New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, April 29, 2011

War Against Disservice, Part 1

Sometime in the early 2000s, I experienced one of the most outrageous acts of customer disservice I have ever seen. A old friend, Jim, was visiting New York from San Francisco on business. We had been college roommates and he had lived here for a number of years. Jim loved the city, and like most, looked forward to the restaurants. My girlfriend suggested a trendy place in Chelsea, so we went.

Jim ordered a pasta dish and was served a pasta dish with seafood. Before Jim discovered the error, the waiter had run off. Jim was an experienced world traveler, very easy and accommodating. He would eat just about anything and was not a complainer. The place was very busy and rather than send the dish back, Jim just ate it.

When our check was delivered, Jim politely pointed out the mistake and asked for an adjustment of the bill. The waiter noted that Jim had eaten the entire meal and asked if he had liked it. Jim said yes. The waiter said that it was their policy that he had to pay for what he ate. We suggested we speak to the manager who said that if we had informed them of the mistake when being served, they would have replaced the dish and billed us the proper (lower) amount. But since Jim had eaten it, he stood by their policy and we had to pay the larger amount, a difference of about $3. I was OUTRAGED. But Jim paid and we left quietly.

Most restaurants would have made the adjustment and even offered a free dessert or drink. Some may even have taken the entire item off the bill. Jim was more than happy to pay for what he ordered, only asking for an adjustment. For this small amount, the management would stand on "principle" and risk their reputation. It was so petty and certainly the restaurant would still make a profit on the meal. Or perhaps the issue was that we were seen as scam artists or liars?

I have retold this story a number of times to various people and gotten a number of opinions, some defending the management. A former waitress said that a business has to guard against customer abuses, that it may get out of control. I see - so we go from the customer is always right to the customer is always suspect?

Ask the management at B&H Photo what they think. I once returned a laptop, only to learn that laptop computers are one of the few items that are not returnable. I had, however, been told originally that it was returnable. A salesperson suggested I speak to the department manager. I was reluctant to bother asking, but decided to ask before I left.

I found the manager, who asked for my receipt because it was encoded with the original salesman's ID. He went off. When the manager returned, he told me that he had found the salesman and asked him what the policy was for returning laptops. The salesman told the manager that there was a 14 day return like all other products.

Since I was misinformed, B&H was giving me full credit. He explained the reason for the policy - once used, a technician has to completely recheck a PC - software installations, hardware function, etc. The manager said that they would put the item in their used department, losing a few dollars. I felt badly, but he insisted and I was not to worry - it was their mistake.

There are also restaurants whose owners value the customer very highly. Fortunately, not all operate like that place in Chelsea. It is in some of these establishments in New York City that a small war is being fought. In Chinatown on Doyer Street, once known as the Bloody Angle owing to gang warfare, there is a man engaging in a different kind of battle. In Part 2, you will meet him and learn how he is helping to win the war against disservice :)


Chicken Underwear said...

Or you could have lowered the tip by $3.10

Brian Dubé said...

Chicken Underwear - Now you're talkin! However, many waiters have told me that they hate when they are punished tipwise for management policy or kitchen failings - things our of their control. But your suggestion is an option and may have served well for the waiter to pressure management for change. Next time, I'll bring you along for dinner.

Sue K said...

Actually the waiter is responsible, shouldn't he be checking the food he is serving and making sure it is right? And kudos to B&H Photo, that is why they have been in business so long. Is that restaurant still around?

Chicken Underwear said...

Thanks for the invite, Brian, but I am going to dinner with Sue K. :)

Jeni said...

cool find.... love this! New York has so many hidden treasures!

Sue K said...

Hey Chicken Underwear, anytime!

Shane K. said...

I've got to say that I feel your friend was in the wrong. If you liked it and ate it, just pay for it.

As far as the management goes, yes they should have reduced the price for the mistake, but seriously, he ate the food, it was a $3 difference, he enjoyed it - just pay.

I'm all for service, and here in Perth, Aus you don't really experience service unless you're dining 5 stars as there is no culture of tipping (waitstaff get paid enough as it is).

If I was the manager, I would've just made the adjustment and then use the story as my "cheap customer of the month" tale to my employees and had a laugh about it.