How to be Remarkable

Are you inviting customers to let you be remarkable?

The ever-wise marketing guru Seth Godin defines “remarkable” simply as: worthy of a remark. With your customers and clients experiencing so much “noise” and so many distractions in the world today – including that from your own competition – are you doing anything that’s worthy of a remark?

Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of staying as a guest of the Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel while also attending a 2-day conference inside Eden Roc’s beautiful Miami, Fl. property. Within the first five minutes of arriving, I noticed that each employee was wearing a [Read more…]

We Didn’t Feel Welcome

Might You Be Running an “Elitist Club?”

My wife, Maggie, and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary. We had a memorable and fun weekend stay at the Antietam Overlook Farm (photo on left). This amazing, 95-acre mountaintop bed and breakfast in Keedysville, MD, happens to be owned by a longtime friend, who – along with his staff – made us feel quite welcome; completely taken care of.

We spent two nights there, enjoying delicious, creative breakfasts and taking in the charm of nearby 250-year-old Shepherdstown, along with history-drenched Harpers Ferry and Antietam. We enjoyed the inn’s outdoor hot tub (more than once), biked along the C&O canal and visited many quaint little shops and restaurants, all while enjoying perfect weekend weather.

One highlight quickly became the “low-light”

On our second night, the innkeeper recommended that we visit a Shepherdstown restaurant touted as the “nicest” among the area’s numerous dining options. She graciously offered to make the reservation on our behalf. This would be our official “Anniversary Dinner” and this particular restaurant was supposedly the “it” place. Upon our arrival we were told by the host, “We’re just waiting for a few tables to settle their bill so we can free up a table and seat you. In the meantime, you can visit our bar.”

(By the way, never once have I witnessed a host/ess offering menus to review while you wait – doing so would obviously give waiting guests something to do, while preparing them for their server – “Can I get you folks started with something to drink?” “Yes, and we’re also ready to order our food.” – The server makes fewer trips, the guests (and server) have a more efficient experience and the restaurant gets its table back that much quicker, to then serve even more waiting guests! Not rocket science … but I digress.)

We headed over to the not-so-busy bar, where we stood ignored for four long minutes while two bartenders, a waitress and hostess all walked by. No one ever acknowledged our presence. We felt invisible. Finally, we were seated at a small table up front in the main dining room – a nice window seat – where we sat for another three long minutes before someone came by with menus. After about another five minutes our waitress finally arrived and asked what we’d like to drink. (Of course, we should have received water almost immediately and did not.) Maggie chose the New York Strip and I went with the Chilean Sea Bass (to be fair, my entire dish was delicious). About six minutes after ordering, our glass of wine finally arrived along with our waters. Time check: 18 minutes after arrival and we’re just receiving beverages.

But this isn’t about slow service

While the service was indeed slow AND Maggie’s steak had to be sent back (twice) for being undercooked AND our waitress barely spoke to us the few times she stopped by AND the owner carried as much of an elitist attitude as everyone else on staff (displaying a negative disposition and never admitting that the steak was undercooked (even as blood pooled on the plate)) AND no one bothered to wish us a “Happy Anniversary” AND Maggie’s underdone/underwhelming steak was accompanied by two spoonfuls of boring mashed potatoes and the most sour greens we’ve ever tasted AND we only received blank stares and eventual shunning from our waitress after communicating these frustrations (she simply stopped visiting us and kept her back to us as she addressed nearby guests) … most of those things could have actually been forgiven – particularly on a night this special when we were feeling good and focused on celebrating; not looking for negativity. But this was about more than a mediocre meal or even slow service. This was about the entire experience – how our concerns were being handled, managed, and communicated. Our overall experience had a common thread running through it:

What we noticed – above all else – was that we didn’t feel welcome.

When any of us go out to eat, don’t we just want to feel taken care of? Isn’t that one of the built-in benefits of traveling to, and paying a restaurant; tipping its staff? Sadly, the staff at this restaurant was clearly not on our side. Instead we felt like they were on an opposing (elitist) team – they were “over there” and we were “over here” and we didn’t feel welcome. Their attitudes screamed, “It’s your fault. All of it. We’re the ‘it’ place in this town and you two are nothing but annoying customers.”

It’s an intangible thing but you may have noticed that you know (and feel) this “unwelcomeness” in certain situations; certain customer experiences.


I wonder if they learned anything…

As regular 20% tippers, the most we could justify at the end of this terrible experience was $6 on a $62 tab, but not without some coaching for our server. I wrote a note to her that read, “A little communication goes a long way. You can’t go silent and ignore your guests when things go wrong.” I can only hope she (and her bosses) learned something. Do you think they did?

By the way, what I really enjoy sharing most – via the social web – are our positive dining experiences. This was the first – and, I hope, the last time – I’ve given anyone a 1-star review on Yelp.

When is it okay to give ice-cold service?

We received ice-cold service … and we were cool with that

Every time there’s a storm or other emergency, some people seem to jump right in to lend a hand to those in need. They help others out of a sense of duty, or just because it’s the right thing to do – and they do so without thought of benefit for themselves. These stories usually spread by word of mouth, though a few do make it onto the evening news or into the morning paper.

