Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can't Hardly Wait

I've never been very good at waiting. Actually, that should be amended slightly: I've never been very good at unplanned waiting. If I know that I'm going to have to wait in advance--for a plane, during an auto repair, etc.--I can prepare for it by having a book or my laptop along to pass the time. It's the unforeseen, unexpected waits that really try my patience.

This can drive my wife crazy at times. When we're shopping and I see a long line to checkout, I'm inclined to say forget it no matter how good the deal is. I'd rather pay more at a later time when I don't have to wait.

My real pet peeve though is waiting at restaurants. If I'm told that we're going to have to wait more than twenty minutes to be seated, my immediate instinct is to turn and bolt. This also causes some consternation for my wife, who quite logically will argue that by the time we leave one place and get to another it will have taken longer than waiting where we are. And there's no guarantee that we won't face a wait at the next place either.

While both of those points are valid, I don't care. Even if it takes longer to go elsewhere and we may have to wait there as well, I'd rather act than passively sit and wait. Now, if there's a bar available where the two of us can lounge and knock back a pre-dinner drink I can handle a wait. But since we're usually dining with our childrens these days, it's not a situation that we run into a lot.

Which brings me to Sunday night. I spent most of Sunday afternoon splitting logs with my dad. This task was made easier (and a hell of a lot more fun) by virtue of him renting a motorized splitter, but it was still a lot of work lugging, lifting, and stacking. By the time we (my parents, my wife and three kids) headed out to grab a bite, I was hungry and tired.

We decided to patronize Famous Dave's, a barbeque joint with a chain of locations in the Upper Midwest that we've enjoyed often in the past (both dine in and take out). It's not exactly fine dining, but the food's good, the prices are reasonable, and it has an atmosphere conducive for young children (noisy and casual). Plus there's a huge moose head on the wall at the one we usually hit. What more could you want?

When we walked in the door a bit after 5:30pm, we could see it was busy. I inquired about a table for four adults and three kids and was told that the wait would be 35-40 minutes. My first thought was to leave immediately, but I was convinced that our best bet would be waiting it out. My dad even volunteered "A lot of times the wait isn't as long as they say." My personal experience has been that the opposite is more often the case, but what the heck, a little waiting is not going to kill us, right?

So we waited in a small area off the entrance. With three boys who were intent on getting their paws on every piece of northwoods cabin memorabilia hanging on the walls within reach. The phrase "Don't touch that" was used early and often. And we waited.

Half-hour and still waiting. Forty minutes and still waiting. Parties who had come in after us were being seated. Even parties with five adults. Fifty minutes and still waiting. We approached the host a couple of times and were told that we would be seated soon. An hour and we were still waiting. By this time the boys were becoming more and more difficult to control. And I wasn't as interested in stopping their attempts to pry snow shoes and fishing rods off the wall.

Finally, after an hour and fifteen minutes (or approximately TWICE as long as had been promised) we were seated. A manager came over and apologized for the wait. He had a couple of appetizers brought out on the house. It was a nice gesture, but since the kids aren't big on catfish tenders and buffalo chicken wings, it didn't do that much to ease the pain. A round of free drinks would have been better appreciated. At least by me.

The waitress did take our order right away and the food arrived much faster than usual. And it was good as it normally is. But the damage had been done and I couldn't really enjoy the dining experience, especially since I kept seeing parties who had arrived well after us leaving the restaurant before we even had our food. I couldn't wait to get done and get home.

The next day, I was still stewing about the incident. Rather than letting it fester, I decided that I would feel much better if I aired my feelings. So I surfed up Famous Dave's web page and submitted a feedback form detailing my frustration. The focus of my frustration centered on the lack of communications from the staff while we were waiting and the apparent unwillingness of the staff to undertake additional thought or action to solve our problem. You can't tell me that they couldn't have figured out how to push a couple of tables together to seat four adults and three kids instead of making us wait until one of the few larger tables was available.

To their credit, Famous Dave's made this process easy and efficient. Some people might rather make a phone call to register a complaint. I much prefer using e-mail. Having both options readily available and easy to use is smart customer service.

Within hours of submitting my complaint, I received a form e-mail noting that it had been received and was being reviewed. So far, so good. Within a day, I received a personal e-mail from the manager of the particular restaurant. She offered no excuses and no equivocations. She expressed empathy and understanding. Even though she was not in the restaurant that night, she personally apologized. She assured me that what happened was an anomaly that we would not experience at Famous Dave's again. And she offered to send us a gift card in hopes that we would give her restaurant another chance in the future. Now that's customer service.

Turning a potential disaster into an opportunity to increase customer loyalty is not always easy, but her prompt and personal response did just that in this case. We will definitely be giving Famous Dave's another chance and I expect us to visit regularly in the future. Just as long as there's not much of a wait.

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