I will say that this was during the holiday season, right after Christmas. So the restaurant foyer was crowded, which is usually a good sign, yet we were seated right away. It may have been because we were a table for two, and others needed tables for six or eight.
The Cheddar’s website (cheddars.com) describes their establishments as an American chain of casual dining restaurants which serve primarily American cuisine, including salads, steaks, sandwiches, pasta dishes and seafood. Originally founded in 1978 in Arlington, Texas, Cheddar’s now has more than 80 restaurants across the United States.
This number continues to grow, they say, thanks to their very well-received and bargain-friendly food (the average meal costs around $10). Most Cheddar’s locations are found in the Midwest and the South.
We had no complaint about the food. It was quite good and reasonably priced. The service, however, was another story, and sadly not a good one.
Before I describe the issues, let’s place things into perspective.
Thirty years ago most of us would put up with bad service, but then McDonald’s came along and set standards for food and service delivery, thereby raising our expectations for all eating establishments. Just like Federal Express has raised our expectations about package delivery.
As a result, today we expect cleaner restrooms, higher quality food, efficient and friendly service and attentive wait personnel.
Disney World is another example of a successful business which has raised our service expectations.
Disney, just as McDonald’s and Federal Express, set high standards, and every single company is now in competition with them whether they like it or not. Disney sets out to create an experience for you when you visit them, and savvy entrepreneurs have figured out the need to do the same in their business.
We have all seen and experienced world class and exceeds-the-need services, and, frankly, we are not very happy when we don’t get the same level every time.
Printing companies are one example where service and quality assurance simply have not kept up. Recently one of my clients insisted I use a particular printer. I did so reluctantly, because every printer I use has to meet exacting standards and ensure quality assurance in order to make my preferred vendor list.
This level of service is something that this printer had not met for my client in the past, yet, for political reasons, the client felt compelled to use this company. However, once again my client was not happy with the printer’s products, and, frankly, neither was I.
When I brought this issue to the attention of the person who could make a difference and satisfy my client, the resulting investigation did not follow the basic rules of customer service, just as our waiter at Cheddar’s during the holidays failed to do.
Let’s go back to the beginning experience. Why was I so disappointed at Cheddar’s?
First, our waiter kept us waiting more than 10 minutes for a menu, although we were promptly seated in his area.
Second, when I asked for water and unsweet tea, he brought me sweet tea and no water. Adding insult to injury, he did not keep my sweet tea glass filled throughout the meal.
Third, did he ever check on us to see if our food was to our satisfaction? No.
Then it took another 10 minutes after the meal to get his attention to take the credit card for a timely checkout. We asked for a takeout unsweet tea, which he finally delivered after we had given up and were at the door to go.
Did he thank us and invite us back? The answer is “No” to both.
However, I will eat at a Cheddar’s again because the food was better than average, and the price was right. I will give them one more opportunity to impress me. I will go back to see if the service is better next time.
Just as the printer had no process for follow-up, quality assurance and customer satisfaction, this restaurant also had no such process in place.
Here is what makes a good wait person, in my opinion, and is the basis of what we teach our clients in customer service training.
Be prompt. Promptly come to the table, provide a menu and give your guest a few minutes to decide on what they want to eat. Think of and see your customer as a guest in your home. Deliver what the guests have asked for and ask if their drinks are satisfactory. That way you will know if you made a mistake with the sweet tea.
Be truthful. When you return to the table, ask if they are ready to order, and, if they ask you to give them some of your favorite entrées, be truthful with them. If you have not tried the entrée tell them. If you have and did not like it, tell them that as well. Do not try to sell them anything, simply counsel the guest by listening to their questions carefully.
Ensure quality assurance on the product or service delivered. When the food is delivered, make sure it is what they ordered, that it is the proper temperature and properly prepared. Give them a few minutes to actually try the food before you ask them if everything is satisfactory.
Listen to what they say and watch for nonverbal clues. If you sense there is a problem, address it, even if they don’t verbally tell you there is a problem. In other words, listen not to just what they say, but also watch what their body language is telling you.
Apologize and solve. If there is a problem, quickly apologize, and go about solving it to the guest’s satisfaction.
Keep their water and beverage glass refilled, and, for goodness sakes, do not bring them another beverage glass unless that is your policy. If you do bring another glass, take away the empty glasses as there is nothing more annoying than having a table full of empty containers.
Watch your guest’s nonverbals carefully, and when they place their credit card on the table after you have delivered the check, be prompt in picking it up and handling the checkout.
Thank them and invite them back.
Finally, be prompt in handling the checkout. Ask them if they would like a drink to carry with them, always thank them for being your guest and invite them back.
Providing exemplary, exceptional, exceeds-the-needs guest and customer service is not rocket science.
Whether you are a waiter or a printer, have a process in place to ensure quality is assured for every encounter. This is critical to the success of any business.
Remember when your customer or guest is not satisfied, you will not just lose them, you will also lose all their referrals.
Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 1-888-340-2006 or www.armstrongassociates.org.