One of my colleagues is convinced that he is the smartest (loneliest) person on an island filled with morons. It must be really tough for him, being the sole force of intelligence amidst an infinite sea of idiots. I often try to commiserate, tongue firmly in cheek: “ Yeah man. It’s too bad we have to work with these. . . humans.” While we laugh and roll our eyes at such blatant arrogance, we would do well to remember that every successful organization is made up of humans: flawed, imperfect, fallible humans.
We all make mistakes and believe it or not, there is freedom in this acknowledgement. Rather than chasing the unattainable goal of perfection, we should be planning ahead for our inevitable shortcomings. Here, I’ve compiled a short list of common restaurant fails and how to handle them. We’re all human: let’s make the best of it.
1. The gentleman at table 12 does not like his entrée.
First of all, you need to realize that everyone has a unique palate, and may or may not appreciate your particular cooking style. When you are passionate about your menu, it’s difficult not to take criticism personally. . . but don’t.
- Have the server offer him something else.
- While he is waiting for his new entree, bring him a soup or salad to tide him over and ensure that he is not the only one at his table without something to eat. (This makes the meal at least 37% less awkward).
- Send out his new entrée as promptly as possible, and have a manager deliver it, complete with apologies.
- Remove both items from his bill and send him a complimentary dessert. This is why you have a pastry chef. Ending any meal with something sweet and comforting inspires feelings of wellbeing and satisfaction.
No matter who this gentleman is, he is your guest and it is your job to ensure that he leaves your establishment with the notion that he and his picky palate matter to you. If you take the above steps I guarantee that not only will he be back, but he will also recommend your restaurant to everyone he knows.
2. The food that was supposed to go to table 21 was accidentally taken to 22. Table 22 is now incomplete and the guests at 21 are getting impatient (and hungry).
- The servers of both tables should notify the chef immediately. Order the rest of 22 on the fly first, since half of the guests already have their food.
- Take more bread out to 21. If it looks like their food may take more than five minutes, bring them a complimentary appetizer.
- Re-fire the entrees on table 21 as quickly as possible.
- If the problem cannot be resolved promptly, send a manager to both tables to apologize. Sending out desserts as a gift certainly won’t hurt.
Timing is a difficult skill to master, especially when humans are involved. These things happen. Take a deep breath and let it go.
3. Your cute but tragically clumsy server, Barbara, tipped a glass of red wine into Mrs. Weizenberg’s French linen-clad lap.
- Downplay the situation and clean up the spill right away. It might seem like the end of the world, but I promise you that it is not.
- Replace Mrs. W.’s drink, along with some stain-remover and a clean, damp towel.
- Insist of footing the bill for her dry cleaning. If the article of clothing can be removed without scandal (a jacket, sweater, scarf, etc.), insist on taking it to the cleaner’s yourself.
- Have the manager deliver a complimentary dessert and a sincere apology along with the check.
Everyone loves a glass of Pinot. Most of us prefer drinking it to wearing it, though. This is why we train.
The important thing to remember is that we are all human. We all make mistakes. The way we remedy our errors is what sets us apart from the rest. Very few wounds cannot be healed with a sincere apology and a complimentary dessert. When we make mistakes, we come face to face with our own human shortcomings. When we respond with grace and humility, we win the life-long loyalty of our guests.