A friend and I often go out to lunch together. One of our favorite spots is Brick Restaurant in Avondale. He likes the warm turkey sandwich. I order the fish tacos (trust me — some of the best in town). We even proclaimed the spacious corner table the “Mayor’s Booth” after we saw Alvin Brown leave it before we were seated there.
I always ask for lime with my water because I know they have them from their full bar, and I prefer them to lemon — no seeds. One time, the server brought me a mini-bowl of a half-dozen lime wedges. She figured there would be several refills and that I would enjoy more lime with each new pour. Now <> thinking ahead! I already liked that restaurant, but that little attention to detail cemented it in my hall of fame. And it meant a healthy addition to her tip.
Like many people these days, I eat out a lot. I’m busy (I work too much), I’m lazy (when it comes to cooking), but I like to eat good food. This is bad for my constant struggle to eat right, but it does give me the opportunity to try a lot restaurants.
There’s a lot of good food out there: Peruse the pages of stories and listings in this Bite By Bite issue for proof of that. But the element that separates the so-so from the stupendous is customer service. The food can be fantastic, but if the service is downright ugly or just uninspired, customers probably won’t return.
There are restaurants I will never try a second time because of bad service. There are some I give another chance, but they end up squandering it. Usually bad customer service is indicative of bigger problems.
At a recent trip to a spot that creates a custom salad right in front of you, the well-meaning but completely disorganized employees kept getting the bowls out of order. Multiple times they chopped and tossed salads for people who were several places behind me in line. Not cool.
But when I try a new place, and the service is memorable, it makes me want to go back immediately — and bring friends.
On my first visit to Chomp Chomp in Downtown Jacksonville, the friendly man behind the counter helped me and my colleague choose our meals from the daily specials on the board. I went with his recommendation for the Chinois tacos; my friend picked the panko-crusted burger. A short time later, the same man brought our food to our outside table. It looked delicious, and the burger was <>. Recognizing my friend’s expression, he offered to bring a knife, which he did immediately. A few minutes later, he returned with another knife in hand, forgetting that he had already brought one. From the beginning to the end of our visit, this man was attentive to his customers’ needs.
The trick with good customer service is that once you’re used to getting it someplace, you really miss it when it’s not there.
There’s something reassuring about being greeted with a jolly “Welcome to Moe’s!” right as you swing the door open. But it’s dejecting when, instead, you’re met with complete silence or, worse, a half-hearted recitation. Don’t undercut my expectations.
Now that everyone has become a semiprofessional food critic, equipped with a smartphone camera and keyboard and ready to broadcast a review on every social media channel, good customer service is even more crucial.
With that in mind, here are my dos and don’ts of restaurant customer service.
Have a friendly but professional attitude: We’re going to be spending some time together, and we’re engaging in something quite personal — bringing me food. So friendly is good. But we don’t need to be best friends: Too much chit-chat makes it hard for me to enjoy the company of my friends or family.
Be prompt: Get me seated as quickly as possible. If there’s a wait, suggest options like bar seating. Once I’m seated, offer me a drink right away. There’s nothing more annoying than waiting forever to be acknowledged by a server. If there’s a backup on the food, let me know. If I ask for a condiment or my cutlery is missing, bring it right away so I don’t sit there considering whether I should start eating with my hands. When the meal is winding down, don’t make me wait forever for a bill. And don’t hold me captive even longer waiting for you to return with my credit card or change.
Help me out: What’s really good on the menu? What are you about to run out of that I might want to order? What’s <> favorite entrée? How big is that salad? Your suggestions can guide me toward the best experience possible.
Keep it clean: Don’t seat me at a wet table with crumb-filled chairs. And please take away plates and glasses that no longer have any use.
Make it right: If the food prep is taking too long, or an order is incorrect, apologize. That doesn’t mean it’s your fault; it just means that you sympathize. Then, fix the problem and try to make it better by offering a drink, a dessert or a discount. How you handle a bad experience could be the difference between whether that customer returns or not.