April 20, 2005
In response to my sending a copy of last week's opinion piece, "Restaurants Are a Service Business, Some Restaurants Know It, Others Don't," to Danny Meyer, I received the following email:
My colleague Michelle Lehmann shared your essay on service mishaps with me, and needless to say, I am appreciative that you used your dinner at Tabla to illustrate the positive side of the coin.
Many years ago, I learned from the late retail impresario, Stanley Marcus, his heartfelt philosophy that “the road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.” While it is embarrassing that you were served semolina purée when you had clearly specified that you needed to avoid eating anything with wheat gluten, I’m pleased that our team was quick to acknowledge, apologize, and act on their mistake with genuine hospitality.
If you continue to dine at our restaurants with any frequency, I am almost certain that you will see us make even more honest mistakes. While I wish that weren’t the case, my greater hope is that we always address those mistakes in a way that lets you know we are on your side. You played an important role in allowing us to effectively do so by bringing it to our attention in a calm and direct way while you were at the restaurant.
Finally, I’m not the least bit surprised that you got a follow-up call from Tabla’s Chef/Partner Floyd Cardoz. As is the case with all of our chefs, Floyd puts his heart and soul into cooking for your pleasure, and cares as deeply when we miss the mark as he does when we knock one out of the park.
I posted his letter on the Opinionated About Dining discussion forum, and here is what our members had to say about the letter and Danny Meyer:
- That's a wonderful response. Hit all the right notes. Acknowledged there was a problem, and moved to fix it. Notes the prompt follow-up from a senior [staff] person, and expresses a desire to have you continue as a customer.
- Agreed ... nice way to handle it.
- Danny is a class act.
- As an aside, my wife and I had lunch in the front room at the Modern last week. Meyer was working the room and was stopping at many of the tables to chat. He couldn't walk past a table without someone saying hello to him or stopping him to chat. Obviously a very popular and affable guy.
- Danny Meyer is omnipresent. I saw him at the Shake Shack last Sunday just after 11:00 a.m. checking up on things and generally bantering with the staff. Great mood, everyone happy to see the big boss.
- I think one of the most important things I took away from the letter was that they appreciated being told about their error, so that they could try and make it up to you. So many times when things go wrong, some of us don't say anything, and when that happens it's a lose-lose situation for both the restaurant and the diner.
- To add to general agreement: brilliant response. The man's blood is schmooze juice.
And there is always one cynic in the bunch:
- I hate to be such a cynic, but since I have read repeatedly that Meyer proclaims to be in the service business rather than the food industry, I find that the syntax of his response suggests the usual corporate practice of combining previously approved and on-file sentences to meld an acceptable amelioration. The only reason I can say this is that I have a file full of similar responses from restaurants nationwide and abroad.
Another member responded:
You mean ... you mean ... there is no Santa Claus? He's just a prefabricated clause?You may be right...but I'm virtually certain that Meyer's letter and overall dedication to the highest standard of service is straight from the heart. His restaurants are the standard bearer in NYC when it comes to service. Even the folks at Shake Shack, his burger stand in Madison Square Park are all about the customer. As an aside, I had lunch with another OA member at Shake Shack this afternoon and Meyer was in the kitchen chatting with the staff. I yelled back to him, asking him where his apron was and why he wasn't behind the stove. He smiled and yelled back, "Trust me, you don't want me there."
And my response to this was:
- I'm trying to understand the thrust of this point. Here we have a situation where a restaurant made a mistake, and when I called them on it, they apologized, comped the meal, and the chef phoned me the next day. Then I got a letter from the owner of the company in response to the article I wrote. And the issue now becomes the veracity of the letter? I don't understand why that is the burden. Who cares if it is a form letter? How is it any different than if he wrote the letter especially for this occasion?
The issue here is, they all stopped what they were doing and took the time out of their day to try and make things right. If they really all hated my guts behind my back it doesn't really matter. What matters is how they made me feel about the situation, and I don't think asking to see inside their hearts, or making them prove they invested a sufficient amount of time on the issue, really matters. Their actions are in contrast to L'Impero, who remains silent up until this point.
Which inspired a mea culpa from our house cynic:
- You are absolutely right, and I apologize. In the case you describe, everyone involved did the right thing at the right time, and it was good of you to give them their due credit.