Sliced Tomatoes

While vacationing, my wife and I had the occasion to dine at several restaurants that we have enjoyed over the years. Something happened at two of them that was somewhat of a surprise. Here’s what occurred. At the first restaurant we had been told by a nearby merchant that a particular dish was extremely good. Naturally we wanted to partake, only to be told by the waiter that this item was only available on the bar menu. I told him that we were willing to pay an upcharge if necessary in order to enjoy this seemingly delectable delight. No dice was his reply. He went on to spin a tale about how the kitchen was too small to serve both the bar and the dining room. The explanation was not remotely plausible.

We had enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at the second restaurant and were attended to by a very outgoing server. The entrée I selected had a side dish that I didn’t prefer and I asked if some sliced tomatoes could be substituted. This was done without issue and the service was impeccable. Roll the tape forward a week with a different server but the same entrée. Again, I asked for sliced tomatoes and was very abruptly informed that the chef was not going to accommodate my request. This server (a bit on the snippy side to begin with) said that there had been quite a conversation with the chef about such a substitution and he wasn’t going to slice any tomatoes.

In both situations, the desires of the customer were secondary to the desires of the restaurants. In both cases, I wrote social media reviews pointing out that the operational efficiencies of the eateries were apparently more important than offering a memorable customer experience. And as I thought about it more I realized how often this approach is taken by many businesses. But why?

We’re in the day and age of creating customer experiences. No longer is it just about selling a product or service. I’ve advocated for years that we should avoid “selling to” customers (product-centric) and help customers “buy from” (customer-centric). Helping people buy something provides us with an opportunity to create a more tailored and pleasant experience – something they might mention in a positive manner when speaking with friends and family . . . or posting on social media. Both restaurants failed the test. The food was so-so at the first establishment but truly amazing at the second. Yet, the wonderful cuisine was overshadowed by the negative experience of a chef who apparently was throwing a hissy fit for unknown reasons. I would have certainly understood if the tomatoes were of poor quality and that had been explained to me. And while the chef may have had a limited supply of tomatoes to be reserved for other dishes that included tomatoes, there is a fabulous modern day invention called a “grocery store.”

I eat breakfast regularly at a restaurant where the proprietor often makes a run to the nearby grocery store when she runs low on a particular food item. The last thing she wants to tell a customer is that she is out of something and can’t accommodate a request. The upshot of all of this is to pause for a moment and look at our own operations. Are there things we can do to make sure we are creating a positive customer experience? Do we have systems and processes that are designed to make our operations more efficient and profitable, but could potentially stand in the way of putting a smile on the customer’s face? Are we a slave to rigidity and adherence to a very precise “recipe?” Perhaps we should consider applying the “reasonableness test.” In other words, is the request of a customer reasonable or not? If it is, we should accommodate it to create the desired experience. If I had asked for Baked Alaska, that probably wouldn’t have passed the “reasonableness test.” But sliced tomatoes?

Entrepreneurs can differentiate themselves by working to create a memorable customer experience. This can be accomplished by developing a reasonableness test when it comes to customer requests.

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.