Let me start by saying that I don’t mean to single you out specifically. I mean, I could probably throw in your brethren over at Chili’s, El Torito and BJ’s, and many others too, but last night I visited your fine establishment, so I am writing to you today. Don’t misunderstand me either, there are many positive aspects of eating at your restaurant, specifically with my kids. Overall, I don’t love going to restaurants with my kids, you’ve got to believe me. The thought of dragging two kids who are pooped from a day’s worth of non-stop kidlet action into your eatery is not my idea of fun, but neither is cooking and this has become a game of survival. I’m tired, and when I walk in, it’s because I just want someone else to cook and do the darn dishes. And provide coloring. Oh how I appreciate your crayon packs, activity books and kids’ menus with drinks included. I know that there are many of us who do and this is what keeps up coming back. Whether or not you like us. You need us and frankly, we need you too.
But here’s where my love begins to fade. I beg you: PLEASE stop training your employees to follow a strict script and upsell every customer who walks in and sits down at the expense of good, efficient customer service. Allow me to illustrate.
My younger son just had a meltdown. Even though we agreed to eat at Lucille’s, he has since changed his mind. Whatever. I can handle his nonsense. I tell you this only to illustrate what my life looked like for a solid 15 minutes, while standing in front of your restaurant. May I offer a suggestion? Assume that everyone who walks in with young children has had a similar experience as they walk in. It’s not bad, it’s just our reality and at that point, your mission should be clear: Get this family fed as quickly as possible and out the door unless their actions indicate otherwise. Trust me, we’ll buy drinks and/or dessert if we can and tip your servers well if they become our ally. And, I should mention, we will be back and tell our friends.
After waiting several minutes, our server walks up. Before he can say hello, the same son who just came down from his hysterics, starts whining to me that he is so hungry and thirsty. I assure him that we are going to get food and drink shortly. I am then able to say hello back.
“Can I get started taking your drink order?”
“Actually, we are all set to order everything, thanks,” I reply.
“Well, can I interest you in an appetizer? How about some Onion Straws or Spinach Dip? Maybe you’d like a cocktail from the bar?”
I don’t know if this is covered in training, but your agenda as a server to stick to script cannot successfully override a crying preschooler. Ever. When your customer says she is ready to order, listen to her. Especially if she has kids. She will pay you extra if you listen to her- no one has all day and if you are the first, you will be rewarded handsomely in your gratuity.
Once, I remember being at Island’s and we had a server who totally got IT. When she came up and saw me with two little kids, she jumped right in.
“Mom,” she said, “have these guys decided what they want to eat? Let’s get their order in as soon as we can because I bet they are hungry!” She was fully aware of our family’s needs for our visit. She brought out crackers with the drinks, just in case. She gave us extra napkins immediately, without us asking. She was either a mom or a psychic or superhero or some freakish combination of them all.
But the best thing, I mean the best thing EVER, was what she did when she came to check on us after we had our food. She brought me the check. She explained that even though everything seemed to be going well at our table, she knew it could change at any moment. If we wanted dessert or coffee, by all means, she’d check back in a bit, but just in case, the check was there. That, my friends, is how you upsell and guarantee a good tip. The coffee was hot and the ice cream pie was delicious, by the way.
By contrast, last night, my total visit lasted well over an hour, with most of our time spent waiting for our server to come back to us. There was no indication that our server understood was interested or aware of who sat at our table. When I asked for the check, the second time, he ignored me and asked if we were ready for some Cobbler or maybe some Red Velvet Cake. One kid was dancing and doing ninja moves and the other was sitting in my lap, ready to fall asleep. As calmly as I could, I just said, “No. Please just bring me the check.”
Understand, I’m not entirely faulting the server for this. I’ve had this experience happen at many different restaurants (see list above), several times, with and without my children. It is clear that servers are trained to suggest additional items to increase the total bill. I get it, and I know it is part of the sales process and that is fine. But if I may, allow me offer you this suggestion from those of us who eat in restaurants WAY TOO OFTEN- when you train your employees to stick to script and focus strictly on the upsell, we can tell and probably won’t be ordering extra, sometimes just out of spite. I submit that an alternative is to train servers to assess their guests and determine the level of customer service needed and gauge opportunity to upsell. This is a genuine interaction, much quicker and will probably increase the amount many of us spend.
For the record- we did get dessert and coffee. AFTER we left.