The Perfect Restaurant Storm
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame
I’ve often described working in a restaurant as Improv Theatre. Every shift presents unique circumstances and challenges, and even the most experienced professionals can be taken aback by the audacity of the human condition.
A seasoned general manager of a popular Boston restaurant sent me a text last week requesting to meet. Based on his extensive hospitality industry experience, I knew his story would not be an every-day tale of woe. When we met for breakfast the next day, he did not disappoint.
The Wednesday lunch started out like every other day for the GM and his front of the house staff of one hostess, two servers, a bartender and a busser. About 11:15, a handful of guests walked to the podium and said, “We’re going to be at least 30 for lunch.” After welcoming the guests and confirming that the group did not have a reservation, the hostess told them she would seat them momentarily after the staff moved a few tables together.
Within seconds the GM, staff and kitchen were alerted, and the restaurant went into ‘all hands on deck’ mode, with everyone pitching in wherever needed. The GM became waiter/busser/food runner/kitchen expediter; the executive chef stepped in as line cook; the hostess hustled to help the servers while the bartender pitched in everywhere.
And here’s what happened:
The party of 30 grew into a party of 47 students from a local college celebrating the completion of finals and the beginning of semester break.
Forty-five minutes elapsed between the arrival of the first guests and the 47th member of their party. Food and drink requests were a little frantic, with some guests shouting out their first drink order as others were already eating their entrées.
The group appeared to have a great time; the staff heard no complaints about the food or service. The total of the tab was a little less than $800 before tax and tip.
In the meantime, 4 small parties were seated along with another walk-in party of 23 high school students and their 2 teachers. The high schoolers enjoyed everything, paid with one credit card and thanked the staff for their efforts and teamwork.
Back to the party of 47 when the fun began with the dreaded request:
Could we have 47 separate checks? Followed by, Most of us have Groupons we want to use with each check.
The Groupon deal with the restaurant states that the purchaser receives $35 worth of food and drink for $15, one coupon redeemable per table, and one coupon per visit.
Since they were all seated at one long table on one tab, the GM told them they could use one Groupon towards their bill and then invited them to open separate checks at the bar to redeem their individual Groupons. Many were planning to extend their celebration in the bar after lunch, and they did.
The students countered with:
We thought separate checks would qualify as separate tables. If we knew we couldn’t use all of the Groupons we would have sat at separate tables.
The GM offered the group 3 options:
1. He would take the total, add the 18% automatic gratuity and tax, subtract out $35 for one Groupon, divide by 47 and present them with 47 equal checks. He advised them he would need time to process the separate checks.
2. He would furnish pens and paper for the whole group and they could determine what each one of them owed, and the GM would split up all of the charges and tabs accordingly.
3. He informed them that there was an ATM just outside and suggested that they determine what they ordered and owed, and to pay in cash if possible.
After a lengthy debate, the group agreed to combine options 2 and 3 by sorting out the bill on their own and writing their names and amount owed on pieces of paper. After the staff processed 31 credit cards and collected all of the cash, they were still $60 short. At that critical point, you always hope that one or two poor slobs will quietly step forward and kick in the rest of the money.
Sure enough, one guy came forward, apologized profusely, and paid the remaining $60. (The appreciative GM reciprocated by picking up his bar tab after lunch.)
I knew I would eventually need to address the issue of separate checks, but I never dreamed that it would involve a request for 47!!
Can you imagine walking into a restaurant with 46 of your closest friends with no phone call or reservation, enjoying a great lunch, then asking after the meal for separate checks? I can’t either!
What are your thoughts?
What is the largest walk-in party you have ever served or been part of?
Is 32 the largest number of separate checks ever processed for one party? If not, what is? I should have included this on my list of 64 Suggestions for Restaurant Customers. If you will be paying separately, inform your server before you order.