Customer Hall of Shame

‘Napkin Lady’ at Per Se

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 01/15/2016

All I can think about is Napkin Lady.

  • Did she really ‘drop’, or as Mr. Wells delineated, ‘hurl’ her napkin to the floor?
  • Did she ‘drop’ it on purpose to elicit a response from the server, or to test the staff?
  • Was the napkin ‘drop’ staged by NYT restaurant critic, Peter Wells?
  • What kind of adult human throws a napkin on the floor in protest at any restaurant anywhere?
  • Is Napkin Lady a monster?
  • How did Napkin Lady’s dining companions respond to her?
  • Will she be invited to dinner with Mr. Wells again? If yes, is he a monster?

Per Se, on the Upper West Side in NYC, is one the most highly-regarded, expensive restaurants in the world. On Wednesday, New York Times restaurant critic, Peter Wells awarded Per Se two out of four stars in a predominantly scathing review. According to the NYT, two stars is “very good,” but Wells’ narrative was far from that. Menu items were described as droopy, rubbery and flavorless, gluey, mushy, dismal, random and purposeless, limp, dispirited, lame, and bouillon, “murky and appealing as bong water.” The negative comments about service included, haphazard, unobliging, oddly unaccommodating, and oblivious sleepwalking. And the experience was seen as a no-fun house, lame, disappointingly flat-footed, out of date, mediocre, and among the worst food deals in New York.

The two-star review was a significant departure from the four stars awarded by legendary NYT critic, Frank Bruni in September of 2004, and the four-star review by the NYT’s Sam Sifton in October of 2011. Mr. Sifton called Per Se, “… the best restaurant in New York City…”, and lauded, “It’s synthesis of culinary art and exquisite service is now complete.” “It represents the ideal of an American high-culture luxury restaurant.”

Who cares, right? The restaurant geek world does. Most of us can’t afford to eat at places like Per Se, but following the news in and around restaurants has become a sport that consumes us. And the news about the two-star ‘demotion’ caught fire with many of those who play, enjoy, watch, and broadcast ‘the game’. The 1,000+ animated comments from the NYT website are a testament to the interest in a review of elite restaurants like Per Se.  A sampling of the reactions:

  • Is fine dining dead?
  • Are ‘celebrity’ chefs too cocky and complacent?
  • Does the critic have an entitled, narcissistic, personal agenda?
  • At the Per Se price point, shouldn’t one expect perfection?
  • Are servers and staff being exploited at the “best of the best” restaurants?
  • Who can even afford to eat at places like that?
  • Why don’t people spend money on helping others instead of lavish meals?
  • Finally, someone had the courage to speak the truth.
  • The first staff meeting following the review is really going to suck…

And I just can’t stop thinking about Napkin Lady…

The first two paragraphs of the review from Peter Wells:

The lady had dropped her napkin.

More accurately, she had hurled it to the floor in a fit of disillusionment, her small protest against the slow creep of mediocrity and missed cues during a four-hour dinner at Per Se that would cost the four of us close to $3,000. Some time later, a passing server picked up the napkin without pausing to see whose lap it was missing from, neatly embodying the oblivious sleepwalking that had pushed my guest to this point.

Shortly after the review went live, I posted the following on my Server Not Servant Facebook group:

Perhaps Mr. Wells’ dining companion was role-playing to test the staff as fodder for the review. Or, perhaps she’s a bitch who acted like a petulant child… Hard to imagine someone thinking it’s ok to “hurl” their napkin to the floor while eating and drinking at Per Se. That’s no “small protest,” it’s a bullshit, entitled, bitchy move, especially if it wasn’t on her dime. I’m also interested to know if Wells will ever invite the woman to dine with him again. If she wasn’t acting, and he does invite her back, it speaks volumes.

My friend, Chef Mark O’Leary replied to my tweet to Peter Wells, “That was my first question, how much entitled fervor must you have to throw a napkin on the floor as an adult?”

I emailed Peter Wells on Wednesday night and asked him:

  • Was throwing the napkin staged by your dining companion or you to test the server’s response, or was it a legitimate, out-of-control, hissy fit initiated without your prompting?
  • Was your inclusion of the ‘napkin drop’ hyperbole to add drama/color to the prose?
  • How did you and your other dining companions respond after she hurled the napkin to the floor?
  • Were you or anyone you were with embarrassed?
  • Did you or anyone at your table admonish her?
  • Did she apologize to you and your table and/or the server or any other workers?
  • Will you ever invite “Napkin Lady” to dine with you again?
  • Feel free to add anything else that you’d like me to include in my post.

