an optimum seat for a window view but adequate enough to see my server standing behind the etched glass partition that separated two sections of the restaurant.

I wondered why she was just standing there when she obviously has a full section of tables to tend to.  Was she looking over the orders for her tables?  Was she speaking with her manager that was out of my line of sight?  Was she with a guest at another table?  What was she doing?  Texting on her phone – that is what she was doing!

What has happened to the work ethic, and frankly the common sense, of today’s young workers that they think it is acceptable to stand “out on the floor” of a restaurant and send text messages during their shift?  What has happened is that the work ethic is quickly crumbling.

Customer service is not what it used to be.  Customers have become a bother to many in the service industry.  We just want to work our 8 hours and go home.  And hope that no one complains.

Management has become too afraid, or lazy, to uphold company standards.  In many corporate quick serve restaurants (QSR), the management is bogged-down with completing corporate-mandated reports and following staffing guidelines, as their primary means of judging performance, that they are not focusing on the performance that really counts…the performance of their staff in addressing the needs of their customers.

This is not an attack on the waitress but more of an acknowledgement that we still have a long way to go in our industry in order to provide the mindset of customer service and attentiveness in our staff.

At least go in the back room and out of view of the guests if you have to send that text!  
Only kidding.

Then The Waitress Says…”Are We Bagging Today”?

Every server in the restaurant business has their own style, their own manner, and their own way of interacting with their customers.  Some are formal and professional, some are relaxed and carefree, and some are “by-the-book”, not showing much emotion.  But most are friendly and really try to make your dining experience enjoyable.  To be a little more personal, many of today’s servers will also use their local slang and familiar terms when speaking to you.  This is where some problems arise.  Here’s my story…

It was a brisk afternoon, sunny with a few puffs of clouds, as my group of six walked into the diner looking for a quick lunch.  The diner, which sat on the eastern flank of a busy road, was unexpectedly full and I thought there would be a wait for a table but thankfully I was wrong.  We were quickly escorted to a large booth in the corner and greeted by our waitress.

She was pleasant and knowledgeable of all the side dishes offered for the meals we ordered.  Our beverage orders were taken and delivered, bread and butter placed in the table’s center and extra paper napkins as well.  Then the first strange comment was made; “I’m gonna have you be my helper and pass these plates to the end”, said the waitress.  The customer, me, is “gonna be the helper”?  That was not what I expected.  Of course I would be glad to assist the waitress in passing the B&B plates around the table but would have appreciated being asked in a different tone.  OK, no big deal, we moved on.

The conversation kept to a steady pace as our waitress left the table after indoctrinating her newest recruit, me, into her fold.  I have always been critical of the service provided by most servers but also realize that we weren’t eating in a multiple-star restaurant, just a local diner with quick food and pleasant surroundings; nothing more.  I shouldn’t expect much.

Before we knew it, our meals came, prepared as ordered and piping hot.  Another good sign.  But these were the largest portions I’ve seen in a long time.  I’d hate to see their food cost, they must be losing their shirt on our table.  Anyway, our waitress asked if there was anything else we needed then left to attend to the other tables in her section.  We picked up our utensils and attacked our plates; the food was not too bad.

Since our portions were so large, none of us were able to finish, though we sure tried.  With our forks given a rest and placed plate side again we continued our conversations.  Just then our waitress came over to our table and with a big smile and hand on her hip said, “Are we bagging today”?  
Are we bagging today?  I’ve never heard that expression before.  We all sat there in silence while we tried to process her comment.  Oh, I guess she wanted to know if we wanted to “bag” the remaining food from our plates to take home.  But this was a little too cutesy for me.
“I’m glad to see you enjoyed your meal; would you like to take the rest home with you?”  “I know we offer large portions here, I’d be happy to wrap-up the rest for you to take home”.  These are appropriate statements for a server to make.  I’d even be ok with “Do you want a doggie-bag” but “Are we bagging today”?  That one has to go.

Today’s quick serve and family restaurants are more concerned with moving their customers in and out as fast as possible. The “2 for $20” type of offerings don’t leave much as profit, if any at all, so the focus is on quantity not quality.  The food quality offered is usually sufficient for most but how about some quality customer service training to teach appropriate ways to speak with the customers you are herding through the doors?  

