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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Terrible Mistake

I have a customer who I have known since the 1980s, when he was a teenager and a student at Stuyvesant High School. He was very bright, astute, and street smart. On one occasion, I was telling him about my dealings with a customer who was particularly upset. In his characteristic, lighthearted style, his prescriptive was simple and direct: "Brian, just tell them 'I'm sorry, there's been a terrible mistake.' " Funny and simplistic, yet his palliative contained customer service core principles - apologize, take responsibility and don't make the customer wrong.

On April 27, 2009, I wrote a story called Pick Two, which highlighted the project triangle - good, fast and cheap, and how you can only get two out three. My search for a restaurant where you could find the impossible three out of three led me to L'Annam.

Since that time, I have been frequenting another Vietnamese restaurant, just down the block on University Place - Saigon Grill. This place is rather remarkable. Its elegant decor bespeaks of a place which should be much more expensive. It is always clean, and the speed of food delivery is the fastest I have ever seen, other than a fast-food takeout restaurant. The place is enormous, yet always busy. The food quality is very good.
This place appeared to be another candidate for the rarified club of businesses who deliver three out of three. A little investigation, however, reveals one way in which owners can do the seemingly impossible.

Saigon Grill has been embroiled in one of the biggest controversies I have ever seen in the New York City restaurant business. A battle between deliverymen and owners Simon and Michelle Nget raged for over two years with allegations by employees. During that period, there was picketing outside, blogs and articles calling for boycotts, and media spotlights.
From the New York Times:

The owners of the two Saigon Grill restaurants in Manhattan were arrested Wednesday on more than 400 criminal charges, including violating minimum-wage laws, falsifying business records and defrauding the state’s unemployment insurance system.

Several deliverymen asserted that they usually worked more than 65 hours a week but were often paid only $520 a month, or less than $2 an hour, far less than the federal and state minimum wage.

The deliverymen asserted — and a federal judge agreed in his October ruling — that the restaurants had illegally deducted from $20 to $200 of the workers’ pay when they committed infractions like letting the restaurant door slam on their way out.

In the final decree, a Federal judge awarded the deliverymen $4.6 million in back pay and damages. In the case of egregious criminal activity, my friend's advice is no avail. Apparently, no Federal Judge or jury is going to believe "I'm sorry, there's been a terrible mistake."


Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

Brian, the restaurant looks and sounds wonderful, but have they changed their ways with their employees? I would love to eat there, but couldn't support a place that treats its workers that way.

Kenon Thompson said...

The restaurant does look and sound amazing. Do you know what happened to the owners afterwords? Like I would expect them to have been forced to resign their positions for such cruel acts.

Anonymous said...

i can't believe they were that stingy! we used to eat there often on Sundays.