Thursday thoughts – Rules v Customer Service

20160203_185733I was at a small restaurant last night, which we’ve been to regularly – and as it turns out, we were the only customers seated there.

There were probably two reasons for that: One was because the heavens opened just moments after we arrived, so that would have deterred people thinking about whether to go out or stay at home.

The other reason was that in that particular restaurant strip, there’s a brand new Thai restaurant that only opened a week ago – and its taking customers away from the existing restaurants (A modern Asian fusion, an Indian, a Vietnamese, and a Fish-and-Chippery).

As we were about to finish our meal, another couple of young people turned up, and took a seat.

When the waitress approached them, they said something like “Oh, our friend is wandering about with our food – they should be here in a moment.”

I thought that was a bit strange – but then the friend turned up, with takeaway that they had ordered – from the restaurant they were at.

I assume they had ordered in the middle of the downpour, to eat at home – but when they got there to pick up the food, the rain had cleared, so they decided to eat at the restaurant (which, remember, was where they had purchased the food from).

Except that they were summarily told that they couldn’t eat there, and they would have to leave.

It seems that the restaurant has two price structures: one for table service, and one for takeaway.

And because they had ordered takeaway, they couldn’t stay.

The owner didn’t tell them why – just that they couldn’t stay.

FB_IMG_1454490290043Afterwards, she told us (as regular customers) that it was because it would have meant that her staff would have to have washed their plates, and their tablecloths, etc – something that was factored into the ‘eat-in’ prices.

I didn’t say anything at the time – because it wasn’t my place to (I was there as a customer, not a consultant).

But I do wonder if she considered the ramifications of her decision.

Remember – we were the only eat-in customers, so adding three sets of crockery, cutlery and table linen to ours would have been negligible.

And the cost of telling paying customers that they couldn’t stay? In a restaurant strip that already has quite a bit of competition?

Sometimes, rules should simply be ignored – else we run the risk of adopting what Ralph Waldo Emerson called  “a foolish consistency, the hobgoblin of little minds” (*)

Sticking to her pre-established rule means the owner of that restaurant has saved a few cents – but almost certainly lost those customers forever – and their friends, because bad word-of-mouth is almost impossible to overcome.

Imagine if instead she had said to the customers “normally you wouldn’t be able to stay, because our pricing structure is different – but since you are here, please, sit and enjoy your meal…”

The good word-of-mouth from that would have been impossible to put into dollars.

In the meantime, I might also say that my dining companions apparently felt as uncomfortable as I did about the whole thing. So next time we decide to eat out at that strip, we are much more likely to consider an alternative.

Ah, for opportunities lost.

(*) For Emerson’s essays – including ‘On Self Reliance’, the source of this quote, go here for a cheap paperback, or here for an even cheaper Kindle version …

4 thoughts on “Thursday thoughts – Rules v Customer Service

  1. Oh boy! See, on a night like this you need to think of the customer and make that extra effort. She could have explained to them that usually it wouldn’t be possible but that she’d make an exception. I would have done it! You want people to leave happy. I’m sure they didn’t. Shame. Returning customers? Hopefully, but probably not…


  2. Pingback: Saturday Arts – what ever happened to essays? | Cairns Communications

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