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How To Be A Good Customer: The Primer

Posted by CMH Gourmand on May 27, 2013

Any relationship involves an exchange, a quid pro quo if you will. The unwritten social contract of a restaurant/Bake Shop/Food Business goes like this: I will feed you: You will pay me. The more complicated version is: I will make food that is significantly better than average at a price that is a good value and you will consider coming back. The third tier and the key to sustainable business is: the previous version + I (the business) will provide superior customer service, recognize you in some way if you come back often and never compromise what brought you in when we started our business. As a business we will never become complacent thinking that the business can just make the exact same thing for ten years and scoot by. A business might get bonus points for finding time to engage their community and add to the good of their neighborhood.

Above are the basics and the dance we dance together: we vote with our cash, checks and credit cards if we get what we expect. Customers keep coming back, if they get more than expected. I think Dr. Phil would sign off on that.

But as customers, I would say we have a duty, maybe even an obligation. If you really care about what your eat, the sustainability of the business you patronize and your community, you need to do more than just pay. You may want to ponder if you have a duty to be a good customer in the interest of our communities and to our neighbors.

1) Let the business know if something is not quite right. If you did not like it, then others probably did not as well.

How is everything? – if the kitchen hears – “OK, but too salty, I probably would not get it again” – the recipe might change.

Feedback is critical to any business but especially new businesses and food based companies. Our culture raises us to be “nice” but not sharing a problem with a business is not being nice, it is ensuring mediocrity or failure. You can share negatives things in a positive way and any business that cares about you as a customer, will listen you want you have to say and maybe even reward you for it.

2) If you have a problem – deal with at the restaurant first – not on Yelp.

3) If the manager did not deal with it or did not deal with it well – send an e-mail or letter or follow-up with a call. If not responded to with 48 hours – go public with specific details about what was not right and what if anything could fix it for you – or a reasonable person. After the business has had a chance to do the right thing (and failed) then Yelp away. Counterpoint, if the business did do the right thing then Yelp away. Positive reinforcement works both ways.

4) Leave your ringer off and take your conversations outside.

A business owner might be reluctant to ask you to shut up because you are a customers. I applaud those that do. Your fellow patrons aren’t interested in your conversation and you are ruining their digestion. I wish we had preserved all of the phone booths from days gone by and left them in place for people to have private conversations now.

5) Have fun but not at the expense of others. Do you have a favorite pal that is loud obnoxious and a little inappropriate when they start to drink (or just when they start to speak)? The server is being paid to endure you – your fellow diners are not – consider your environment and show a little respect when you are yuking it up and have a “great time” – it may be at the expense of others not just the people sitting near you but the business you are enjoying at the expense of others.

6) The place is packed, the lines are deep, your meal is done and your check is being processed……time to move your ass. Make some other party happy while you continue your conversation in the parking lot and help the restaurant turn a couple extra tables. You paid for your experience and have a right to enjoy your meal at a leisurely pace. I can’t count on my fingers and toes combined the number of times I have seen parties parked at a table long after there bill was paid while others were waiting for a table or service. Nancy’s Home Cooking had a sign labeled “Eat it and Beat it”, sometimes you have to do that.

That was today’s serving of food for thought. You may have read the Restaurant Rants Series earlier in the year, but as any therapist will tell you, any relationship with a problem rarely is the fault of one party…..think about what you might do to help your local business survive and thrive.

What do you think? Is this asking too much? What did I miss? Are there other rules of engagement I overlooked?

3 Responses to “How To Be A Good Customer: The Primer”

  1. Norman said

    Thoughts on point number 6 – leaving in a timely manner. Depends, I think, on the restaurant type, experience type, time of day/night, the moment you are in. Many restaurants hold themselves out as “experience” sites, that is, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts because of price, cuisine, ambiance, etc. If that is the case, they do not rent you that experience but sell it to you. If it works and your are transported by what they have offered for sale, an abrupt ending to that experience is not appropriate. There are, of course, times when leaving at a courteous time is just as appropriate. Most of our meals are (unfortunately?) of that type. But sometimes that table is transformed into something else and the restaurant is best off to leave you alone to enjoy it. You WILL be back if that happens and they will have gained one of their their best ambassadors.

    • ronin chef said

      I think he specifically mentioned situations where others are waiting for tables… Although, if the place is that swamped, it could be both front and back staff might welcome a lingering table as an opportunity to get out of the weeds! I’d say ask your server politely if that’s the case. “Hey, you guys look a little busy and we’re having a nice time sipping our waters/coffee… want to leave us a pitcher, take this tip and forget about us or would you rather have another table tonight?”

  2. ronin chef said

    I agree with all of your points but would add one other. At restaurants that pride themselves on expertise, it’s nice to offer employees the opportunity to show that knowledge off. If someone enthusiastically offers to walk you through a wine or cheese list, chances are they are proud of the fact that they’ve learned it and will relish the opportunity to educate you. And even if you think you know more than them, I bet you’ll get better service if you treat them as experts! This applies particularly to Sommeliers. I haven’t met one (in Ohio) yet who doesn’t have to explain his/her job on a daily basis so when I act duly impressed by their titles and then ask them to make recommendations, no matter how busy they are they’ll drop what they’re doing and gleefully help me plan my and my guests meals to the course! And 9:10 times they’ll tell the kitchen and suddenly amuse bouches or other complimentary tasting courses are pulled from thin air… All without even mentioning any of my own expertise or bonafides!

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