Tag Archives: restaurants

The Old Bait and Switch? – Not the Best Idea for Good Customer Service

Pacific_oystersMy wife and I went to a restaurant recently and experienced something that I think is all too common, at least in Toronto. If you are not familiar with the expression from the title, a ‘bait and switch’ is when you hook someone’s interest with something that is very enticing, and then switch it to something of lesser interest or value once the potential customer has already committed. Here is our story of mediocre customer service:

We knew this restaurant in our area and had been there a couple times before. It is a mid-to-high range restaurant that serves great seafood. When we checked online their website was advertising a ‘happy hour’ menu with ‘buck a shuck’ oysters and cheaper draft beer. We were ‘hooked’ and visited the place.

When we sat down we asked about the happy hour menu and the waitress confirmed the oyster special – but not the beer one. I asked about the cheaper draft special and she said that they are ‘not doing that right now’ and that ‘probably next week’ they will start that.

Interesting that a company can advertise online a special but not honor it when guests arrive! Bait and switch tactic! I was not impressed…

We ordered beer anyway and had a dozen oysters, and a couple more items that we were sharing.   Later we ordered another beer each and another round of oysters. My wife and I decided that to finish off we would split an order of fish and chips. The menu clearly states an order of fish and chips is $14, but if you want 2 pieces, it’s $19. We only wanted a single order to share so I told the waitress we’d like an order of fish and chips.

Guess what came to our table? A lovely order with two pieces of fish on it. I soured. I told my wife that I’m sure they will charge us for the upgrade that I did not ask for, and I was not happy. A server must clarify if you want the second piece of fish, even if there are two people sharing food, in my opinion. The server should not be allowed to think for me or guess what is best. I specifically asked for ‘an order’ of fish and chips.

Anyway, time to go. I had had enough of this place for now. It’s too bad really because there was a male server who sometimes helped us and he seemed really good, and I wondered if he would have made the same automatic upgrade of our dish as she did. My guess is no.

When the bill came I asked my wife to check it to see if we were charged the extra $5 and sure enough – we were! But just as I sat there thinking about if and how I would deal with this extra charge, my wife said “but they forgot to charge us for the second round of oysters!” I smiled and knew that the restaurant gods were on my side that day! Normally I am happy to let a server know if they have missed something, but today that was not going to happen.

I paid for the bill, and we left, and on the way home I laughed and smiled so much! My sour mood was replaced with a feeling of justice and equality in the world. The waitress had charged us an extra $5, but missed $12, so we were up $7! It may have been a small victory, but it was a sweet one for me.

The lesson for servers out there is to understand if you are going to increase the price of anything on any order, clarify first that the customer is okay with it.

The lesson I learned actually is something I already knew, which is that I can’t take anything for granted and must be clear to the staff of what I’m ordering, especially in a case where an item has two choices, like a small and a large portion. I shouldn’t have assumed that the server would know ‘an order’ does not mean ‘feel free to upgrade our order without my permission just because there are two of us here and you want to make an extra $5.’

When a Customer Asks for Extras – What Would You Do?

We’ve all asked for some extras at the restaurants, right?  We want malt vinegar instead of white for our fries/chips, we want extra ketchup packets from the fast-food place so we can put them in our fridge, we want 2 helpings of the special dipping sauce at Swiss Chalet.  The question the wait staff, managers and owners of restaurants need to ask themselves is – how much is too much?  That’s tricky when you live in a culture of “the customer is always right”.

I remember I used to visit a Red Lobster in St. Catharines (this is going back a long time ago…mid-nineties!) and they were always giving away free appetizers or discounts off the bill if anything was a few minutes late or if the customer ever said “boo”.  I remember thinking at the time, as I ate my comp shrimp cocktail, that the place must be losing a ton of money.

