(I am certainly not a food critic – but like most I do enjoy a positive dining experience; for a restaurant the experience is certainly greater than just the meal.)
Being the socially connected type (think iPhone: Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter – not High School or Tennis Club) my experience usually starts well before I get to the restaurant and ends well after I leave. Until recently, I did not even write restaurant reviews. I have shared my experience in different ways; through social technology. I am not going to try and figure out how the dining experience itself is broken down, food critics have that nailed. I can guess there is an atmosphere part, a food part and a service part – and probably other parts. Traditionally, 90% of the experience, or more, was contained within the 4 walls of the establishment; pre-2009. The rules are changing, and “12 years of experience” does not say much against the changing nature of the game. To me, it is what you have been doing and thinking during the past 2 years that will determine your ability to survive.
Enter the Social Web
With the growing population of patrons who own smart phones along with well established poor manners (guilty); we share, share and share some more. Prior to 2009 the number of times I would share a particular dining experience could normally be counted on one hand, at a future social engagement; dinner, bar-b-Que or a soccer game, talking to other parents while watching the kids. Fast-forward to 2011, I am multi-modal, sharing my location (Geo), a review (Yelp) a picture or experience (Twitter) and maybe pulling it all together via an update (Facebook). When I get notice something which needs more attention, I write a blog (like this Red Roof Inn post, which I just checked, had almost 4000 views). The total number of people who have access to seeing this post is > 5000 (If a few friends Re-Tweet on Twitter, that number will grow much larger). I am a realist and the number of people who read it or care is likely much much less (say 50 – 1%). But that is still 10x what it was pre-social. There is the additional element, something I tell my kids when they post to Facebook; “Google never forgets”. This is now searchable and will live on well beyond just a quick in-person conversation.
In the small town atmosphere where I live, Burlington, Vermont (Williston, actually a bit east) many local restaurants (and other businesses as well) have jumped into social media with both feet. Unfortunately, some believe that social media is simply another outbound marketing channel; you know, they talk and we are supposed to listen. But it gets worse, they do not have email skills either. There is a relatively new restaurant called The Farm House Tap and Grill (built where the only McDonald’s in the downtown area stood). I had high hopes, getting ready to go to the restaurant for the first time. I am not going to repeat my review as that tells most of the story. What was more disappointing was the response or lack of on different channels. In fairness, I did not try to call, I had no interest. What I did get back was the following:
“We realize that we did indeed go way past our quote times, that is our fault. I have been in the restaurant business for 12 years now and I too value a good customer service experience, which is what we strive for. I encourage you to come try us again, particularly not on UVM parents weekend when we clearly were overran.”
It was nice to receive a response via email (several Twitter replies went unanswered, here is the Twitter handle, judge for yourself). While there was recognition of an issue there was no attempt to make it right. What was I expecting, nothing too much – maybe just a bit more than I got. Maybe an offer of an appetizer on them. We all know that an appetizer is net neutral from a cost perspective, I would likely have had dinner as well. Not even a suggestion of which day/time might be better (other than that day was bad), nor if I am flexible. Nothing to a follow-up response. If someone has a bad experience, do what you can to make it right.
These things are just so easy. At some point, the novelty or ‘newness’ will wear off, and then they will be left with – well, themselves. So that I show a positive example, a local restauranteur who does it right, take a look at this twitter stream (Handy’s Lunch) – it is really not that hard. There are so many good sources of information where businesses can learn. They can read the statistics which say things like ‘help a customer with an issue and that person a much more likely to return’. Why establishments ignore the easy stuff and focus only on what a text book says is a bit concerning.
It is also worth noting that The Farm House Tap and Grill does a lot of old school social good. Using local farmers and donating a percentage of food sales in November to rebuilding the Intervale farm impacted twice this year by flooding. If they considered the value they could bring over time, maybe they would truly engage – maybe I am asking too much.
Am I being too harsh? Unfair?