This month, I was going to write about the importance of knowing your guest and the amazing resources that Central Counties Tourism can provide your business, your street or your community to drive more visitors and put money in your tills. However, after a few experiences while on vacation and right here at home, I thought I would write about being ready for guests and mitigating negative experiences.
My wife, Trish and I, along with our son, Patch, and one of his closest friends spent last week touring BC. Several of the places (Whistler, Harrison Hot Springs, Tofino, the Okanagan) rely heavily on tourism revenues. The tourists were out in droves, with lots of Canadians from different provinces opting to travel within country this summer. I was surprised by the number of restaurants that were only open four or five days a week, or not open for lunch, or closing at 8:00 pm. All of the ones we went to had slower than normal service and had an air of stress about them.
Trying new places is one of my favourite things to do while on vacation and I really wasn’t enjoying myself at these slow, disorganized, stressful restaurants. Then we went to a little burger joint in Tofino. It was one of two restaurants open on Thursday for lunch and it was very busy. I walked up to put my name in, already bracing for a haggard host to pretend they didn’t see me and feeling my blood pressure rise. Instead, I was greeted by a busy, but friendly host who explained that they had only three servers on and that the owner/manager was helping in the kitchen. She went on to say that because of the staff shortage, they had a reduced menu so that they could expedite the orders and although there were several groups ahead of us, she would most likely get to seat us in 20 minutes or so. I had heard the “20 minute” wait spiel many times by this point, with us walking away from a few restaurants earlier in the week after 40-45 minutes with no communication.
But we were hungry, and it was them or the other busy place, so I put our name in and we waited outside. A couple of minutes later, she called a group of three and then expanded by listing the next four groups and the order they were going to get called. We were the fourth group and with that simple act, I knew that we were on the list and were not going to be forgotten. After about 15 minutes, two more groups had been seated, meaning there was one group and then us. This time, when she went down her list of the next four, she said that she was wrong about a 20-minute wait time and would we be okay waiting an extra five minutes or so. We knew our place in the queue and by now got a feel for the turnover, so we said okay. And we really were okay with it, because we were in the loop.
She did get us seated within that extra five minutes and I thanked her for her management of the queue. Once seated, we were already expecting service to be a bit slower because there were only three servers. However, within a few minutes Gabby came by with some water and to tell us how to activate the menu with the QR-code. We were already old pros at that and were actually ready to order. After reviewing what we wanted, she once again mentioned that the kitchen was very busy and that it could be up to a 15-minute wait for our food. She promised to be back within five minutes with the drinks we ordered and was at our table with them within three. Our food arrived about 10 minutes after we ordered which was a welcome surprise. The food was hot and tasty and most importantly, stress free for me! We were out the door within 35 minutes of being seated, which freed up the table for another group.
I am going to juxtaposition that story with another one from a few days later. On the weekend we got back, Trish and I drove an hour to a brand-new establishment that opened in the Central Counties region two or three weeks ago. I had heard about it, wanted to check it out and perhaps introduce myself to the owner to set a more formal meeting for another day. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon for a drive and we got there in a great mood. The parking lot was busy but not full and there were many tables on the patio. Trish and I went in to be seated. We stood for several minutes at the podium with the, “please wait to be seated sign”, until a woman came out and asked if we wanted to be seated inside or outside. We said outside, and she said someone would be right there. “Right there” went from five minutes, to 10 minutes and was getting close to 15 before I went a bit further in and caught her eye. She came back and sat us on the patio. We each ordered a beer and a pretzel. The pretzel came quickly, but the server returned to let us know that they were fixing a problem with the CO2 on the tanks and it would be a few minutes before we got our beer. About 10 minutes later (we haven’t seen her this whole time) she returned to say they were out of the beer we had ordered. We each picked a different one and she was gone again for another five minutes or so. By this time, we had finished our pretzels and were looking forward to the beer. Getting a sense that this slowness wasn’t going to stop, we also asked for the bill when she dropped off the beer. My beer was very good, but Trish’s was warm. And it took another 15 minutes for her to return with our bill.
In this same time, the woman who seated us, sat another couple at the next table. They sat there for more than 20 minutes before the gentleman got our servers attention and asked for menus. They were informed by the server that they should not have been seated because they were no longer serving walk-in guests because of a private party taking place in the back. The guy quite vocally expressed his disappointment about driving three hours, being sat and then turned away. Another couple who were on bikes, had sat themselves and were also turned away. And, to top it all off, as we were waiting for our bill, the couple on the other side of us who had been able to order dinner received both their appetizers and their hot main courses at the exact same time. They were quite upset and asked for the manager. We left before I got to see how that ended.
Trish and I talked about the experience on the way home. I chalked a lot of it up to growing pains. But Trish had a very good point. They are new and probably don’t have very many reviews yet. If all three of those groups left a review of their service experience, that could have a negative impact on their business. Regardless, the fact that this experience occurred only four days after our Tofino experience, really opened my eyes to the importance of managing expectations. I have decided that if every service business did these five things all of the time, they would have happy, return customers.
- Set the guests’ expectations
- Live up to or exceed those expectations
I really do think the new place was going through some growing pains with staff not fully being prepared and trained in their roles. Next week when I reach out, I will talk about my experience and point the owner in the direction of some of the great staff equipping tools we have available at centralcounties.ca. In my mind, our negative experience could have been mitigated by communicating and setting our expectations. When we were greeted, we could have been told that that CO2 cannisters were on the fritz, that they had a big private party that was limiting the kitchen’s ability to serve walk-in guests and they were out of two types of beer. The wait for seating was just a training thing, and that will work itself out. Armed with the information about the beer, cannister and food back-up, we could have ordered the right beers off the top. I think we lucked out by ordering the pretzels as they are most likely premade and easy to warm up but if we had known about the kitchen back-up and had planned on eating, we would have asked the server what she thought the kitchen could handle – taking stress off of her and the kitchen staff. Once again, with some training, and our expectations already being set, the server could have kept us updated on how our orders were coming along so we weren’t left in the dark. Just these few small things would have turned a really negative experience into one that was okay – disappointing because the beers we wanted to try weren’t available, but that isn’t their fault. The sad thing is, I don’t think the other two couples that had bad experiences are going to come back to give them a second chance.
Luckily, as of today, it only looks like one person who was there in and around the time of the CO2 problems left a review and, very smartly, the owner replied right away apologizing and explaining the situation. But I do wonder if that review would ever had been written if they were told from the get-go what their experience was going to be like that day.