For a Luxury Brand, It Should be ALL About Service
For this post, I'm borrowing the category of my friend and colleague Jeanne Byington, whose excellent blog "The Importance of Earnest Service" is all about customer service.
I had a breakfast meeting Friday morning. Kim and I had met in a new business pitch several weeks ago, and we knew it could be good for us to meet again, informally, to get to know more about each other and to explore ways we might work together. Since she was in midtown for a conference, we agreed to meet in the restaurant at the 5-star luxury hotel that was the conference site.
The restaurant had a handful of tables occupied -- most were empty. Maybe that shouldn't have been surprising, since I had noticed the prices on the menu as I walked in ran $24 and up for a continental breakfast of coffee, juice and breads, even in this economy.
After standing for three or four minutes while the hostess just looked at us and then continued doing whatever she was doing at her station, I went to her and asked for a table for two. Despite a half-dozen empty tables behind me, she told me they'd have a table ready in a few minutes once they set one up. Somehow, I sensed this was going to take a while and I knew Kim had to be upstairs at the conference in less than an hour. So I asked if we could take one of the smaller tables. "Of course," she said.
As I sat, I then noticed those tables were only set for one. No one came over to add another setting for us, so I did it myself -- I picked up the placemat, dish, silver and coffee cup from the next table and brought it to ours. The hostess saw me doing this and didn't lift a finger or rush over to say something like, "Oh no, please, let us do this for you."
After sitting ignored for another several minutes, we had to ask for service. Someone brought over menus (whoa, Nelly!) and several more minutes passed before a waiter took our order. I don't remember if we had to flag him down or if he came on his own. Kim's omelette and my coffee came within a reasonable time.
We sat and chatted. Not once did anyone come to check on us. No one offered to refill my coffee after it got cold. When we were ready to leave, I had to get up and ask the hostess for the check. Someone eventually brought it and again we sat and waited.
The check, by the way, for one coffee, two orange juices, one omelette and a basket with two rolls, two pastries and a small muffin came to $60-something.
And as we waited, again for an unusually long time, for someone to pick up the check and credit cards, I got up and told the hostess how horrible the service had been, starting with her ignoring us when we had first arrived. I figured it won't make a difference, but it would make me feel better just to have told her.
A few moments later the manager came over and asked if everything was ok. I surprised myself by saying, "Actually, it was not ok." I told him what had been happening. He apologized and picked up the check and credit cards. He returned a moment later, handed us the credit cards and said he had taken care of it and there would be no charge. He hoped we would excuse the lapse in service and give them another chance sometime.
As we thanked him, I told him it wasn't about the food and it wasn't about the prices. The food, once it arrived, was actually quite good. And we knew coming in that the meal wouldn't be cheap. But the entire experience had been marred by inexcusably poor service.
The manager did the right thing to comp us. But shame on the management for allowing such terrible service to have happened at all. The fact that it happened at an extremely pricey restaurant at a 5-star luxury hotel like Sofitel on West 44th Street made it even more inexcusable.