Mr. Wells responded that he wouldn’t answer my questions because he makes it a policy not to comment on public reviews, especially negative ones, and finished with, ”Readers can draw their own conclusions about my words, just as they can draw their own conclusions about a post in which a woman is called a bitch twice in a short paragraph.”

I read hundreds of the comments following the review on the NYT website (sport/entertainment, right?), and I’ll leave you with one beauty:

“rk-Nashville”:

What happens now?

Can Per Se survive this? Does the entire staff get fired? Is the chef’s career ruined? Is the owner expected to publicly respond? Do they close for a month and reopen? Are they going to have to cut prices? Do they call in another ballerina? (Just joking about that last question. Sort of.)

More importantly, is Napkin Lady a monster???

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“Italian Foodie” Schools Chef of Italian Restaurant

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 09/1/2015

This is just too good not to share.

Example #7,662 why restaurant owners and staff loathe amateur restaurant ‘”reviewers.”

 A friend invited me and my wife… to try XYZ restaurant. This friend knows I’m a foodie and hard on restaurants in general, Italian restaurants in particular (I am Italian)…

The chef obviously does not how to perform the maneuver for blending pasta with an oil (or butter) based seasoning that, in Italian, is referred to as “mantecare.” The idea is that you drain the pasta early and you finish it off in a pan with the seasoning so that starch shed from the pasta blends with the fat and binds the dish together. Having a puddle of grease at the bottom of a plate of fettuccine that is anything more than a slight slick is a major fail (maybe the chef should travel to Alfredo Alla Scrofa in Rome to learn; the place has become touristy but they still complete this key step table-side so he could watch them do it.

Kudos to the restaurant for serving a truly prime cut of beef. It was delicious. BUT…. in this day of accurate thermometers it’s unacceptable to flub the temperature. A medium rare steak should be RED and WARM throughout. Mine came PINK in the middle, with extended sections of BROWN. Call it medium (areas medium-well). I sent it back. It came back RED (good) and COLD (not medium rare). I ate it because at that point I did not want to send it back again and I’d rather eat meat too raw than too cooked. But this is unacceptable, all it takes is a thermometer to get it right and if you can’t even do that right, a $200 immersion circulator will allow you to cook meat to the perfect temperature every time; a propane torch will add that perfect sear. Disappointing. But, again, the cut of meat was outstanding, so some credit for not skimping on ingredients.

The sides were abundant but did not impress. The rolled up eggplant bits were average. The eggplant was tasty but I don’t know what they’d done to the ricotta to make it so tough. The corn tasted like it was out of a can.

The gelato…did not have the smoothness of gelato and I suspect the chef did not follow the proper gelato process (which is not easy — I grant, but if you can’t do it, give it up).

Wine list was extensive and reasonably priced — a plus. I would have liked some more Southern Italian wines, but that’s me and I don’t hold it against them.

Portions are absurd but this is a neutral…The fettuccine half portion looked to be about 100g-120g of pasta; a portion of dry pasta should be about 100g and a portion of egg past should be about 80g by Italian standards. If what I got was truly a half portion, the implication is that a full portion is 200g-240g — that’s insane (I am a 1.82m tall and weigh 80 Kg and it was too much for me). The tenderloin looked to be 500g of meat or so. I could not finish any of the dishes. Again, I don’t hold it against the restaurant, but beware when you order.

Service good. Ambiance a little dark for my taste but good. Location excellent.

I go to restaurants for food and this was a fail.

[As I've stated before, imagine living or working with people like this every day??? At least we can get rid of them at the end of the meal.]

Join #ServerNotServant on Facebook here, and on Twitter and Instagram @PatrickMBoston.

 

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Service Industries: “No Escape from Reality” + Entitled Customers

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 07/1/2015

Yes, this is the “real life,” and it’s not “just fantasy.” A lot of humans just plain suck.

It’s no fun being the Fun Police. I’ve been a member of the brigade often. And no matter how hard you try, it’s rare to confront a group of “fun” people who completely “get it” when you ask them to consider the circumstances, their volume and actions, and everyone else around them. When you add alcohol to the mix, it often doesn’t end well.

Today’s post comes with permission via KC, owner of KC’s Rib Shack in Manchester, NH via their facebook page:

Open letter to an OBNOXIOUS Self Entitled Customer: ( I have always come from the school of “The customer is always right” and many of you who know me and have been customers of KC’s for many many years know I will bend over backwards for my customers.) That being said, there are times I need to say what needs to be said. Which is what follows [after Joyce's 'review'].

