6 months ago I was in Darwin having a chicken parmigiana for dinner and just enjoying the balmy atmosphere of the road side eatery. Crowds of people were passing by checking out the menu. They were deciding whether to eat here or look for a different cuisine just as I had done not 30 minutes earlier.
But I like Italian! It has flavour and texture and can be served up fairly quickly which is always handy if you are eating alone. And even a small serve can leave you feeling full.
Then to my HORROR, I looked at the chicken meat where I had just eaten from and there was a bright red blotch in the middle of it.
As I sat there mortified I asked myself, “Where is the rest of it?”
I swallowed hard and steeled myself against the powerful, gut wrenching realisation that I had just eaten it!
I suddenly felt feverish. My temperature was rising and I had an uncontrollable urge to convulse. The colour drained from my face and the sweat beads on my forehead were beginning to join and drip from my brow.
Could I have just ingested salmonella?
What should I do? Is this uncooked chicken? What am I facing here? Was this anyone’s fault? My mind was racing and the questions were coming so fast that there was no time for answers. I was becoming irrational.
Take a deep breath I told myself. Breathe in and count to ten. Now breathe out slowly. Calm yourself and call the waitress over.
The waitress looked shocked. She called the manager.
He apologised and offered to get me a freshly cooked meal. As he was turning to take the meal back to the kitchen I stopped him and said, “I’m sorry but I feel sick and I don’t think I could eat anything else.”
He had no idea what to do next.
He asked me what he could do and then offered me a free coffee. Still in shock myself I agreed but wanted to discuss it further. He just wheeled around and paced to the kitchen.
The coffee came some minutes later however it seemed like an eternity as I pondered the possibilities of what I had before me. I felt ill and I couldn’t drink the coffee. I got up and went to the counter to pay and the waitress tried to charge me full price for the meal.
I had only eaten half so I was only prepared to pay half.
I debated the point that I had not been able to finish the meal and whilst I did not think it was anybody’s fault, I felt I should only pay for what I consumed. After all even the manager offered to cook me a fresh meal. Would he have charged me for two?
She called the manager over again.
His attitude had now changed from one of apologetic to antagonistic. He accused me of trying to rip him off. He was loud and vocal and completely unmoved by the fact that he had a room full of other diners.
I was embarrassed for him!
I went to walk from the register and take him aside where we could talk more privately but as I moved he loudly and arrogantly agreed to charge half and then once the transaction was over he all but threw me out of his restaurant!
I needed a tax receipt but obviously now was not the time to ask.
So I wondered how his reaction would affect his business. Could we have mutually discussed the problem and come to a more amiable solution? I was not blaming, I had merely eaten something which reduced my appetite to zip and made me feel squeamish in his restaurant.
He did not want to listen. He could only see a nuisance customer. I really, only wanted to show him what had come out of his kitchen. He stopped short of accusing me of putting the blotch there, but it was written all over his face.
Six months later…
I had occasion to visit Darwin again this week and I decided I would have a walk around and have a look at places to eat.
As I passed his restaurant I saw him sitting inside just near the register. The place was empty except for one couple on a table near the window. Nobody was sitting on the sidewalk tables and the staff were gathered at the bar polishing glasses.
The majority of the tables were still set as though there had been very few in for dinner. It didn’t surprise me at all.
But would he really have considered his attitude to be the cause?
Travelling around the place affords me lots of experiences where service plays out success stories. The customer is not always right but if you are the business owner/manager you need to pick your battles.
How you handle yourself in a dispute can make or break you. You can afford to lose a meal when the lifetime value of your customers is greater than the loss.
All he needed to do was empathise with my plight.
It’s clear to me now what he would have done in my shoes and I doubt he would have shelled out a red cent. He would have simply walked.
I should add that prior to this incident I had visited Darwin nine times and I had eaten at his restaurant five times… but not anymore.
Strangely on at least two occasions he briefly sat and spoke to me about my experience in his place. The first conversation was during the first visit and is what caused me to return.
It cannot be overstated, how you treat people is what you will be judged by.
Look, everyone has an off day and to be fair perhaps I was there on that day. But having experienced his proud, gruff manner previously, it made me think otherwise. And if you are in business, you want to be judged favourably.
Australians in particular don’t tell you what went wrong, they just tell everybody else not to go to your business. So you gotta nip that in the bud or you will become unemployed.
This was a particularly difficult situation and I’m not saying that I was right either, but I am interested in what you think.
Here are a couple of questions:-
- As a business owner, how important is it to give good service?
- And as a customer, how important is receiving good service?
I look forward to your responses.