May 23, 2011

Bok choy and the whole shabang…three lessons in customer service.

So...is this "A Lot" of bok choy?

Recently, when faced with a choice between Chicken with Mixed Vegetables and Chicken with Your Favorite Vegetables on the menu of a Chinese restaurant, my dad planned to go with his Favorite to ensure the presence of “a lot” of bok choy.  But just in case the Mixed version was already loaded with bok choy (why pay the extra five bucks unnecessarily?), he asked the waiter what the difference was between the two dishes. 

I then spent the next few minutes giggling behind my menu as my dad and the waiter enjoyed a fantastically nonsensical “Who’s on First” dialogue about Mixed vs. Favorite, and just how much bok choy is “a lot.”  Apparently, there is NO difference between the dishes, as long as you order the Mixed version and just specify your vegetables.  How intriguing.  I’ll take the less expensive dish, please.

The very next week, my brother and sister-in-law went to a restaurant called Vero with a group of friends, where they ordered The Whole Shabang.  They had told me about this concept earlier, and as a marketer, I thought it was brilliant.  The restaurant serves “little plates” of Italian food, and when you order The Whole Shabang, you get one of every single item on the menu – meats, cheeses, olives, bruschette, pasta, fish, chicken…the works.  Priced at $500, it’s a neat idea, and a fabulous marketing hook.

They promote it right on the dinner menu in its own special promotional box, so that when you go with just a few people, you see it and think… “Cool!  I’m going to come back with a bunch of friends and do this.” …which is exactly what my bro and sis-in-law did.

Imagine my disappointment when I got the post-Shabang recap and it missed the mark.  There was resistance to giving the preferred time when making the reservation, not enough servers to accommodate the size of the group (12), drink delivery was exceptionally slow, they missed serving the entire cheese course (what’s this?…The Partial Shabang?), and a host of other small issues.  They thought the food itself was delicious, but when you commit to ordering every single item on the menu, you sort of expect to be treated better, not worse, than the “regular” patrons. 

These two back-to-back restaurant issues brought three major customer service lessons to light:

1 – Marketing ploys not embraced by the staff cause confusion and disappointment among your guests.  Your staff members are the ones delivering on your promises every day on the front lines.  If they don’t get it, don’t like it, or don’t want to do it…you could have the coolest-sounding marketing tactic in the world and it won’t work.  Training on these points is essential to success.

2 – Anything that is operationally challenging to deliver puts your guest satisfaction at risk.  What was intended to inspire positive word of mouth is likely to have exactly the opposite effect.  Why take the risk?  Either don’t do it, or wait to promote it until you’ve got the kinks worked out.

3 – Consumers are very literal.  You write something down in black-and-white, and they expect exactly that.  YOU might know what you mean, but if you’re expecting any forgiveness when they discover it’s a loose interpretation…give up that dream.  Be very thoughtful in how you position things…on your menus, your websites, your brochures, and more.  Over-promising can come back to haunt you.

I’ll let the bok choy incident go…that “Who’s On First” dialogue is actually part of what makes a visit to a Chinese-American restaurant so affectionately memorable.  But I’m not willing to throw in the towel yet on The Whole Shabang.  Come on – ordering one of every item on the menu?  That’s as fun as the Instant Gourmet Kitchen that Redpoint created to market the Masters Collection from the Culinary Institute of America a few years ago (80 items, 5,000 bucks, 3 clicks on the website to purchase). 

Stay tuned.  I may just visit Vero (with 9 of my closest friends) and test out The Whole Shabang myself, maybe give them a few pointers along the way.

Or, I could just send in My Coffee Guys to host a training session.  Lal and Abdul never let me down.  Now THAT’S customer service.

One thought on “Bok choy and the whole shabang…three lessons in customer service.

  1. Love the post, in particular the reminder that all staff members must be on board to make a promotion work. Or even more critical, making sure they are all aware of any promotion. As we prepare for our busy summer season we need to ensure that this happens.