Continued from part 1
Welcome back to another serving of Soupfly. As we discussed previously, the Soupfly, as well as being an actual literal event, (the soup with a fly in it) it more often is a metaphor for what could go wrong in restaurant service.
The restaurant business is filled with so many variables and unforeseen and oftentimes uncontrollable circumstances. Circumstances that the server often feels powerless to have any effect over. The Restaurant Business/Food and Beverage industry seems to be unlike any other. You’re not selling a car, a tailored suit, a Starbucks coffee or even a set of Encyclopaedias. In any one of those examples, you the seller and they, the buyer, pretty much know what to expect. If you sell someone a Honda Accord-that’s what they’ll get. And they get to actually test drive the vehicle and see the actual product before taking ownership of it. They don’t have to wonder if they’ll get a Honda with an Anaconda in it. Unless they’re buying one in the Republic of Myanmar (Burma).
If you are in retail, same situation-your customers actually see and even try on what they’re buying as they select it. There’s no mystery in what they’re going to get- well maybe in online shopping. Yes, I know this is all very basic. We all know this. I’m just saying this to make my point. In this business, however, your guests at the restaurant do not get to try it before they buy it. Nor do they have the privilege of test driving a bunch of different samples. “I’ll try some of the nachos, the fried calamari and the sliders. They all sound very good. Let me just taste of few of each, then I’ll let you know which one I’m actually going to decide to buy.” Of course that’s not gonna happen. That would be ludicrous. My point? Sometimes there’s going to be a Soupfly-Steak not done to guest’s specifications, Risotto is waaaay too salty, The server brings you soup and there’s no fly in it but he does spill it all over your lap. Ow!
There’s a myriad of things that can happen and do happen. Mishaps, accidents and mistakes. Human error and otherwise. Circumstances that are less than pleasant. Some avoidable, some maybe not. Some even painful.
The question is how do you respond when a Soupfly happens? Do you fly off the handle? (Ok maybe a bit of a pun there. Sorry.) Do you blame the kitchen staff or look for others to point at? Do you become defensive and make it about you? Do you empathize with your guest and show true care and concern? Or do you argue with the guest or someone else about who really is at fault? Do you ignore the guest complaint and just act as if it didn’t even happen? Do you suddenly go on a smoke break and disappear so you don’t have to “deal with it”?
Unfortunately, I’ve either witnessed or personally experienced co-workers, managers and even owners respond to Soupflies in all of the above ways. Perhaps sometimes when something as unpleasant as a Soupfly happens, the server may think that now this guest’s dining experience is ruined and that they’re bound to leave here-the restaurant-upset, angry and bad-mouthing the establishment. It’s a foregone conclusion.
Well, I don’t believe that. Why? Because it has also been my experience that the exact opposite is absolutely possible. Any Soupfly incident, I believe, can be turned around and the end result the guest leaves having had a Wow! dining experience. Is it easy to do? No, but it is entirely possible. You may think that the odds are not in your favor but I actually believe that they are.
Steps for Responding to a Soupfly situation:
1. Apologize and Accept Responsibility for whatever the incident is-mistaken food brought out, improperly prepared, a spill, a miscommunication. It doesn’t matter what the incident is. Apologize sincerely. But don’t say things like “I’m sorry you don’t know what a medium rare rib-eye steak is supposed to look and taste like, sir.” It does not matter who caused it or how it came about. You are on the frontlines. Don’t blame the kitchen. And Do Not Make Excuses. Your guests do not care, nor do they need to know that you are understaffed tonight, that it’s the cook’s first night on the job, etc. Excuses do not make your guest feel comforted.
2. Be Humble and Don’t be Argumentative By following these first two steps alone, oftentimes the intensity of the situation can be diffused. It’s like letting the opening the valve and letting the steam out. If you say to your guest, “Sir, Ma’am, I am so very sorry that this happened. It is my fault. Please forgive me. We are going to fix this right away.” They most likely are going to forgive you. How can you argue with someone who is offering no resistance? You really can’t.
However, it seems that often what happens instead, is that the server, or the manager offer a half-hearted, feebly spoken, “I’m sorry”. But that’s never followed with “please forgive me”. “I’m sorry” is just the first half of an apology.” Without saying “Please forgive me”, it’s incomplete.
3. Communicate Immediately with your Supervisor/Manager/Chef/Owner-whomever is in charge–directly above you They must be made aware of the situation. You should never, ever just keep the incident to yourself-no matter how seemingly insignificant the situation may appear to you to be. You spilled some wine on the guest but it was white wine and it didnt’ really leave a stain. And they said not to worry about it. It actually may be no big deal but your manager must be told so that they can address the situation, offer them compensation and not be surprised at the end of the evening when the guest complains as they’re walking out the door. As long as the guest is still inside the restaurant and preferrably still seated, there’s always opportunity to make a Recovery.
4. Recovery Mode This is now where the opportunity to woo your guest back and Wow! them takes full affect. How do you do this? There’s really no cut and dry method but I believe it begins with maintaining that humble attitude and communicating your desire to still make this an excellent dining experience for your guest. You may even state that to them, saying something to the effect of: “Sir, Ma’am, Mr So and So, My friends, (however you address them) I know we dropped the ball at the beginning but it’s still my desire to make sure you leave here happy that you came to dine here with us tonight.”
Don’t ever ask your guest what they want you to do to make up for the Soupfly. You must offer and make suggestions. If their food was prepared improperly or it’s too salty or cold or whatever the case may be you-the server (and sometimes the manager) must make decisions and take the proper action that will make the situation right. Do not put your guest in the uncomfortable situation of them having decide what should be done. They are the guest. Make them feel welcome and put them at ease.
Next, it’s time for action. Fix the problem. Refire the proper food. Help clean up a spill. Tell them the restaurant will take care of the drycleaning bill, etc. One other reason it’s so important that you communicate with your manager about the Fly in the Soup is that now you can enlist them and the kitchen’s help to win your guest back. A special appetizer, another specialty cocktail or bottle of champagne. There are so many things that can be done to let your guests feel special. Accidents happen. People make mistakes. Even chefs. Now we move on.
I wouldn’t recommend reiterating or commenting on the Soupfly incident repeatedly over the course of the rest of the evening. What’s done is done. Now you focus on providing exceptional service and you have the opportunity to Wow! them. Be Creative. Don’t just say “We’ll just take it off the bill.” This happens all too often and that is Definitely NOT providing excellent service. That is the absolute bare minimum that should be done.
A Soupfly is an Opportunity. They will happen. Be ready, be prepared and believe that you can turn the situation around.
One last thought-First impressions are so important in every business. But maybe even more so in the restaurant business. How a guest is greeted and seated, how the server approaches a table, and a host (I know-another pun) of other factors all work together in setting the tone for a guests dining experience. Perhaps if the right tone is set from the beginning-then, if a Soupfly does unfortunately occur-it is much easier to get to a successful Recovery. Next post we’ll examine exactly that: SETTING THE TONE
I would love to hear about your personal Soupfly experiences-preferably the positive ones. Either when you were the guest and a Soupfly was turned into a positive experience or you were the server, manager or owner and you successfully turned the situation around to Wow! your guests in spite of the Soupfly. Please share your stories and experiences in the Comments.