Anyway back to more recent times, a couple of years ago I took my girlfriend (now my wife) to a new restaurant for Valentine’s Day.  We went to Mambo’s on the Danforth.  Let me tell you – it was awesome!  Great service, great tapas, great mojitos…couldn’t ask for anything more.  I immediately signed up for their newsletter to get coupons emailed to me regularly.  We went a couple more times and even when they changed some items on the menu and did some reno (I can’t remember if they changed management hands or not) we still came back for special occasions, or when we were feeling like we needed to be spoiled.

Anywho, here is my story that relates to the title:  I got an email offer that said if it was your birthday you could come in and get a free main/dinner.  I thought that was good, but who eats by themselves on their birthday at a restaurant like that, right?  So I emailed back to the owner asking, since my girlfriend and I had birthdays within 8 days of each other, could we come in and both get a free main in one night?

I know, I know – I was being a bit pushy right?  But you know what they say – you never know until you ask.  I thought I wasn’t asking for that much, since we were returning customers and he would know that from our names since we had signed up for special nights before via internet.

What happened?  He never emailed me back.  Ever!  I guess he felt it was too much to ask, and instead of responding or negotiating with me, he wrote nothing.  I felt a bit embarrassed and so we never returned to the restaurant again.  Ever.

So the question is now upon you; if you were the customer,  waitstaff,  manager or the restaurant owner, what would you do?   How would you respond to my email/request?  All straight-forward and also creative answers welcome!

How a Waitress Can Earn a 1-Cent Tip

This story is about a harsh lesson learned for one Toronto waitress.

A long time ago, maybe back in the early or mid-nineties, some members of my family were visiting Toronto (they don’t live here) to see a Blue Jays ball game.  They stayed at the Skydome Hotel.  That’s right – this story happened before the name change to the Rogers Centre.  Anyway I was not there at the time, and I don’t recall why.  Perhaps I was at University, or overseas, or busy in some other way.  Nevertheless this is a classic story which is still shocking to me today.

Essentially the story goes that after spending an exciting but expensive weekend in the big city, the family (probably 4 people) went down for breakfast at the Skydome Restaurant.  My uncle joined them for breakfast as he lives in the city.  Anyway, what I heard was that my uncle ordered the breakfast buffet special, and others ordered straight breakfast dishes.  Uncle got up and collected some items from the buffet to put on his plate, and returned to the table.  He maybe returned once more to the buffet table.  So everyone is laughing, enjoying a big breakfast and reminiscing about the good times had in Toronto.  My uncle, who has never been a big eater, had not touched his danish on his plate, and didn’t want to waste it since he was full, and offered it to my brother.  So my brother accepted it and put it on his side plate.

Apparently, from out of nowhere, the waitress dashed over to the table and aggressively commanded that he (my bro) could not have that danish as he did not order the breakfast buffet!  Even as my uncle was attempting to explain to her that he was full and didn’t want to waste it, the waitress picked up the danish (with or without the side-plate I just don’t know) and runs off with it!

My family sat, amazed at the extent the waitress would go to in the enforcement of the buffet rules.  It was a 10 cent danish!  It’s not like my uncle was grabbing things up and feeding the whole table!  It’s not like it was roast beef!  It was a danish!!!

So my brother, who generally has a really good disposition and is a happy guy, was not amused.

When the group had finished eating and requested the bill, the same waitress brought it over to the table, and asked “Who gets this?”

My brother looked at her and said “Me.”

As fate would have it, it was indeed his turn to pay (as the ‘rents had paid for dinner the night before) and he was more than happy to pay the bill.  He added a 1-cent tip to the bill for the waitress.

It’s a sad story to some, a funny story to others, but a good learning lesson I think to all waitstaff:  think carefully before you steal food from a paying customer!  Is the reason in your head really worth it?  Maybe discuss your idea with a manager beforehand if possible.

I’m glad I wasn’t there.

Worse Than a Fly in Your Soup?

The other night I took my wife out for dinner at a restaurant that currently has 3 names (which is quite confusing – I guess they are merging or something) just south of Yonge and St. Clair.  We had a beer and a meal and all in all the service and food were good enough.  Nothing fancy, but the place isn’t pricey either, so it was fine in my books.
Anyway, after we paid and left, my wife starts laughing (outside) and asks me “Did you see that?!”

