“You are serving a customer, not a life sentence. Learn how to enjoy your work.”
– Laurie McIntosh
The food was great but something was lacking in the Seattle dining experience.
Sometimes you just got to get away. Whether to refresh your brain, change the scenery or escape some sort of stress you’re dealing with…or all three. I’m a huge fan of travel and since Seattle is my most inexpensive, exotic (yeah, I said it) location, I thought I’d go for a visit for a few days. With a bag packed, a few hour drive from Surrey, and my customer service hat on (man, I wish that was an actual hat), I made my way to the Emerald City.
Did I do sightseeing? Oh yeah. But what really was on the agenda…eating. Oh so much eating. I had actually crowdsourced suggestions from my much more Seattle-knowledgeable friends and was planning on only going to places that they had picked for me. It was a fun, solo adventure, even if the customer experience had its ups and downs. Here’s a slice of my time there, as a lone diner:
Cheesecake Factory – If I sit at your bar, it’s farely hard to ignore the fact I’m there. I’m literally sitting in front of you. However, my experience at the Cheesecake Factor was one of little to no engagement. When the bartender asked to see my ID (Which was AWESOME!!!), I tried to connect with a little smile and humour, saying, “Absolutely! So glad you asked.” Her deadpan response, “we ask everyone.”
Great! Swell! But don’t say that!
I’m an older guy who is pleased as punch to be asked for his ID to prove his age and you just told me I wasn’t special. Great way to kick this night off.
So what did I get for my time at the factory? A couple of bartenders that only focused on the task at hand and no activity outside that bubble. Never smiled. Actually, they did the opposite of smile. It was like a solemn robotic assembly line. Oh wait, I stand corrected. One of the bartenders did finally crack a grin and tried to engage when it was time for me to tip. Nicely played.
Side note: I was also sitting by the server station where numerous staff hung out, continually passing the pile of plates I had accumulated. I left before a single plate was cleared. True story. Sigh.
Lola – I cosied up to the bar top facing the street and ordered the Lola Breakfast. My server was a man on a mission: blunt, to the point with very little chit chat. As far as engagement, not much. In regards to service, not bad. He seemed to always be there right when I needed him. He was like a server ninja. Though there was little personality, which I would have enjoyed, he got the job done. I can’t really say the experience added to my…experience.
Athenian – I needed a seafood fix so I travelled down to Pike Place Market for this little eatery. The server was great. Even though it was at the end of the night, he was quick with suggestions and even recommended a place to go to after my dinner. When he noticed I was paying attention to the TV for the hockey game, he made a point of connecting with me on that. He was a former player who really, genuinely seemed to light up when I told him I was Canadian. Even when he offered me another drink or anything, it felt more like a conversation than an “upsell.” Yay, a human being.
Oddfellows Cafe – It started slow out of the gate. Once I sat myself after being directed to the bar from the host, I wasn’t spoken to or acknowledged for a good 10 minutes. Servers/bartenders came and went but no hello or eye contact. When I finally was asked if I’d been helped, the server told me she had assumed because I was cruising my smartphone that I didn’t want to be bothered. Actually, because no one was saying hi or serving me, the smartphone was helping me kill time. Thanks though. After that, it was fine. They seemed too busy to make service the priority but did get me what I needed when I needed it, even making a few jokes when I asked for HP. (sidenote: Americans have no idea what this is and calling it “British A1” doesn’t sell it).
I even bought a t-shirt (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Oddfellows in Victoria, BC). When that went down, my server made sure she showed me the large to make sure I was OK with sizing. A small thing but she could have just said, “here ya go, you wanted a large.” Just a little extra value and we call it customer service.
So I came and went to the beautiful city of Seattle. The food and the sights were amazing. Hell, I could probably live there. But, what did I learn from my Seattle dining experience?
3 Things that Could Have Been Done Better
1) You can’t be too busy to provide outstanding customer service. I don’t know if the management is stressing “turn and burn” to their servers but it’s diminishing the human element. If people are coming back to these restaurants, it probably has more to do with the food than the service. Is it understaffing? Can the servers not handle busy nights? I don’t know. Though I know something: a smile, quick question about the customer, a joke… all of these would go a long way to reassure me that the Seattle service industry isn’t being run by our robot overlords..
2) Give me a reason to tip you. Sure the food was good but I’m also tipping on my experience, the service I receive.. How did you make that experience matter? How was I not just another face in the crowd? Neither of these questions were really answered.
3) Situational awareness and do you have it? Besides the job in front of you, do you know what’s going on around you? Are you aware of the customer that just sat down? Or the pile of plates that are sitting there for everyone to see? Even if I’m not your table, make an effort to assist and be a team. Don’t be more interested in engaging with your co-workers than those that are the reason you have a job.
Will I return to Seattle? You bet. Will I hope for better, human customer service. You bet.
What’s been your experience in Seattle? And is there any where I should go for great service?