Second Helpings

The Write Stuff: The name of the restaurant and the name of the unhappy customer don't matter. What does matter is how the aggrieved party expressed his annoyance. And how the restaurant responded. Here is an edited version of the correspondence:

Dear [Owner],
I have enjoyed your establishment for years, and have introduced many of my friends to your restaurant.

Last Friday, two friends met me there at 4:30 p.m. At 5:30, two more friends joined our table. Shortly before 6 p.m., our waiter told us that we would have to vacate our outdoor table if we didn't purchase entrees. By this time, we had already spent more than $100 in appetizers and beverages. We went inside and signed up for another table.

To our surprise, the hostess returned us to a table a few feet from the one we had been forced to vacate. By the way, the table we had left was still vacant.

One of our group informed the waiter that he would be having an entree. The others indicated they would be having more appetizers and wine. The waiter told them that would not be sufficient. Taken aback that we were, in effect, being extorted into spending yet more money (apparently not being credited for the previous purchases and healthy tip), we asked to see the manager.

When the manager arrived, everyone expected that he would fix this so-called "problem," and apologize for the shoddy treatment. That did not occur. Instead, he spoke of the "rules" of the house, as if restaurant policies are written in stone (or even for customers to view). We left.

This situation should and could have been easily resolved by your employees. Maybe you can put this in perspective by responding to a few questions: What are the "rules" of your establishment? Why should I continue to patronize your establishment? Why should I not relate our experience to others?

The owner passed the letter on to the manager. Here's his response:
Dear [Customer],
I wanted to personally apologize for my errors in judgment and to tell you that I do value your patronage. In my attempt to satisfy the many guests waiting for a table, I failed to remember my number one priority: those already at a table, and especially one who has been such a loyal customer.

I wish I would have handled the situation differently, and ask that you allow me to make it up to you. I have changed our policy: While the tables are to be reserved for dining, no one will ever be asked to leave once they have been seated and no matter what they do or do not order. Please accept the enclosed gift certificate and allow me to win back your loyalty and trust.

It seems to me that, after the original incident, everyone did everything right. The customer's letter was civilized and to the point. The manager admitted his error, apologized and tried to square things with a gift certificate. If only all restaurant problems could be worked out so amicably.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,


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