Opportunities for Improvement

A couple of days ago, during a lunch rush, a guest confronted me at the host desk.
“I need to talk to the manager.”
What can I do for you? I said.
“You’re the manager?” he sneered.
(which always bugs me. Because I’m a woman, or maybe I have one of those faces, but people ALWAYS assume I am the hostess. )
But I tried not to bristle, obviously he was upset about something; he was visibly shaking.
“This is the worst restaurant I’ve ever been to, the service is terrible. Which is a shame because I love the food, but I won’t ever come back.”
I was sorry he felt that way, if he could please tell me what made him say that…?
After a few moments of incoherent stops and starts, his main complaint was that he and his guest had not received their drinks before the table next to them had received their appetizer.
He wouldn’t tell me who the server was, nor where he was sitting, nor his name or any way to contact him in the future.
He didn’t see me, he only saw The Restaurant.
I apologized profusely.
I offered to change his server, to take care of his lunch today or any other day.
No dice.
He wouldn’t even take my card.  And he stormed out.
From the time he was seated to the time the front door slammed behind him, less than 20 minutes had passed.
What could we possibly have done to anger this man so much?
After taking a minute to catch my breath, I delved in the third-degree with the staff.
And piecing together each account, the picture developed. This guest was seated in one server’s section, and felt slighted by the extreme disconnect between the service he was receiving and the service he saw being provided by another server, just one table away.
Which can seem like a small thing. It’s easy to brush off this man’s behavior as over the top. After all, he had come in without a reservation! He had only been sitting for 20 minutes, and he had bread, he had water, and the waiter had taken his order! So his coke hadn’t hit the table yet, it was on its way!
But– I say this to my staff frequently– to guests, a lunch is never just a lunch. It is an anniversary, a meeting with a client that took months to land, a spare hour in which to catch up with a friend you haven’t seen in years. It can be a birthday, an apology, or a long-awaited gossip session. When service suffers on any level, we are not just ruining someone’s lunch, we could be torpedoing a deal, or tossing a grenade into a first date.
I was shaken by my conversation with this guest. I was angry with myself, with my staff, and with the complete breakdown of communication (which is a constant struggle in restaurants). Because however it might have appeared to him, I do genuinely want all of my guests to have an incredible time in my restaurant.  And when we fall short, it is hard for me not to take it personally; I’m a cancer after all.
It is conversations like this that make it taxing to work in hospitality. But work it is.  So I just have to take the opportunities for improvement, and….. Well…. Improve them.


  1. >And sometimes lunch is just lunch, but a guest has had a terrible day (week?) and is looking for someone to take it out on. You're totally right about the staff being critical to making an occasion monumental, but this situation sounds like Mr. Where's-my-Coke had a little case of road rage in the lunch lane.

  2. >OMG Mary, next time I see you I'll have to tell you about my D20 horror story! Sometimes, you just can't please people no matter what!By the way… LOVE your blog! You are such an eloquent writer. 🙂

  3. >Ces– I can't wait to hear the story! At the end of the day, with people that just cannot be satisfied no matter what, I have to just tell myself, "in a few minutes they will be out of my life, but they have to live with themselves 24/7." and that usually helps put it in perspective. thanks for the support Caitlin! the "road rage" analogy is especially true in Los Angeles– many a host at my restaurant has literally been on the receiving end of vitriol that should have been directed at the traffic the guest endured on their way in to dinner. thanks for reading!

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