I have one I’d like to share, and I hope many of you will weigh in with your own experiences.

Like many on the East Coast this month, we were without power in our home for five days. Living without electricity meant being without a refrigerator, and that meant daily trips to replenish our cooler’s ice supply – and a lot of eating out.

One day, I decided to take my mother- and father-in-law to Famous Dave’s for lunch. (If you don’t have one in your area, Famous Dave’s is a tasty barbecue chain with locations nationwide.) On our way out of the restaurant, after an enjoyable meal, I was swapping power outage stories with one of the servers, Ed. Just as we were about to exit, Ed said, “By the way, do you need some ice?”

“That would be great. Yes!” I replied. Less than a minute later we were handed a generous bag of ice (on the house) and we were told, “If you need more, just swing by any time and we’ll give you some.”

The next day, my in-laws requested that we go to Panera, the national bakery/restaurant chain, for lunch before heading over to my parents’ nearby home for some much-needed A/C. We had a cooler in our vehicle that needed a fresh supply of ice, so our first stop was Famous Dave’s to see our new friend, Ed. This time, there was an enormous cooler of handmade ice bags next to the hostess stand and it didn’t matter that Ed wasn’t around – it seemed the whole staff had been briefed on what to do. Impressive. While I was pouring the fresh ice into our cooler in the back of our vehicle, my in-laws said, “Let’s just eat here (again).”

A Culture of Community Engagement
Did the staff of Famous Dave’s offer up free ice as a way to get people to eat there? Maybe … but I don’t think so. I think they saw a community in need and did what they could to help. While most of the surrounding homes and businesses were without power for several days, this restaurant’s power was restored within only a few short hours. They felt fortunate and saw an opportunity to be of support to those whom were less fortunate. As you might imagine, many of the places that regularly sell ice (supermarkets, gas stations, etc.) had trouble keeping any in stock. At Famous Dave’s it was in stock … and free!

Given the large number of choices of nearby restaurants, Famous Dave’s is now more top-of-mind than ever before. We’ll be sure to visit again soon and we’ll be asking to be seated in Ed’s section.

When have you seen other businesses, including your own, anticipate the needs of the community? I’d love to hear from you …

“I’m on your side”

An Impeccable Service Strategy from a Famous Restaurateur

The other day I was waiting for some to-go food from a local dine-in/carryout restaurant. I was standing near the counter when a fellow patron – having just finished his meal – approached the counter and asked, “Do you guys have to-go cups?” The owner’s response was a quick, unfriendly and very matter-of-fact, “No.” Of course there are a dozen other (kinder) ways that owner could have responded to the request (or better yet found some container with which to improvise) … but no such luck.

Too often our frontline product and service providers are quick to say no. Sometimes, we’re even left with the feeling that they get some kind of satisfaction out of taking on this sort of can’t-do attitude. Below is one famous restaurateur’s answer to this all-too-common failure to serve.

Setting the Table

While 80 percent of New York City’s restaurants fail within the first five years*, there’s one restaurateur who’s “batting a thousand.” His name is Danny Meyer and his successes include Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and three cafes inside the Museum of Modern Art. The thoughts Meyer shares about hospitality/service in his book Setting the Table are innovative and refreshing. Here is one of my favorites:

“I’m on your side”: A little empathy goes a looooong way
“Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel … It is a process of making people believe ‘I’m on your side.’ ” –Danny Meyer

While reviewing customer feedback, Meyer realized his diners’ #1 complaint was not being able to secure the reservation time they wanted.

Think back on your own experiences of making restaurant reservations – especially in the pre-Internet days, when the only way to do it was by telephone. There usually isn’t a problem solver on the other end of the line, is there? Instead, you’re often on the receiving end of a cocky, can’t-do response (or a least an unhelpful tone) when the reservation book is full.

Before becoming an owner, Mr. Meyer worked in a busy, high-end restaurant. He took an “I’m on your side” approach to inbound calls for reservations. It went something like this:

“I understand how you feel and I wish I could just move you to the top of our list. 8:45 p.m. is the earliest slot available, but if you can provide a ‘window’ that might work for you, I’ll be rooting for a cancellation so that we can move you to a more suitable time slot.” Simple … yet impressive.

This is the very first time I’ve heard that question

I believe one of the main reasons front-line staff react the way they do is because they get so many of the same (seemingly stupid) questions over and over again. If you can get your team to return to their “beginner’s mind” and act as if every time is their first time fielding a client concern, I believe they’ll naturally express more empathy. It’s so important to remind ourselves that while we may be saying something for the hundredth time … it’s the customer’s very first time hearing it. We should always be sensitive to that.

By the way, this works from the other side of the counter, too.

A few days ago, I was trying to book award travel with United Airlines. My representative was not particularly kind or helpful in the beginning. But once I took an “I’m on your side” stance – expressing empathy for her and the antiquated process she must undergo in order to book travel with partner airlines – her tone almost instantly took a 180-degree turn for the better and she began offering ideas and solutions.

Buy the Book

I first read – or, more accurately, listened to – Danny Meyer’s book, Setting the Table, about five years ago. Clicking the link will take you to the page for the audio version, which is read by the author. At about $15, I think it’s an incredible value.