Joyce — 1 star • KC’s Ribs Shack WAS one of our favorite places to eat HOWEVER we just left there very unhappy. We had a party of twenty for a birthday party. We were all seated in the bar. We were having fun singing along with the radio when the OWNER came over to the table and very RUDELY told us to keep quiet others were trying to eat. Now mind you there were about 10 others in the bar and they were all laughing and having fun with us including the bartender and wait staff. When we confronted owner about him being rude he said he didn’t care! Let it be know We will NEVER EAT THERE AGAIN!!! We had a 500 dollar bill they have now lost our business! And I now will never recommend this place to anyone!!! I will never go again!!! ‪#‎KCRIBSHACK‬ ‪#‎THEYSUCK‬ ‪#‎ownersanASSHOLE‬ ‪#‎boycott‬

KC’s response:

Dear Joyce, I sincerely apologize that you mistakenly thought my restaurant was a karaoke bar.

We are a family restaurant not a bar. I realize you felt as though everybody in the entire restaurant was rejoicing in the painful rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody you and your self entitled friends were performing, yet that was not the case.

Although sometimes it is tough to walk the line between being the fun police and allowing our customers to enjoy themselves to their fullest. We have to draw the line when it becomes a nuisance to other customers in the restaurant at the time. Two tables asked to be moved to other areas of the restaurant even after your group was asked to stop singing. You probably missed out on that because it is clearly all about you. I’m glad you and your inconsiderate friends have vowed to “Never Eat There Again” and to #Boycott KC’s Rib Shack. Go ahead and continue your social media crusade on Yelp and facebook. I think you may have forgot Tripadviser as well. Thanks again for your feedback. We will let you know if we decide to become a karaoke bar in the future. ‪#‎IMKC‬ ‪#‎IMTHEASSHOLE‬ ‪#‎ISUCK‬ ‪#‎DON‬TNEEDINCONCIDERATECUSTOMERS

“Easy Come, Easy Go” -Freddy Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody)

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To Shame or Not to Shame?

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 03/8/2015

On the heels of one of the biggest stories in the news last week, publicly shaming abusive guests and fellow humans, I made 2 lists for current and future consulting clients to consider before pulling the trigger. Now that we’ve all had time to reflect on the incidents and the aftermath, I decided to make my lists public here for discussion.

Reasons why initiating public shaming of customers by a business on social media is a bad idea:

  1. Defending the decision or apologizing for it can be a huge time drain.
  2. The distraction from running your business.
  3. It could backfire badly.
  4. The other side of the story.
  5. The truth.
  6. If you or your staff are culpable, you’ve created an (unnecessary) opportunity for the spotlight to shine brightly on your mishandling of the situation, lack of training, professionalism and experience.
  7. The potential perception that your shaming of guests may be perceived as passive aggressive and cowardly, the same thing many of us accuse amateur ‘reviewers’ of.
  8. Screenshots and residual articles and comments are forever, along with the negative connotations.
  9. The satisfaction is usually temporary, and often not worth it.
  10. The questions about your true motives. (Is it to compensate for something you’re not doing or to create a distraction?)
  11. The risk. It’s rarely 100% beneficial.
  12. The sycophantic, ‘hero’ worshiping, cheerleaders who may enjoy the entertainment aren’t your true friends.
  13. The high road.
  14. Revenge/retaliation.
  15. Inciting ex-employees with a legitimate ax to grind to unearth ugly truths. (Wrongful termination, etc.)
  16. Inciting ex-’everythings’  to expose your skeletons. (Stiffed/jaded vendors, consultants, etc.)
  17. The longer-term implications for the shamed could ultimately be more severe than their improprieties warrant.
  18. Potentially being accused of staging the incident for PR purposes.
  19. The questions raised about your professionalism and hospitality philosophy.
  20. Huge distraction for FOH staff when future customers repeatedly ask about the incident.
  21. The story will be repeated over and over inaccurately, with negative connotations for you and your business.
  22. You’re better off letting someone else do it, bloggers, media, customers, Chowhounds, etc.
  23. Your PR firm may fire you.
  24. Potential lawsuit.
  25. Google.

Reasons why initiating public shaming of customers by a business on social media is a great idea:

  1. You’ve slept on it and considered all 25 reasons above and are convinced that you, your employees, future guests, your brand and your business will benefit in the long run.

