Wednesday, April 06, 2011

"CRAB" Service

Now generally, I have no complaints about service in Singapore. Seriously. I'm an easygoing kinda guy, and if I happen to go a few more times to a place, I end up knowing more of the staff by name anyway. Nevertheless, last Friday was like a textbook case of things NOT to do. And so, consider this my public service as a corporate trainer, on a cautionary tale of bad service.

It was a typical muggy night in Singapore. My three friends and I were looking for a place for dinner, and we figured to head to town. Eventually, after some deliberation, we decided on Standing Sushi near Singapore Art Museum. The evening starts off normal. We were shown our seats, our orders taken, and our drinks served.

And here is where things started going downhill. But let's have some positive lessons anyway.

Lesson 1: If the staff forgets an order, let the customer know.

We can all understand that when it comes to busy periods, things get left out. But honestly, if a zi char uncle at a kopitiam can remember table number, special orders, and a million other nitty gritty details, a restaurant that charges 10% service and 7% GST, has an order form, and only 4 tables to serve for the evening should be able to get the orders right the first time.

Nevertheless, if a server has really forgotten orders, basic service recovery dictates service staff to apologize, reassure the customer that the ticket has gone in RIGHT NOW, and how long it will take for the order to be processed. Do not leave a customer hanging. It irritates the hell out of the person, especially if he or she is hungry.

If a customer has to ask three times for the same item, seriously BAD idea, and "coming, coming" is only acceptable in a hawker centre. 

I once remember eating at Pierside Kitchen and Bar where the chef sent complimentary crabcakes because the appetizers would be delayed by ten minutes. That was served to my table 10 minutes after the orders went in. It was at least 4 years ago, but I remember it to this day.

Lesson 2: If the missing dish is not served by the END of the meal, it's too late to serve it by then.

Of course it takes some time for the kitchen to prepare any dish, especially when the order is missed out at the start. But if you have already cleared the table of everyone else at the table, it is generally way too late to serve the dish.

Ask your customer if he or she would still like it served. If not, suck it up. The fault was yours in the first place. And never EVER make it sound like you are doing your customer a favour when you tell them you're not charging them for the dish.

Lesson 3: Even if the fault was not yours, say "I'm Sorry."

And if the fault is yours, all the more, apologize. And whatever the customer demands, do not come across condescending and never EVER use the phrase, "if you want to complain, never mind one, go ahead."

Seriously, the hole is deep enough, you really do not have to dig it any deeper.

Lesson 4: It is NEVER about the money.

It is never about not getting charged for an item not served, nor is it about the $20 for soft shelled crab. It is about making sure that your customers know that you value them. And the higher one charges, the more customers expect. And yes, one massively pissed off customer can do worlds of damage to a restaurant's reputation.

Lesson 5: Arguing with your customer is ALWAYS a bad idea. 

The absolute WORST idea in the entire book, is actually arguing with your customer.

Telling your customer, "You ordered at 8:45 and the time now is 9pm, and your friends have finished for some time, that's not half an hour." then after that going into the kitchen, taking out only ONE ticket for the missing item, waving it in the face of the customer, and smugly going, "see the ticket says 845" is not only calling your customer a liar in his face, being completely biased, and all in all, a really really stupid move.

Even if it was the customer's fault for being demanding, and expecting his food served in five or ten minutes, that is the customer's prerogative. To be arguing about timing after taking orders, serving everyone else at the table, have everyone finish eating both appetizers AND main course, and clearing the table with a hungry customer who's obviously peeved because he is unable to have dinner WITH his friends and would have to eat all by himself if he chose to accept the order, is nothing short of suicidal.

So at the end of the evening, does it really matter then who's right, and who's wrong, or even if they waived the charges for the rice or for anything else. The fact of the matter is that the evening was spoilt by $20, and there is a good chance I shall never, ever eat there again. On top of that, good chance, neither are any of my friends.

And that, my friends is a story of bad service, and the lessons we can take away.