March 10, 2008

Apathy = A Problem Technology Cannot Solve

Some of you know I have two blogs currently. I wrote a post for hospitality technology made simple that I thought was worth while for the readers of k.sturm blog as well. I won't do this often as duplicating blog content is a bit lame, but I thought this post was worth it.
I am a big believer that technology can solve many business and operational problems. There is POS for tracking product mix, streamlining order flow, and revenue reporting; Inventory Management for getting accurate food costs, purchasing cycles, and inventory control; Reservations for managing guest reservations, table turn, and wait times; and a slew of other systems depending on the venue. But for hospitality venues there is a problem that technology solutions cannot solve - mainly apathy or the trait of "learned helplessness."

Last night my family and some friends went out to dinner at El Paseo restaurant in Santa Barbara. We were doing an early dinner (we had two toddlers in tow) and were glad to see the restaurant was not too busy. We really like El Paseo because of the atmosphere (retractable roof) and good food (our opinion). We LOVE the table-side made guacamole and fresh made warm tortillas, and they usually have a pretty solid margarita. We go enough we know what is good and what is not, so we stick to what is good (like the fajitas). Also an important point is I go there because they are a former customer and I am a firm believer in supporting your customers.

But our experience last night ranks in my top 5 worst at any hospitality venue. I point the cause to apathy on the part of the manager and service staff. I will set the stage as it was immediately apparent El Paseo was understaffed for the night. We were all sensitive to this as my wife and friend both waited tables for years and I have spent hours on end helping restaurant staff work through system technology issues (I bused tables in a suit once at a customer site because that was where I could help ensure the guest's experience stayed positive).
From the moment we walked in the door at El Paseo we were an annoyance versus a guest. I had to find someone to seat us, and once we were seated had to flag down the manager after 15 minutes. We asked the manager if he could bring us water and napkins (napkins came half way through the meal...recall we had two toddlers with us) and requested a waiter to come over. He declined to get us water and replied, "I will find someone to get your drink order." No apology for the wait or a comment that things might be a little slow.

When our waiter arrived (visibly annoyed we had him summoned) we ordered our drinks, our food (with a one special request), and asked for silverware and napkins. We got three deep sighs and at least four eye rolls. We had been given a kids menu and ordered two kids meals with a lemonade. When our drinks arrived the waiter set a foot-tall-cone-shaped-three-pound-bar-glass filled to top with lemonade in front of our friends 2 year old (no exaggeration!) We asked for kids cup to which he responded they have none (kids menu, kids meals, no kids cup?). We asked if they had a smaller cup, and he came back to the table with a plastic Budweiser cup and no lid (a Bud cup for
a toddler?).

We arrived at the restaurant before 6:00 pm and received our food at about 7:00 pm. In that one hour we saw our server once to place our order and once to receive our drinks. We called the manager over twice to ask for more water and napkins, and never once got an apology or a comment on better service. I helped implement El Paseo's technology solutions so I know their systems cannot be to blame for what we experienced last night. I also know the ownership group and have eaten at their other restaurants in Santa Barbara, so I do not believe it is part of the ownership group. Our experience last night was 100% caused by apathetic management and wait staff. But our experience could have been 100% different with the same staff and same poor service. Here's how...

roll out the welcome mat
Greet your customer with a smile and welcome them to your venue. Even if the service is going to be below standard you should still make your customer want to be there.

when required set a low expectation
When as a manager or server you know you cannot deliver the best service, be up front with customers and set that expectation. Offer that you will check in as often as possible, but that service may be slower than normal. That way if it is slow the guest expected it, but if it is not you over achieved. Most customers will be accepting of this.

Image credit to Julianfoto
cater to your customer
If you offer a separate kids menu families will come to your restaurant. Parents expect kid cups to be available if you have a kids menu. Not having kids cups is saying you don't want kids in the restaurant.

apologize when you know you should
You know when you need to apologize for crummy service, even when it's not your fault. An apology can go a long long way. Everybody has bad days at the office. Apologizing when you flat out do not deliver means you care enough to want to deliver.

If only I could invent a technology solution that solved the apathetic employee problem...


yattitude said...

Hey Kevin –

Your story has long been one of my great pet peeves with certain members of my sales team. I have often made it very clear to them that if you went out of your way to inform your customers of any issues with their “projects” you would have effectively eliminated any future problems with your customer. Just the same way you would have understood if the manager or wait staff told you that “there would be a short delay tonight and will that be satisfactory to you,” is the same way you should treat everyone else in life. When you tell your wife you are going to be a little late – she is great with it, what happens when you do not call and arrive an hour late? When you call in to work and let everyone know you are stuck in traffic – “gonna be an hour late” how much easier is your day? When you let your customers know that their order is going to be delayed by two days instead of shipping two days late… How much better is your relationship?

Simple common courtesy!
Great Blog Kevin!


Andy said...

The service was full of crumbs? I think you meant "crummy" and not "crumby"

taken from : "You know when you need to apologize for crumby service, even when it's not your fault"

Perhaps send the manager or owner a link to your blog.

Kevin Sturm said...

Andy thanks for the correction. It's fixed.

Kevin Sturm said...

Great insight Ben. The applicability of delivering bad news up front in almost any business is a good idea. Thanks for the post!

Max said...

Great post about how simply service can be improved during rough circumstances. Totally agree that technology is not he answer to everything. One of my biggest pet peeves is going into a store or restaurant and finding out that because the technology is down for the POS that the staff can barely function. Too often people just give up rather than just letting me know and taking the time to add something up by hand. It's absurd to think that this simple gesture cannot be completed by an employee.

yattitude said...

Technology - Hmmm...

Artificial life forms (with backups in the closet) so in case the humans do not show up (as they are unreliable) can be implemented and technology saves the day...

Although with the price of gold, electricity and fuel... Imagine what your crummy meal would have cost...