Last week a family member and I were talking. She was telling me about a meal she had out with another family member. She was giving me the details of the conversation and casually mentioned that there was a hair and a fly in her salad. So I get side tracked with the story, I am The Food Safety Guy and asked her about it. She said it grossed her out so much she couldn’t eat it. I asked her what she said to the server. She said that because of the nature of her meeting that she didn’t want to make a fuss. So then I asked what the server said when they picked up the uneaten food. She said nothing, the server seemed like they didn’t notice. I asked her when her meal was complete if anybody at any point said anything tho her about the inedible salad. She said no. I was appalled when I found out that she paid her check and left. She did however say one thing that struck me, “I just won’t go back”.
Now this is a busy corporate casual restaurant that we all know. I won’t mention the name because I am more professional than that. But, wow! How often is this happening in that restaurant. And how much is it costing them daily, weekly or monthly in lost visits from disenfranchised clientele? What about the damage it might do to their reputation through word of mouth… I won’t pick them first. And don’t forget Yelp and other social media. How many other people feel the same way? We all know of a restaurant or store we feel this way about and avoid even if we want to like it. It is just managed so poorly we feel as if we were taken advantage of every time we pay.
Lets look at how this could be prevented. First, train the server and empower them to do the right thing. If they see a plate of food that wasn’t eaten they should know that means something was wrong. they should be trained to ask the guest if their was a problem. Next, give them the authority to have some control of their own guests experiences by offering a free replacement. I mean c’mon, whats the food cost on a salad. And even if your server offers to buy the whole tables food and you don’t agree support them anyway it is good leadership. Then take the opportunity later to teach the server how you would like it handled the next time.
My next question is, where was the manager? Someone should be walking around the dining room looking at guests plates and faces. Not only will problems like this be found but some guests will be more likely to stop a manager and let them know if there are any issues than they would a server. And even if the floor manager missed it, how about someone in the back of the house paying attention. If I saw a server bring back a full plate of uneaten food I’d immediately ask questions. Also, don’t be afraid to use disciplinary action if a server is not paying attention to that sort of thing. It would affect business more to ignore this problem than to fix it by offering another salad or buying the dish.
In the end when a guest leaves your restaurant with the idea in their head that they “just won’t come back”, it costs a restaurant in many other ways than that one experience. If the restaurant paid attention to their guests and were more available during service they may have kept this customer. And who knows, maybe this guest runs a soccer team that would come in every Wednesday or does a lot of business meetings and you lost them because, you just weren’t paying attention.