Monday, July 13, 2009

A tale of two Madison Restaurants

A difference in Customer Service

This is a story of two Madison, WI restaurants and how they treat their customers.

Chapter One

I went to Madison yesterday for a gallery event. My friend, Richard Knight, has a wonderful galley exhibit at the Overture Center in the Watrous gallery. Check it out. So my wife, Brooke and I decided to make a night of it. We love Madison and only get there once or twice a year. But it has some fantastic places to dine and Brooke found her choice for that night.

Our friends Josh and Sandy were going to be in Madison for the evening, too! So we booked a party of six at the Harvest Restaurant right on the Captial Square. Big mistake.

We arrived at 8:15 and were seated quickly outside. It was a glorious July evening and we settled in for a wonderful experience. Madison has hundreds of restaurants and the Capital boasts a good number of them all within walking distance from each other. I mention this because we had a choice. We made a reservation beforehand and chose this single place to spend our time and spend our money. Six persons at an somewhat pricey restaurant was going run us a few bucks but that's ok. We don't do it that often and I am a believer in spending hard earned money and getting an experience, not just a dinner.

The waiter was a young man and greeted us in short order. Seemed personable and friendly. Took our drink orders and didn't come back for quite some time. I had a view into the restaurant's bar from my location and it appeared that our waiter was mixing the drinks himself. In any event, in about 25 minutes he returned with our drinks and then took our order.

This is when the real waiting started.

We were in a pretty chipper mood. We hadn't seen Josh and Sandy for a while and were catching up. Kay and Rick were in fine form after Rick's gallery event which went well.

But shortly it became apparent that something was amiss. There seemed to be quite a few waitstaff running around but food was coming out slowly if at all and our visits from our friendly waiter were few and far between. After about 45 minutes of this, we started to get a grumpy. We're closing in on 9:30pm and most places stop serving at 10:00. Some of our party needed to hit the road and get back to Milwaukee, too.

After a while, our friends who needed to get on the road simple couldn't wait any longer and decided to close out their check. He walked inside was confronted by the manager who informed him that our dinners were being set out on the table as they were speaking. Not true, though we did receive our appetizers while he was inside. Unfortunately, he hadn't ordered one.

We were talking amongst ourselves and the manager heard us and came to see what was the matter. We explained the situation and she curtly informed us that a larger party was in the back room and that was probably the issue. This is our problem? She then asked us "what direction we wanted to take our grievances?". We were certainly getting irritated at this point and said that we needed only to get our drinks and our dinners. She told us she'd check with the kitchen staff and left.

We were getting fed up quickly but not with a nice dinner. Josh went after her to see if we could just pay our bill. He caught up with her at the door to the kitchen where she was explaining to the staff that "another 5 minutes and she was going to ask our table to leave". Perhaps we were complaining too much? Josh said we didn't need 5 minutes and could we just have our bill.

We were unhappy and incredulous that such a supposedly nice restaurant would treat us like this. We are not unreasonable. An explanation at the beginning might have made it better, but at least we could have made a decision to go elsewhere. Instead, the manager was rude and unpleasant and unnecessarily brash. We'll certainly never eat there again. (or, perhaps I should say, we'll never be back since we didn't eat there the first time)

Chapter two

Peppinos on Capital Square is a city block away from the Harvest. At 10 after 10:00 we walked in and it was apparent that they were just about settled for the evening but we asked for a table. An older fellow behind the kitchen counter space thought for a second, and said, "sure, no problem".

We proceeded to have a fantastic dining experience. We were still unsettled from the previous experience but drinks were ordered and our lovely waitress presented them with a smile on her face and a bounce in her step. We had a leisurely dinner, never wanting for anything and always delivered cheerfully.

The food was great. The company was great. The restaurant (Peppinos) was great. The experience was great.

Shortly before we called it a night, Peppino himself showed up. He was the fellow that gave us entry before.

He was born in Sicily and came to Wisconsin as a young man. We found out many other interesting fact because he took the time to meet us personally and engage us in some history and drama, all from his life's story. By the time the night was coming to a end, we had received a complementary Citronella (lemon liquor; appropriate since Pepino had grown up on a lemon farm) and a bunch of smiles back on our faces. The waitress received a nice, fat tip, too.

I've been involved in customer service for many years. Some would say that we're all customer service representatives no matter what we do for a living. What I've discovered is that the customer isn't always right, but they're always the customer and there is never a reason to be rude or insulting to somebody who's funding your business. My friends and I were treated poorly and left the first establishment unhappy. We finished the evening quite happy because a second establishment knew what their priorities were.

It's unfortunate that some people need to be reminded but it's not surprising.

Harvest: Consider yourself reminded.

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