I recently read an online discussion about restaurant dining on a newspaper website. One person wrote about a time he left a 1% tip: drinks didn't arrive until after the entrees, one entrée came out 30 minutes before the other one, the second order was completely wrong although the server insisted other wise and they had to wait an hour for their check. Sure that may justify no tip, but what amazed me, was how long people will actually put up with poor experiences before being pushed hard enough to fight back. If I have to wait more than five minutes to order a drink after I'm seated, I start muttering, "who do I have to kill to get a drink in this place?"
That story reminded me of an incident that happend in our restaurant:
It took a good year and a half before I finally decided that our restaurant was going to make it. I would go home after a successful day then come in the next day wondering if any customers would show up. During this time, as guests were leaving, they frequently asked if I was the owner. I would begrudgingly answer affirmatively while bracing myself for a slap in the face, a kick to the groin, or a challenge to a duel, or at least a firm tongue lashing. But probably 95% of the time, they had really nice things to say about the restaurant. 4% of the time, they might have valuable constructive criticism while the other 1% challenged me to duels. I had gotten used to feeling the love.
One Saturday night, I came in about 5:00. Only one table was occupied by a family of four in the corner. I didn't pay much attention as I went about my business getting ready for the dinner rush. As they got up to leave, I happened to be standing near the door. The father of the family asked if I was the owner. I smiled brightly and almost held out my hand ready to be kissed.
"This restaurant is a disgrace," he started. "I've never had a worse meal in my life. The food was cold and way too expensive. My wife's chicken was raw!"
Like a punching bag hanging from the ceiling I kept swinging back for more. Finally, I managed to jump in and tried to solve the problem. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Did you talk to the server and have the chicken replaced?"
"No, we didn't."
"Well let me get you something else. I would hate for you to leave hungry."
"I wouldn't touch your food if you gave me a million dollars."
(I guessed he wouldn't be enthused about a complimentary gift certificate.)
"We don't want anything," he continued. "We just wanna get out of here so we can go tell our friends about it."
"Yeah," the wife finally chimed in. "And we're gonna put it all over facebook so our friends can tell their friends. No one's gonna come here again."
They stormed out the door as I struggled to find anything to say. I ran back to the kitchen and found the server who was one of our best.
"What happened? Did they say anything to you?" I asked.
"No, everything was fine. They never complained. They weren't talkative, but I had no idea there was a problem."
We went back to the table and inspected the plates. They were empty, no sign of any leftover half-eaten, much less raw chicken. I walked back to the office and sat down trying to comprehend what had happened. The best I could figure was that they were hoping to get salmonella poisoning for a lawsuit payday or just to prove some sort of point.
That day I realized that complainers are nothing to worry about or fear; their problems are usually easily fixed. It's the people that have a bad experience and walk out without saying a word that are the ones to worry about.
Luckily, their Facebook campaign (if they indeed waged one) didn't hurt our business. But at the time I thought, "Yes, please tell your friends that you were served raw chicken. And that you just went ahead and ate it anyways."