Restaurant Nightmares

As we traveled to Atlanta on Sunday, after having spent the night Saturday in Mount Vernon, IL (which was decidedly non-mountainous) we saw a billboard on I-24 in Tennessee advertising the presence of an A&W restaurant near one of the next exits. My daughter Rebekah, who works at the Austin, Minn. A&W, thought it would be fun to see how they run the restaurant in another city, so she prevailed upon us to stop. I captured her excitement as we arrived at the counter (she had offered to pay for our meals out of the proceeds of some of her roadside strawberry sales from the previous week.):


Then we waited. And waited. Not in line. At the front of the line. There were maybe three tables filled with customers, but no one was in front of us in line. Yet employees walked back and forth in front of us, carrying brooms, or towels to clean trays (they had two people on that job), or wandering aimlessly, but exactly 10 minutes after recording Rebekah’s enthusiastic arrival, I recorded this:


I’m sorry I didn’t keep the camera running, but as we were leaving one of the two tray-clearers asked “Why are y’all leavin’?” and seemed perplexed that it would be a big deal that we would wait 10 minutes to have our order taken: “But we haaaiid to clean traaays!”

That evening we decided to order pizza from our hotel room at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, and when we called Pizza Hut they told us they were currently about 2 1/2 hours out on deliveries, so we called Domino’s. We were informed it would be 22 to 32 minutes, I gave my credit card for payment, and then we waited. And waited. After about an hour I called Domino’s again to check status, and the phone rang continuously for five minutes with no answer. So I hung up and tried again. Same deal. I called another Domino’s and asked whether they were under the same ownership, and the guy apologized but said they were a franchise and this other one was corporately owned by Domino’s. I told him this behavior reflected pretty poorly on all Domino’s…and he agreed and apologized, but there was nothing he could do. He said he had gotten several other calls about the phone not being answered (three hours before closing time) at the other restaurant.

So I was thinking I would probably need to call the Georgia Attorney General Monday morning about having my credit card charged and no pizza delivered…but just as we were heading to bed (more than an hour after we were told the pizza would arrive, and after the phone had gone unanswered for a half hour), we got a call from the delivery guy, from 40 floors below us. He said they had been overwhelmed with orders, and that whereas the Pizza Hut phone was answered by the local restaurant (so they could gauge the time), Domino’s had a call center taking the calls and didn’t realize how swamped they were.

Note to corporations: even if you’re not outsourcing your call center to India, it can be a major dissatisfier to customers if those taking the calls aren’t plugged into your business realities. If we would have been told it would be 90 minutes, or if someone had answered the phone to tell us they had been overrun and were just behind schedule instead of leaving us to think we had been defrauded, we would have been frustrated but understanding.

In the whole scheme of things, these have been minor annoyances, not major hardships. But in the new world of blogging and social media, your unhappy customers don’t just leave a note in your suggestion box. They can publish their experiences to the world. And in the case of the South Pittsburgh, Tennessee A&W the billboard expense wasn’t just a waste; it led to a negative result.

Our culinary experiences since Sunday have been markedly better.

More reports from the Aase family vacation 2008 coming later today.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

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