We don’t expect much, we don’t need a linguist or someone fluent in five languages.  We don’t need a playwright, a motivational speaker or a server that can sell us the Brooklyn Bridge either.  We, as customers, just want to be treated in the same professional manner as anyone else, regardless if we are taking a doggie-bag home or not.
I hope Fido likes his snack.   

The Five Best Ways to Deal With An Upset Customer

Regardless of your business there will be the inevitable situation where a customer is dissatisfied with your product or service.  It is a situation we never want to deal with but know we must.  “There is a lady out front that is unhappy with her ____________” is a term that no manager wants to hear from their employee but it does happen.  So as any good manager we rush out to greet the upset guest and find out what the problem is. 
But do you know the simplest and most effective way to address the situation?  Are you prepared on the spot to make the situation “right” for the customer?  Are you able to alleviate all their fears and concerns and to do so quickly?  

Here are the 5 keys needed to make this happen:

  • Learn the facts from all parties involved
Before we can make a decision as to what steps are needed in order to resolve the issue, we must seek out all the facts of the case.  In an impartial way, speak with the customer to determine what happened and their impressions of why they believe they were wronged.  Then do the same with your employee(s).  
Find out what steps may not have been taken behind the scenes that would have resulted in the customers’ dissatisfaction.

Were all standard procedures followed; are these procedures even appropriate, or must they be adjusted, in order for this situation to not happen again?
  • Know your abilities and limitations in the steps available that you can take to fix the issue

You need to enter the conversation knowing what you can do right now to fix almost any issue.  If you don’t then you will look ineffective and low-ranking in the eyes of the customer.  They want to deal with someone that can make things right for them.

There must be a system in place for a company’s hourly employees, as well as mid-level managers, to be empowered to quickly offer a refund, an upgrade, to “WOW” the customer by going above and beyond, or any other appropriate resolution without needing to first get approval from a senior manager.  This only delays the process and may make the customer feel as if they are being shuffled from employee to employee just to fix what they may believe is a small and easily addressed problem.
  • Inform the customer that YOU are the person that will assist them
Do not hand-off the customer to someone else, take care of it yourself.  Peace of mind comes easy to a customer when they know that the person to whom they addressed their concern will see the resolution to the end.

But this may not always be possible so this is where the next key comes in.
  • Get direct assistance from others in your organization; if you are not able to resolve the issue yourself
There may be times when a resolution cannot be achieved at the moment the issue is brought to your attention by the customer.  Computer systems may “be down” so a refund cannot be given.  Another branch office or location may be closed so you are not able to contact the person(s) able to fix the issue.  
But most times this will not be the case.

There will usually be someone else that is reachable and in a position to make the final decision regarding the customer, if you can’t.  Explain your situation, and that you are with the customer, either in person or by telephone, and that you need assistance.  This person may be able to give you the final authorization or recommendation to take care of the customer’s needs.

The ultimate goal is to quickly resolve the issue at the moment it happens.
  • Follow-up with the customer (after action contact)
As part of the initial conversation with the customer you should be able to get their name, phone number, email address, etc. or will be able to do so later on in the resolution process.  This gives you the information needed to finally put the issue at rest.

Once the issue is satisfactorily resolved, personally contact the customer again for an after action report.  Depending of the method used the length of time between resolution and contact will vary to take into account different scenarios:

*A refund check was mailed

*A new food item cooked and presented
*A room upgrade was given
Each of these has a different length of time needed between resolution and follow-up.

Contact the customer.  Confirm that the issue has been resolved to their satisfaction, or preferably above their expectations.  Let the customer know that you value their business and look forward to seeing them again in the future.

One method I like to use is to tell the customer that next time they planned to visit our business, call ahead and I will personally make arrangements to book their reservation, take care of them at the check-out counter or personally make any other preparations for them. Then when they arrive finish off the experience with a “gift” of some kind.

This has been the best way I found to turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal repeat customer.  And one that is appreciative of your efforts and actions.