Second Helpings

Let Them Eat Cake? Here's a story I heard a few weeks ago. Put yourself in both the customers' and restaurant manager's shoes. What would you do?

Employees order a fancy, expensive dessert cake to celebrate a special occasion at their company's headquarters. They order it from a well-known restaurant that already does a lot of food business with the company.

The celebration starts, and the partygoers cut into the cake. To their disgust, they find it dripping with mold. Something has spoiled--maybe the cream, maybe the fruit. The room begins to smell.

Naturally, they take back the cake. The manager of the restaurant agrees that the cake isn't edible. What should she do now?

According to the manager, she offered first to replace the cake with anything in stock. But this didn't satisfy the aggrieved cakeholders. They wanted a new cake and a full refund--48 bucks. When the manager refused, the customers got upset and started throwing around phrases like "calling the media" and "alerting the health department."

The manager then offered to give the customers a new cake, throw in some cookies and return 50 percent of the money. No deal, said the annoyed owners of a $48 pile of mold. They wanted nothing less than a new cake and all of their money.

More dispute. Finally, after a while, the manager surrendered to their demands--cake and money.

(The customers remember the incident somewhat differently. They say the manager initially didn't even offer to replace the cake. Her first offer, as they recall, was half off a replacement cake.)

I asked the manager about her stand. She thought the customers were unreasonable. "If I buy a defective radio at a department store," she told me, "when I return it, I don't expect to get another radio and my money back." She thought her first offer was fair and the second offer more than fair. She gave in not because she was persuaded the customers were right, but to get rid of them.

What's fair here? Were the customers out of line in their demands? Does the manager's argument make sense?

I don't buy the defective-radio analogy. After all, Sears and Dillard's don't make their own radios. The place in question, however, is famous for its sumptuous desserts. Sears and Dillard's also don't promise to deliver radios on a certain day and time. This cake was specially ordered for a specific event, and the customers had a right to expect the restaurant to provide it.

On the other hand, were the customers being a bit piggy, wanting to have their cake and eat it for free, too? If, for instance, there's a problem with a dish at a restaurant, do you automatically expect the manager to replace it and take the cost off the bill as well?

I don't. But it's certainly the smart thing to do. Because for $48, this manager jeopardized an established account and antagonized people who will spend the next six months badmouthing the restaurant to everyone they meet.

Sometimes, it's not a question of dollars, but sense.--Howard Seftel
Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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