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Our Own Worst Enemy

An often-quoted business maxim is “The Customer is Always Right.” Hersh Ipaktchian disagrees. His motto is more like, “The Customer May Think He is Right-Even When He’s Wrong.”

All businesses will receive input from customers, and much of it is right on target. Business owners are frequently too close to a situation or too wedded to tradition to see the operation through a customer’s eyes. The owner or manager who fails to heed customer suggestions is bound to fail.

At the same time, however, the customer is not always correct. He or she probably knows little about the operational system and may know nothing about the economics of running a restaurant.

In handling complaints from customers, Hersh believes that the restaurant industry is sometimes its own worst enemy.

“Restaurants commonly handle complaints by voiding the guest check,” he notes. “That only leads unscrupulous people to make unfounded claims at other restaurants, an easy way of getting a free meal. Simply because a customer believes a server wasn’t attentive doesn’t mean the manager should ‘comp’ an entire $50 guest check, and a customer shouldn’t instantly get a free meal simply because he says he feels sick and fears food poisoning.”

In some instances, the complaints are simple cases of fraud. For instance, one manager saw a customer reach in her purse, pull out a carefully wrapped dead insect and place it in her salad, then call the server over to report “something disgusting” was contained in her garden salad. The manager correctly called the police to re????port the scam.

Other complaints can come from unrealistic–and downright silly-customer expectations. Among examples:

– A customer called Hersh and reported enjoying a great meal on the prior evening. His wife thought her pizza was delicious and he thoroughly enjoyed his pastrami sandwich. However, since he had shared some of her pizza, he ate only half of his “delicious” pastrami sandwich and took the other half home. The next day, he put it in the microwave and the reheated sandwich didn’t “taste as good as it did the day before at the restaurant.” The man requested compensation for half of a sandwich.

– A customer reported getting sick from eating an enchilada. Hersh reviewed the records of that day and found more than 100 enchiladas were served-and no other customer got “food poisoning.”

– A customer devoured an entire meal (including dessert) and then wanted the total guest check cancelled because one of the side salads contained a piece of wilted lettuce.

– A customer ordered “pecan-crusted halibut,” then complained that she was allergic to nuts.

– A customer got in a “food fight” with a companion and was squirted with catsup. She asked if the restaurant manager would pay for the garment’s dry cleaning.

– A customer noticed orange “cones” placed around a damp spot on the floor, but carelessly walked through it anyway. She attempted to file a slip-and-fall claim against the restaurant.

– A party of 18 ate lunch, then asked for individual checks. They wrote a letter complaining they were late returning to work due to the delay of receiving their separate checks.

“Every customer deserves a reply to a complaint or comment,” acknowledges Hersh. “But an owner should not reward every complaint. In many cases the letter or telephone call should be an explanation, not necessarily an apology, for the incident. In the case of the individual checks, the people need to realize how much time and difficulty is involved in cashing out 18 individuals each asking for separate checks and with some paying cash with others paying through a credit card. Offering an explanation is not the same as being uncaring.”

Hersh blames insurance companies for frequently “caving in” to litigants who unfairly sue businesses. The result is that insurance premiums increase and it becomes more profitable to file frivolous or questionable claims.

Similarly, Hersh believes restaurants do similar damage to themselves by trying to quiet a complaint by throwing money, free food or gift certificates at the person complaining.

“Managers must have the ability to solve a problem on site, but in many cases the best strategy is to get the customer’s name and contact information and tell them the management will investigate the incident and report back to them. Some problems are not black-and-white; an owner needs time to get all the facts before making a judgment.”

In the best of cases, customers are the unpaid eyes and ears of the owner. One night a customer asked a server a question; the server didn’t know the answer and, within the customer’s hearing, asked a manager to visit the customer. Sitting on a bar stool and intently watching a television set, the manager blurted out, “Don’t bother me the Chicago Cubs have two men on base!” The guest reported the conversation to Hersh. As you can guess, the customer received an apology and a gift certificate for use on his next visit and the manager received an “order” to the unemployment line.

A woman sent an email to one of Hersh’s lggy’s Sports Grills complaining of slow service, receiving the wrong order and, due to the time problem, missing the evening movie for which she and her husband had tickets. She asked for compensation. Hersh might have been agreeable, but the lady made the mistake of sending almost identical emails complaining of the same mix-up at two other lggy’s. She apparently didn’t think the same man would receive all of the obviously fraudulent emails. Seeing it was a scam, Hersh bluntly emailed the lady back: “SHAME ON YOU!”

Restaurants are an “easy mark” for scammers, Hersh says. “Our industry must critically look at all complaints, not just automatically send out certificates for free meals and reward thieves.”

The foregoing insights were taken from Hersh’s biography titled Appetite for Success. The same message is a core value of the Iggy’s Sports Grill located at: Orem: 1087 South 750 East – Orem, UT 84097 ?›ƒ?ªƒ?? (801) 434-7800.

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