Restaurant Truth: There is such a thing as “That Person”, but it’s not who you think it is

Fact: all restaurants make mistakes. We don’t like to admit it, it doesn’t feel good to admit it, but it’s the honest to god truth. 

I truly believe that every good restauranteur aims for perfection - but if you’re doing things right, there’s a huge margin of error in the craft. You try to minimize this margin with training, education, quality control standards, tastings, etc - but no matter what, no matter who, you’re going to screw up. 

Throughout my career, I’ve had the chance to dig into the psychology of what happens to the guest when these errors occur. Some people are quick to speak up, letting you know that something went awry, but more often than not you get no indication that anything was wrong. 

My double-decade of experience has taught me to dig into guests that reply with “it was Okay” when we ask how things were. It can be like pulling teeth to get an honest answer out of people, and when they finally do open up, the first line out of their mouth is always the same. 

“I don’t want to be THAT person, but”........

I wanted to take the opportunity to be crystal clear on who “THAT person” is, and who “THAT person” is not.

The person who is willing to open up, and let us know what’s wrong is amazing. Truly. I’m not exaggerating. If a person is able to verbalized where we went wrong, we have the opportunity to do two things immediately. 

  1. Make it right, either by remaking what was ordered, getting something new, or taking it off their bill. If we screw up, we want to fix it. Badly. Any good restaurant recognizes that you’re trusting us with your evening, your celebration, your night out - and if you get anything less than what you expected we have a deep, yearning desire to rectify it.

  2. Fix it for everyone else. If you can tell us that something’s not right (seasoning, service, etc) we have the opportunity to make sure that no other guest in the building has the same mishap as you did. It’s the restaurant equivalent to telling someone that their fly is down - it saves them embarrassment, even if it’s awkward in the moment.

The person who is able and willing to speak to a manager, a server, anyone who will listen, is NOT “that person”. They are incredible, they are brave, and they are imperative to a business functioning at it’s highest level. 

Well then.......Who is “That person”? 

They are the person who says “it was great”, even if it wasn’t. 

They might go home, disappointed and frustrated. Some decide write a less than favourable review.

Or they tell their friends about what happened. Fun fact, people will tell 5 of their friends about a great experience, and they’ll tell 20 about a bad one.

They don’t respond to your request to learn more about the experience, and “that person” doesn’t give you the opportunity to make it right. 

I’ve stayed up awake in bed, drenched in anxiety after seeing a 3 star review come in. I respond with a sincere message, apologetic for anything that went wrong, and eager to learn more and earn back trust. I leave my contact information, and then wait for a reply. 9/10 times the reviewer never writes back. There’s no second chance, there’s no opportunity to correct, and no ability to learn from our mistakes. It’s the absolute worst feeling, that cannot adequately be described in words without swearing. 

The next time your experience anywhere hits a snag, be brave, speak up, and judge the character of the business not on the mistake they make - but on how they make it right :)