There are exceptions when we’re backed into a corner and need to defend ourselves, our families, staff,  brands, businesses, the ‘truth’, and fight fire with fire. Absolutely. And there’s no doubt with the way that technology has evolved, and the way people sometimes use it as a threat, that we’ve all been tempted to strike back, and have in some cases. I’ve done it probably more often than I should have via blog posts. We all wish we could have moments back and could have handled things differently. As business owners, employees and customers, we can all learn from this recent spate of public shamings, and reflect on how we might respond the next time we’re tempted.

I strive for the mission of this blog and my book project to present balanced views of the issues. That doesn’t always happen because we’re all biased and my bias has a (strong) tendency to sympathize with workers/owners vs. customers in most instances. I understand that, and I’ll continue to work on being more objective while researching and posting here.

I welcome your comments and perspective.

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Attorney Benjamin Edelman “Internet Sheriff” on ill-advised crusade

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 12/10/2014

The level of stupidity that service industry workers and owners encounter interacting with the public is astonishing. Last week a Boston restaurant owner and food truck operator shared the story about a woman who called and was irate because her nephew didn’t get the exact hamburger he wanted. Her nephew and his friend only paid $7.50 for two burgers (one was comped because of a communication error), but the woman demanded a $30 refund. I know, “fuzzy math.” He ended up sending her a $10 gift card to keep the peace. It never ends.

This one from Hilary Sargent at Boston.com  is tough to beat. Attorney Ben Edelman took  Sichuan Garden to task over a $4 “overcharge” on his takeout order, and in an email exchange, things got out of control. The email exchange was shared with Boston.com and suddenly it became a huge story.

I’ve reached out to Benjamin and the dean of the Harvard Business School (where he purportedly teaches negotiations) for comment.

From Ben’s website: “Ben holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Economics at Harvard University, a J.D. from the Harvard Law School, an A.M. in Statistics from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an A.B. in Economics from Harvard College (summa cum laude). He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar.”

Not a whole lot of common sense or street smarts from a guy with so many degrees


Ben Edelman (left) and Ran Duan (right)

By Hilary Sargent, Boston.com Staff | 12.09.14 | 3:28 PM

Ben Edelman is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, where he teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit.

Ran Duan manages The Baldwin Bar, located inside the Woburn location of Sichuan Garden, a Chinese restaurant founded by his parents.

Last week, Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of Chinese food from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.

Edelman soon came to the horrifying realization that he had been overcharged. By a total of $4.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Harvard Business School professor thinks a family-run Chinese restaurant screwed him out of $4, you’re about to find out. (Hint: It involves invocation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and multiple threats of legal action.)

Surprised yet? We were, too.

In addition to teaching at HBS, Edelman also operates a consulting practice where he advises clients like Microsoft, the NFL, the New York Times, and Universal Music on “preventing and detecting online fraud (especially advertising fraud).” (That’s from Edelman’s own website, which it seems safe to presume is always kept up to date.)

He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College. He has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Ran Duan moved to the U.S. from China when he was 3-years-old. His father had hoped to support the family with a career as an opera singer, but when that didn’t pan out, Duan says “like all Chinese families we decided to open up a restaurant.”

Sichuan Garden opened its doors in Brookline in the early 1990s. A second location followed in Woburn.

Despite the restaurant’s successful expansion, Duan admittted that Sichuan does not have the budget for teams devoted to public relations or a website that is updated as regularly as it should be.


Screenshot of Sichuan Garden’s website as of December 9.

“I personally respond to every complaint and try to handle every situation personally,” said Duan, who was profiled by Boston Magazine in June and featured in GQ Magazine last month as “America’s Most Imaginative Bartender.”

The exchange with Edelman stood out to Duan. “I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business. It just broke my heart.”

Edelman told Boston.com that investigating pricing discrepancies by neighborhood restaurants isn’t something he does every day.

“I mostly look for malfeasance by larger companies,” he said. “It certainly seems like a situation that could call for legal redress. But this is a small business in the town where I reside.”

As for the troves of angry customers likely looking for recourse? Edelman pointed Boston.com to Massachusetts General Law, Section XV, Chapter 93A, Section 9. (Translation: If you didn’t pass the Massachusetts bar, but still feel as though you must do SOMETHING, then just gather all the receipts you’ve saved, along with all screenshots you took and saved of the website menu in case that dinner order ever ended up in court, find a lawyer whose fees aren’t likely to exceed the few dollars you’re seeking, and … voila?)

As for Edelman, he alerted town officials in Brookline about the matter, but told Boston.com he doesn’t expect them to take action. He plans to “take a few days” before deciding whether to pursue any further legal action against the restaurant.

Oh and the food? Edelman admitted: “It was delicious.”

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