Recovering from a Mistake

Over the weekend, I was in Columbia, MO for my son’s graduation from the University of Missouri.
Columbia is a city of less than 100,000 population.  The University
boasts nearly 30,000 students so you can imagine that graduation
weekend puts a bit of a strain on the local hospitality industry. 

On Friday evening, we were looking for a place to eat dinner.  My
son’s roommate/landlord suggested a new restaurant nearby.  Since they
live on the western edge of the Columbia area, we guessed that they
might not be as busy as something closer to the campus.  We were right,
but we were also wrong.

The restaurant is called the Cherry Hill Brasserie.
It’s a small place and it was full.  On the other hand, the wait for a
table was only about twenty minutes; not bad considering.  We took a
seat (four seats, really) at the bar and waited for our table.  While
we waited it was obvious that the place was "slammed" which is my
former-waiter son’s term for busy.  My guess is that since the place is
so new,this was their first graduation weekend and they weren’t
prepared for the crowd.

To make a long story short, or at least not so long, we were seated
in about the amount of time the hostess had predicted, and the waiter
took our order promptly.  Then things started falling apart.  We
waited, and waited, and waited some more.  We had no bread.  We had no
napkins.  When the bread came, we had no bread plates.  It was obvious
that the place was very short-staffed and everyone was working very
hard, they just couldn’t keep up.

About a half an hour after we had placed our order, the waiter
approached our table with kind of a deer-in-the-headlights look.  "Sir,
I’m so sorry for your wait.  The kitchen misplaced your order and
they’re just starting on it now.  I hope you’ll be patient.  We’re
really busy tonight.  To make up for your long wait, your dinner will
be on the house."

As you might guess from the name, this isn’t a fast-food place.
Dinner for four wasn’t cheap.  This was some serious damage control.

When dinner finally arrived, it was wonderful.  I could cut my steak
with a fork.  Everyone else’s meal was equally good.  When we were
done, the waiter suggested desert, but, because of the size of the
portions, there were no takers.  As we were eating, both the manager
(probably the owner) and the bartender came to our table to make sure
everything was OK, and to add their apologies for the delay.

The waiter had said that dinner would be on the house, so I waited
for him to bring me a bar tab, since I didn’t expect that to be
included, especially since we ordered a round of drinks after he told
us  that the meal would be gratis.  No, there was no charge for
anything, just another apology.

I don’t imagine getting a free meal after the restaurant makes a
mistake is all that unusual.  But, you have to understand, we walked
into the restaurant about 7:00 and left about 9:30.  On the Friday
night before graduation in Columbia, MO, there’s not a restaurant in
town where we could have gotten in and out any more quickly.  In fact,
I would guess that 3-4 hours was more the norm.

But for this restaurant, that wasn’t acceptable.  They were
under-staffed, they made a mistake on our order, and they apologized
and made up for it.  I may never go back to the restaurant, because now
that Patrick has graduated, I’m not likely to be in Columbia very
often.  But, I have told this story to everyone I’ve talked to over the
last three days, including several who live in Columbia.  I’m telling
it to you.  Of course, you know where I’m going with this.  Customer
service, above and beyond what’s expected is the stuff that legends are
made of. 

A free round of drinks, or free desert, or a percentage discount
would have been enough to satisfy us.  And a month from now, I wouldn’t
have been able to tell you the name of the restaurant.  All I would
remember is how slow they were.  But, we were far more than satisfied.
We were surprised and delighted.  That’s the kind of word-of-mouth
advertising that you can’t buy.  You have to earn it.

Originally posted as Legendary Service on 5/15/06

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