She continues to laugh hysterically even though I had no idea what she was on about so I asked her to fill me in.  Still smiling, she said the waiter who served us and everyone else in the room had his fly fully open!  She said it had been that way since the moment we walked into the joint!  WOW!  Really?  I couldn’t believe it!  Poor guy.  I wonder how many other people noticed.  I wonder if it positively or negatively affected his tips?
Let this be a warning to all servers – check your clothing before you go on, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, and do a final fly-check okay?

Christina’s on the Danforth

This isn’t recent, but I was sitting here thinking of some of my favourite restaurants to go to because of excellent customer service, and I thought I might start to mention them one at a time, in random order, here on the blog.

For many years I used to live just off the Danforth.  (Man I miss Greek food sometimes…)
Anyway, whenever I wanted to impress a lady on a date, or my Mother when she visited Toronto, I would take her to Christina’s.  What I like about that place is the decor, the food, and the service.  The gentlemen wear formal black and white and talk softly to you.  Even bringing butter is done professionally and with an air of importance, without feeling stuffy or snobby.

I went there many times in my life, and only had one bad experience.  I had taken a girlfriend out for a romantic night of wine and seafood, and the restaurant was not too busy.  We were seated alone.  20 minutes later a small but loud group of ESL students and their teacher came in, and for some strange reason, were seated right beside us!!!  I couldn’t believe the daftness or insensitivity of the hostess.  There were plenty of open tables available in the room.  (It was not the group’s fault, of course.)

Anyway after grumbling and scowling a bit I quietly went up to the bar and made my complaint so that the small party could not hear, and we (my girlfriend and I) were offered a new, more private table.

The lesson for servers and hostesses here is – look before you seat.


Hello Everyone,

Isn’t it interesting when one makes fun of the stereotypes from one’s own culture?

This is Peter Chao, and although he is Chinese, he actually does not have such a strong accent as embellished in his videos.  He lives in Vancouver, BC and in this video he seems to be annoyed at a common scene found in most dim sum or other Chinese restaurants around the world.  Personally, I too get very annoyed by people who eat with their mouth open and talk while eating, so this video rings true for me.  By the way, I lived in China for 2 years teaching English before. I love the culture.
Enjoy the video!

Waiter or Slave?

As I was flipping through the channels this morning, sipping my coffee, I came across the Rachael Ray show. On it were a couple of ladies who authored a book about the experiences of waiters and how to get good service. I watched for a couple of minutes, enough for them to expose their top 4 tips:

1 – Don’t snap your fingers at the server – they are not dogs

2 – Don’t ask any personal question that you wouldn’t ask your doctor, for example where do you live, are you married, etc.

3 – Don’t touch them or grope them

4 – Don’t ask for a complicated menu item switch, for example asking them to substitute a sauce used on chicken to be used on pork, or side dishes, etc.

Who knew that was the way to get excellent service???
So what you are telling me is that if I treat my server with normal human respect, and don’t treat them like a slave or sex object, and don’t ask for an unwritten menu item switch, that I will most likely have a good experience at the restaurant? Hmm….

Listen I know I am being sarcastic in the above response. The sarcasm is not directed at the show nor the two lovely ladies who authored the book. The sarcasm is aimed at the people who actually still need to be told these 4 tips. Wake up! Grow up! Develop some empathy and communication skills please!

All of us have either worked in ‘the industry’ or know someone who has. There are so many stories out there of waiters and waitresses getting revenge on their customers who are rude or have a superiority complex. Wait-staff and cooks have been known to spit in food, switch pate for cat food; eat food from your plate, water-down drinks, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. Why on earth would you invite the chance of this happening to you?

Today’s lesson is simple: treat everyone with respect and common courtesy, regardless of your or their position in society or at work. That in itself will open more doors than you can possibly imagine.

To those of you reading this who did not need this lesson, I thank you for your patience. However I believe you too have seen people who still ‘don’t get it’. Perhaps we need to give them a lesson on appropriate social communication skills?