Posted by: Rae | October 16, 2007

Customers

If you’re in the restaurant business, you’re in the hospitality business, and you’d better appreciate and enjoy people. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s quite a challenge.

Yesterday Taylor had a couple of ladies who came in a short time before closing. They chose to sit outside. After a few minutes of looking over the menu, one of the ladies complained to Taylor about the prices, and the way we price omelets in particular — $5.95 to start, and then a small charge for each ingredient you add. (Not as expensive as it sounds — you get a bowl of fresh fruit and toast with the omelet.)

She went on for some time about how summer people can afford prices like this, but ordinary working people can’t. Eventually she ordered. And then asked Taylor whether we accept personal checks. We don’t, a fact that’s posted, inside and on the door. A few minutes later the chef came out of the kitchen and said “What’s this order for American fries?” Poor Taylor had just written down what the customer said, afraid or too rattled to tell her our potatoes are oven-roasted redskins.

I went outside to talk to the customer and to explain our potatoes. She asked whether we had started to make her food and when we told her we had not, she decided to leave. Probably a good decision for her, and something I don’t take personally. We can’t be all things to all people. But then I decided to be helpful. “There are several restaurants in the area that have a more traditional American breakfast (trying to be diplomatic).” I named them and she said between clenched teeth, “All closed. This is ridiculous. What Charlevoix needs is a good family restaurant.” I can’t tell you what I was thinking, but what I did was wish her good luck in her search.

The first week we opened we had a couple come in and stomp out because we didn’t have “regular toast.” You never know what people mean by comments like that, so I asked for more information. “What kind of toast would you like?” After a few “you know, regular toast” comments, they told me they wanted store-bought white bread. Cheap stuff, in the plastic bag. Our fresh-baked French baguette, 7-grain, raisin-walnut, and cranberry focaccia weren’t good enough for them. I try to remain polite and understanding when dealing with people like this, but it is very frustrating. There is a Flap Jack down the street. Why come into my place?

We have fabulous French toast. We start with French baguette, and pour a custard over it. We bake it in a ramekin and top it with a pecan praline. We have many customers who come in to get this dish every week, saying they want to try some of our other menu items, but can’t seem to pass up an opportunity to have the French toast. Many people (including a few old guys, hunters, construction workers) have ordered the French toast expecting the usual kind. They frown when we set our dish in front of them. They take the first tentative bite and the ooohing and ahhhing begins.

In all of this time, we’ve had only one customer not like our French toast. She was furious that our French toast wasn’t made “Texas toast” style. “Just throw some on the griddle; how hard can it be?” She complained vociferously for the entire time she was in the restaurant. Again, why come to my restaurant? You want volume, try one of those all-you-can-eat buffets. OK, it’s an illness, this gorging on food. Still, why do it in front of friends in a restaurant? And why make such a loud issue of it?

Again, we try to remain curteous, but I suspect I’ll snap one of these days.

But some of our customers are wonderful. Mr. & Mrs. R. have a condo in the area (he’s a downstate lawyer). They come in now & again, and are always complimentary — they love that we make food from scratch, use fresh high-quality ingredients, etc. Mr. R. is one of those people who has to offer suggestions, an idea guy with enthusiasm to spare.

I love this type of customer. “What you need is fresh-squeezed orange juice. Put the juicer on the patio.” “What you need is to serve coffee drinks and desserts in the evenings.” “What you really need to do is serve fabulous pasties.” Things like that. You can tell they want you to succeed, unlike some other folks who walk in the door hoping to be disappointed and leave hoping you fail.

The Rs are my first “house account.” We set it up so their kids could come in and eat anytime they want, and I would bill the parents monthly. They also talked me into preparing pizzas for them to pick up at 3 when we close, so they could bake them at home for dinner. This week Mr. R. convinced his resort condo association, which is associated with one of the larger dinner restaurants in the area, to name the Alcove as their preferred catering vendor. Then he brought me the name of the general manager of the condos and said I needed to introduce myself to him. And finally, they came in again to eat (on their way out of town), with a colorful local guy in tow. “You need to meet this guy and he needs to find out how great your food is.” How cool is that? People like this make up for the rest.

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