If you’ve worked in any kind of service industry, you’ve no doubt heard the mantra repeatedly, “The customer is always right.” The thinking behind it is to always bend to the customer’s wishes, give him what he wants, and make him feel right in his own eyes, and you will make the sale. It works to a degree, but as with any absolute, hard and fast rule, you find it fails to reach to the heart of the matter.

I deal with odd requests all the time. If you want dessert as an entrée and to have it sent out with everyone’s main course order, I can do that. If you want me to hold the meat out of a dish, even if I feel it will alter its integrity, I will honor it. If you want to order my pasta as take out, despite how it will look and taste once you get it home in a flimsy clam shell TOGO box, this is your prerogative. But I will draw the line at a certain point.

One, please don’t be rude to my staff. Don’t take out the frustrations of your day on your server. If he or she fails to give you good service, or if the food I send out of my kitchen is cold, that’s a different story. But if you make it hard for them to do their job, I will take note. People like you get a reputation very quickly, and nicknames will soon be applied. One man, as his regular practice, would allow himself to be seated, wait to place his order, and then would get up and leave in a huff if we were out of his favorite beer. Hence he was quickly dubbed Anchor Steam. Why he couldn’t have asked as soon as he arrived is beyond me. But when his rudeness got to the point of becoming a problem, we met him at the door on arrival to inform him we were out of Anchor Steam and that he need not be seated. We haven’t seen him since. He’s no longer frustrated, and neither are we. I call that a win/win.

Second, be aware of your demeanor. Buying my food does not give you a license to act like you own the place. If you ever wonder why you get such bad service whenever you eat out, it could be because you are emitting a negative spirit like the fumes of a skunk. Wait staff can smell you coming, and will start drawing straws amongst themselves to see who gets the misfortune of waiting on you. The source of your bad experience could easily be traced back to one look in the mirror. But then again, it’s always hard to understand somebody who doesn’t want to understand himself.

I find that the vast majority of folks are pleasant, easy to please, and enjoyable to serve. It’s the occasional bad apple that spoils an otherwise good day, and you have to deal with these as they come, case by case, person by person. I try to let my staff know that I’ve got their back, and that if they have a grumpy patron, to let me know so I can visit the table personally and assess the need. Most of the time a kind word will turn away wrath and a visit at the table from the chef shows that I care about their experience.

My customer is right, mostly. Even when a plate comes back saying this is the wrong order, even though it is precisely how the ticket reads. Even if they thought the soup was cold, and we see that the probe thermometer reads 180. Yes, even if they thought the bread pudding should come with whipped cream, and it never has. These little things are just part of the daily challenge of working with people in the service industry. Take the good with the bad and remember that I hold the power to transform a customer’s experience. I cook to make people happy, and have a pretty high success rate so far, but a few will just never be suited.

And I don’t have to take it personally.

When the customer isn’t always right

2 thoughts on “When the customer isn’t always right

  • March 22, 2010 at 2:59 am
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    I like this:

    "But then again, it’s always hard to understand somebody who doesn’t want to understand himself."

    It gives me trouble sometimes.

  • March 29, 2010 at 4:12 am
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    I'm a graphic designer. For years I have heard numerous plays on that old saying, but the only one that comes to mind right now is:

    The customer is NOT always right. But who else is going to pay us to do this?

    On the other hand, another old saying that I have often heard revised is:

    It DOES NOT all pay the same. (Sometimes the personal cost outweighs the financial reward.) It sounds like you are living that out, acknowledging that there is a line. Way to go!

    If I lived about 1,680 miles closer I'd certainly look for your establishment.

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