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Professional Observation

July 17, 2007

When not “at work” do you find yourself viewing the world through the lens of your profession?  

Last night, Leslie and I went out to dinner at a steak house.   I find restaurant experiences to be an ongoing case study opportunity on what to do, or not to do for so many professions, from marketing to customer service.   How engineered is the experience, in terms of the design of the facilities, the management of customer interest, the ambiance, the staff, the menu design and content, and ultimately the quality and presentation of the food?   When we arrived, we noted the place was about 40% full, with numerous empty booths and tables, yet there were perhaps ten people waiting, and we were told it would be ten to fifteen minutes.    Not pleased, I sat down to wait and asked rhetorically, why there should be a wait, when there are plenty of places to sit.  Leslie, a food service director in another professional life, explained that they may be short staffed on a Monday night and that research has shown that people are more accepting of the wait, in anticipation of a good experience, than to be seated, and have their experience marred by slow and unresponsive service.  Hmm.  Food for thought.

We were seated in less than the suggested fifteen minutes.  “Commit an outside estimate, and over-deliver”, I thought to myself as we walked to our table.  Check.

Our waiter appeared shortly, and we both ordered prime rib.   Two minutes latter he was back to inform us they had run out.   He asked a couple questions and then offered to move us to the the rib-eye’s.    We were amendable, and he was off.  Thirty seconds later, the manager was at our table, and assumed a casual pose, hunkering down and folding his arms on the table to position himself visually lower than our seated height.   He smiled broadly, introduced himself, and asked if we had been there before, and apologized for being out of prime rib, and offered to comp us a dessert.   As we had been there before, I suppose he was checking to see if this was a first impression, and might have then done even more.  Given that we’d already had one obviously satisfactory experience and had returned, he assumed the “proactive” offer of the dessert would be sufficient to mollify and retain us for future visits.   I smiled to myself, and assured him that everything was fine. 

The meal was good, and the manager followed up at the end to see if we would take him up on the desert.  During the meal, I watched the manager discretely patrol the dining room, while exchanging subtle signals with the wait staff to see where he was needed next.   We declined the dessert, as we were already full, and he presented us each with a business card, and an offer to call ahead next time, and that he would secure an entree’ on the menu in advance of our arrival to ensure we would not be disappointed. 

In the end, this manager was very proactive – getting involved and offering concessions before there was any dissatisfaction expressed.  It was clear that the restaurant had a lot of institutional experience evident in it’s operations and practices, balancing the up front wait to be seated against a higher service level delivered, once seated.   The wait staff was obviously charged with reporting any customer detractors before the customer made note of them and opened a complaint.   Clearly, the overall governance was slanted toward investment in future business vs optimization of the business at hand.   

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2007 2:26 pm

    I tend to do the same thing Mark, although I’m pretty harsh on them 😀 My father running restaurants all his life has done that to me. As you saw on my blog, I had a terrible experience at Ruby Tuesday’s (the fine eating establishment that it is) and we only just went back several days ago – luckily that experience was good.

    Anyway, that sounds like quite the standup restaurant & staff. I’ve had less cooperation from Magiano’s at times, which is surprising given it’s higher-than-average “class” so to speak. Or maybe since one of my primary food venues is Taco Bell, I’m a little short sighted 🙂

    Where was this magnificent restaurant?

  2. July 23, 2007 2:46 pm

    Excellent post Mark, I have pointed my brother (who’s a Chef and wants to put his own place soon) here for him to read. I too feel that my profession cuts through the rest of my personal life from time to time; I think you can’t quite help it. As a matter of fact it is one of the reasons why I quitted from doing music “professionally”: I felt I lost my innocence towards music and I was not all that willing to go through that.

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