Several years ago, Merriem and I took advantage of a free day off and decided to go exploring at a new-to-us restaurant in town. What that exploration led to has become the stuff of legend in our home. The story involves a prominent rodent, a disengaged employee, and a dissatisfied couple who promised never to speak of that restaurant again, except when repeating the following story.
(I should pause here and tell you that I do not name the offending parties that are the subject of bad guest services stories here on the blog. It’s more important to me that we maintain good relationships with community businesses (and avoid libel suits), so I’ll only name places that deliver knockout service. But for $5, I’ll meet you downtown and whisper the name of the joint in your ear.)
Editor’s Note: No, I can’t tell if he’s serious, either.
So picture it: we placed our order. While I was in the restroom, a guy sitting the next space over asks my wife, “Hey…want to see something really gross?” Normally that’s not a good thing to hear, but my wife – having the morbid fascination she does – looks to where he’s pointing. There, by the entrance to the restaurant, is a ginormous mouse with his hind legs stuck to a glue trap. Yes, he’s alive. Yes, he’s angry.
Yes, she lost her appetite.
That’s not the bad part of the story, because let’s be honest here: I’m sure that lots of restaurants have vermin. I’m positive that if we knew what went on in restaurant kitchens we’d never eat out in a billion jillion years. No, the bad part of the story is what happened next. The man who tipped us off walked up to the counter and very politely informed a restaurant employee of the problem. She (loudly) said, “Eww! That’s gross. We’ll take care of it.”
Then it was a good five minutes before an employee walked out of the back, and instead of inconspicuously just bagging Mickey up and taking him out back, he scooted the nearest trash can over and just set it on top of the mouse. He didn’t flip the trash can, mind you, thereby creating a cavernous mouse house. No, he put the flat bottom of the can on top of an already-angry mouse, which just made the mouse angrier. (Regardless of your feelings about mice in restaurants, I’m sure you can sympathize that it hadn’t been a good day for him.)
Oh, wow. So many issues arise here, but the biggest is that the employee didn’t fix the problem. He covered up the problem. Rather than making the experience right, he exacerbated the wrong. Rather than restore our confidence in their commitment to cleanliness, they reinforced our concern that they didn’t care. Rather than acknowledging and correcting the obvious issue, they took the easy way out and made a bad problem worse.
I can forgive the presence of a mouse in a restaurant. (I’ve eaten in enough third-world countries to do so.) What I can’t overlook is the fact that they overlooked an easy fix.
In your guest services experience, are you covering the mouse? What are the blatantly obvious issues that you’re trying to sweep under the rug? A bad parking plan? An unfriendly, poorly-placed greeter? A confusing childcare check in system?
Don’t cover the mouse. Get that sucker outta there for good. Your guests deserve better. And like me and my wife, they probably won’t be back.
Want to discover more?
This summer, we’ll be kicking over a few cans and getting rid of some mice during our One-Day Workshops on Guest Services and Volunteer Culture. If you want to expose the rodents in your system, this is the training for you. Get more information or RSVP today!
An earlier version of this post appeared in 2009.