Today’s part of this two part story is about the good…. Culinary customer service at its worst… Yesterday’s blog post was about customer service at its best.


Jose and I recently went to the Asheville, North Carolina, area to visit my daughter Katie, son-in-law Ray, and our two grandsons; Jonathan (14 years old) and Nate (11 years old). Jonathan decided to create a culinary adventure for us, once he knew we were coming to visit.

Both J and Nate have been on ice skates from the time each of them could walk; a tradition for both sides of their families. Now they both play a good amount of hockey, so some of our dining out was due to Jonathan’s hockey schedule while we were there; but, the rest of our dining was based on Jonathan’s choreographing our culinary feasts…

Jonathan and Nate were also having Monday and Tuesday as school-free days, due to workshops in their town. We knew we were flying in Asheville to experience dining out, from the eyes of our 14 year old grandson. Which as quite an adventure. In these experiences was also our final meal, of having leftovers together. He had it all mapped out.

What we experienced, though, was not about the food (it was all very good), the ambiance (also very respectable), and most of the locations (Asheville is gorgeous). The experiences we had had to do with customer service PR; from what to do well, to what to never do, as that could be the kiss of death.


The BAD goes to Mellow Mushroom in Asheville.

This has been a family favorite location since my kids first moved there. It’s downtown, it’s eclectic, and the food’s always delicious. No complaints this time with any of the usuals just mentioned. It was also a gorgeous day, mid 70s in October, no complaints about that, either.

What was unusual, though, was the hostess. Mellow Mushroom has an outside dining location at the front of the restaurant, and we decided that we wanted to have lunch outside. When we approached the hostess, she began… “Well, your wait server just got another table and you’re going to have to wait a long time before he can help you.” (For the record, there was no waiting, he was prompt, helpful, and very friendly.) She continued, “The only table over there, which will fit your group, is partially in the sun. You’re not going to like it,” or some such yammering. (For the record, those of us who wanted the sun sat in it, and those who wanted shade sat under the umbrella. There was no conflict, except in her mind.)

I was going to cut her some slack… Perhaps she was feeling ill, maybe she had a headache, maybe she wanted to be out with friends but had to work… Something seemed to be irking her.

I watched as she sat a family with two small children. She brought over high chairs and rolled her eyes as she placed them at the table. “They must be so heavy for her to carry,” I thought, beginning to see the real person. I mentioned it to Katie, because now it was becoming almost comical. Once the family sat down, she walked away, continuing to roll her eyes like they were the family from hell. (Didn’t she realize that she was making a public spectacle of herself?) Lost in her own world, we realized that she really needs another job, which serves her passions, and isn’t a disservice to the company that has hired her.

The coup de grace? I went inside to use the ladies room, before leaving. The big place was empty, except for just one family. Everyone was outside, and perhaps that was her bugaboo. As I was exiting the restaurant, this young woman was entering. She was reading something that was greatly amusing her (proving that she can be happy) and walked right past me as I held the door for her, like I was her door person. No thank you, no smile, no acknowledgement that I even existed… The door had magically opened for her self absorbed self. That did it for me.

PR LESSON: Keep an eye on your staff. Just because someone is artsy, doesn’t mean that this person should be the face of your establishment. I’ll never return. She’s set a stage of being insulting and I’m not into S&M, unless the management reads this and issues an apology. I doubt that that will happen; this is just my wine blog, so it’s off my list for the future.

The UGLY goes to Smash Burger in Irmo, South Carolina.

We were in South Carolina, because Jonathan had three hockey games that weekend, and this was our first dining experience. After the first game on Saturday evening, Katie suggested that we all go to Smash Burger. When it’s fast food, you don’t think to call ahead to say that a large party is arriving, but perhaps we should have, upon reflection. I have no beef with the company. I had a great salad, but it became complicated to even enjoy it.

We all arrived, with Michelle and Ed just behind us. We knew that they were “in the weeds,” as they say, because they told us that it would take 20 minutes for our order. But, little did any of us know that once my order had been filled (and it took a very long time to do for a simple salad), poop would hit the fan. You need to also know that perhaps 20 more parties (hockey people and other people not connected to us) placed orders after mine.

Mine was the cut off… it was over, just as I was about to eat my salad. The manager came out and first announced that she had been there all day (we could understand that, as we’ve all been there). Next, she explained that all orders for people who had been waiting for theirs perhaps for as long as a half hour (like Michelle, her husband, and their children) were going to have to be refunded their money. She went on to explain that they would have to prep every order in order to feed everyone, and that wasn’t possible, because they lacked the staff. People had called in sick and had left early that day, and they couldn’t recover.

Major grumblings; but hey, poop happens.

What then happened as everyone was refunded and then headed next door to Moe’s… (yeah, the same consistent Moe’s above) was the deal breaker for many, including Michelle. She got her money back for the food she ordered, but the manager REFUSED to refund the beverages. The manager’s thinking was, “I can’t give you a free beer.”

Oh my gawd… For the cost of drinks, she lost innumerable customers, I could see, when Michelle said, “Never again, Smash Burger, never again.”

PR LESSON: If you run out of food, offer something as a goodwill gesture… a coupon for a free soda next time, for example. This gives someone a reason to return. And for gawd’s sake, if people have been having a beverage for a half hour while waiting for anticipated food… COMP it. A coupon for next time is a MUST… Or, perhaps a discount on a total order. Offer SOMETHING, anything. Don’t spend time bickering over the cost of a drink and refusing to refund it. Once the announcement had been made that there was no more food, it took another half hour to process the whole deal, before these people could go next door. Moe’s won, Smash Burger lost in a big way.

No matter how good my salad was, this wasn’t good, and so it was a sad fail for all of us, even if we got our food.

Good customer service PR is the difference between bending over backwards to please customers and clients, or feeling like it’s beyond your dignity… And, that’s the difference between success and failure.