The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
There were only a few tables left in the dining room. Marcel was getting his paperwork ready to check out the servers. The servers were all breaking down and re-setting their stations.
"Tuttopronto" prided themselves on being a first-class restaurant. The dining room and kitchen were spotless. The last diners would leave by ten thirty on a Friday night, but the servers would be cleaning and organizing until at least midnight. The kitchen didn't get to go home until at least one in the morning.
It was around ten that the phone rang. Chuck, the bartender, answered on the second ring. He greeted the caller with his "Thank you for calling Tuttopronto, Chuck speaking—How can I help you?" He sounded just as energetic as he did at the beginning of the night. "Uh-oh," he thought to himself. It was a "May I speak to the manager" call. He politely asked the caller to hold while he informed Marcel of the call.
Marcel asked a server to keep an eye on the host stand while he took the call in the office. When he picked up he immediately knew who it was that was calling. Just then Mandy knocked on the office door. She peeked inside and saw Marcel on the phone. She overheard a little of the conversation, and knew she better stick around. She started getting a sour feeling in her stomach.
Marcel was very cool while the guest was talking. Mandy thought Marcel would be more defensive. She was impressed with his professional attitude. He really cared. This, of course, made her feel worse. She wished she had told Marcel right away about the wine. She had been so busy.
As Marcel hung up the phone, he turned and saw Mandy standing behind him. "Well, do you have something you need to tell me?"
"Well, I have to say I'm really sorry. I was just coming to tell you about the mistake on table 13 tonight. I had an awful night. Did you ever have a night that seemed to be going smoothly, when all of the sudden it just seemed to fall apart. I really am sorry. It won't happen again."
"That's right it won't." Marcel lectured Mandy about concentrating on service. "We are here to put on a show. Our job is help our guests relax and enjoy themselves. If they just wanted to eat...they'd go to Mc'Donalds. They're here to reward themselves, to enjoy our food and service, but most of all to escape from their normal routines."
"We've failed these guests." he added. "We missed our target, and will pay for it with our reputation. Every good experience our guests have had pale in comparison to one bad one. We've lost these guests and need to win them back."
"It was only one table," Mandy implored. "I said I was sorry. I have to admit I was a little shocked myself that they left me a tip at all. I know I didn't deserve one!"
Marcel was put off by the way Mandy obviously missed his point. He wanted her to understand the long term importance of each guest. The only thing she thought about was her tip! He was getting frustrated, but his professionalism and experience kept him from exploding.
"How do you suppose we should recover?" He asked. "We at least need to correct the bill. What do you think we could do to bring these guests back to the restaurant. Most of all what do you think we could do to keep them from putting us down to their friends. We're new, and I'm sure they'll tell all their friends about what a horrible time they had here."
Mandy thought for a minute, "Well first of all we should credit their visa for the wine. Then we should write them a note apologizing."
Marcel told her that was a good start. However, that was all they expected. "We want to at least give them something good to tell their friends when they are through telling them the bad" he told her. "We need to exceed their expectations. How do you think we could do that?"
Mandy hesitantly suggested refunding her tip as well. Marcel thought that a decent gesture. The restaurant still needed to do something. The tip really came from the waitress. How could he express his apology? After a little brainstorming they thought of what they could do. Marcel then called the guests and explained about the credit to their charge, and again expressed his apology. That night, after all the paperwork was done, they wrote an apology letter together.
Their note was fairly formal, stating that they were sorry that they did not satisfy the couple's needs. They wrote again how they felt that every guest was their only guest. They needed to assure one hundred percent satisfaction and they obviously had failed. With the letter they included a gift certificate for the exact amount of the first charge, and the credited charge slip showing the refund. Included in the note was an invitation to dine with them again, or if they liked they could give the certificate to a friend. They left the "To" line on the certificate blank. The certificate was meant only as a gesture of their apology. They didn't need to feel obliged to use it themselves. The restaurant would love a second opportunity to satisfy them but would understand if they didn't want to "risk" another night there.
They made sure the letter got in the mail first thing Saturday morning. Hopefully the guests would receive it early enough in the week to give them something good to tell their friends.
What do you think? Did the restaurant go too far? How could they possibly expect to regain the confidence of these guests? Should Mandy have been more responsible and made to pay for the gift certificate? Whose fault was it anyway?
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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