A restaurant in my town shut down last week. It was a sudden shutdown, but it had been obviously inevitable. I feel badly for any business to close, but in this case, I personally don’t care since I was on the receiving end of their awful practices.
This was a beautiful restaurant, an old historic building, carefully and expensively, restored. There were a number of partners involved because of the expense, and they were construction people. They never ran a restaurant before, but they enlisted one of the locally heralded chefs and so all was to be well. The front man was also an elected big cheese in town, so that would bring in business. Or so they thought.
It was to be a fine dining, valet parking experience. And it was, for a few years. Then business kept slowing so they changed it to a loud jeans and beer pub with self-parking, thinking that would revive the restaurant. They spent more money to build a fancy new, bigger, bar with the intention of becoming a micro-brewery. (The brewery idea was ridiculous at the outset. That’s like smashing a few grapes and calling it wine. They had no concept of what was involved.)
They also tried a variety of coupons, groupons, advertising, new graphics, new bartenders and wait staff, but all was naught. Business was still dying and they didn’t know why. Knowledgable people offered advice, but it was derided since the front man and prima donna chef knew all.
What they didn’t change was management and customer service.
The food and service was terrible – unless you were part of the elected official’s inner circle. If you were a VIP to him he would fawn over you, making sure your food and experience was top shelf. All others were dreck and it was blatantly obvious to us dreckies. The chef made the food and sent it out at a time of his choosing. Diners sat a very long time waiting for their overpriced mundane food. Serve staff were clueless — in one instance bringing a bottle of beer sitting inside a glass of ice – spreading all kinds of basement filth and germs. The customer was appalled. The server’s dim response was that she couldn’t carry it all. The customer told her to make two trips instead. The same server couldn’t find the fan switch to make the hot room comfortable – nor did she ask the boss where it was. Or – she did, and he said no. The latter is probably true, since at a business event there he (the elected official/manager) feigned stupidity and couldn’t find the fan switch. He was as my mother would say, Stupid On Purpose. But most likely it was another case of You are a Dreckie and I will do nothing for you. Well, that attitude sure bit them in the behind.
There are so many more stories like this, of customers being treated badly, advertised pricing changing once the bill arrived, good wait staff quitting, sub-par expensive food, and too many partners all wanting money out of it with a front man who is not a people person, turning off more customers than he brought in.
So how are you treating your customers? Do you kiss the butts of the ‘fancy people’ who can be useful to your private life and ignore the ‘bread and butter’ customers of your business? Those potentially regular customers don’t have to come to your business and their money is the same color.
Are you riding on the reputation of a management prima donna that needs a reality check? Who is supervising them? How much power are you giving them – do they hold the success or failure of your business? Do they care about your success or failure? If it’s no skin off their nose, you should be worried.
Do you acknowledge your lack of knowledge and seek answers outside your echo chamber of yes-men, perhaps crowdsourcing? Asking the customers directly? And not the inner-circle customers who will tell you everything is great because you made sure of that by kissing up to them.
Do you make it right if there is a problem? Or do you get on a high horse and say too bad? Or blame the customer for simply wanting good (not even necessarily great) customer service? (Yes, we all know about the customers you can’t please no matter what you do, but that is a story for another time.)
Do you read your Yelp reviews (and not the ones you had your buddies write)? Do you even know what Yelp is (these people didn’t at first)? Do you disregard the bad reviews and claim your competitor wrote them? How will you improve? How will you know what your customers want? That echo-chamber run by prima donnas – including you — can be a dangerous place to your bottom line.
If you are in a people-business, especially restaurants and retail, pay attention to those people, your customers. Be social, friendly, welcoming, fawning even, to everyone and make it right when something goes wrong. Make it a place people want to come to and buy from you. Make it a joyful experience, not a place they come once, never to return. You won’t have customers for much longer if you don’t, as these folks learned the hard way.