Welp, I’m finally doing it. I’m putting together a book!

It’s going to be a compilation of my most popular emails and blogposts from the last two years. Right now, I’m in the process of editing it. I’m really excited to create a single resource chockful of frameworks, strategies, and actionable tips.

I can’t wait to share it with y’all!

Speaking of the last two years, I wanted to re-share one of my favorite (?) tales of customer service disappointment from the depths of the pandemic.

Enjoy! Or at least cringe alongside me. :-/

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One fateful pandemic Friday night, my wife and I had dinner at a shan’t-be-named Hudson Valley restaurant in a shan’t-be-named Hudson Valley town.

Going out to eat is one of our very favorite things to do. And particularly during ye olde pandemic, a date night out on the town was something we desperately looked forward to all week. It also felt good to know we were supporting a small business in the hard-hit service industry. So we were excited!

And it is with great sadness that I report to you, dinner was truly not good.

As in… memorably bad.

(Stick with me here, there’s a lesson for you and your business.)

Now here’s the thing: the staff was friendly and clearly well-intentioned. Their attitude was bright and upbeat. But by my estimation, they had no idea what they were doing.

Upon arriving, they were going to sit us directly next to the only other table seated. This would have been strange in normal times, but all the more bizarre during the era of “social distancing.”

Overall, the service was okkk, but there was definitely a sense of “first time nerves.” And I can empathize with this. Maybe they had a relatively new staff? After all, it was weird-ass times.

But the food itself varied from not good to borderline inedible, including an octopus that could have been mistaken for an actual piece of rubber (not a good sign for quality of ingredients OR cooking technique).

And nothing was more disheartening than seeing the bartender put simple syrup into literally every drink (including my Manhattan). Or asking a patron whether their Old-Fashioned was served with ice or not.

Now, you may or may not be a foodie asshole. But regardless of whether you know enough about cocktails to be slapping your forehead, I can tell you all was not well at our unnamed Hudson Valley establishment.

This makes me sad. And not because the night was ruined; Shina and I actually had a great time and laughed our asses off because it was so over-the-top poorly executed.

It makes me sad because every small business is someone’s dream.

No one sets out to create a bad experience for their clients or customers. Particularly when it comes to restaurants. At some point, there was probably someone with a vision of making a living creating great experiences for their guests.

And my sense is the issue was NOT that the staff didn’t care. The issue was that management hadn’t created and set high standards, and hadn’t properly trained the staff.

Now lest you think I’m a heartless, transplanted, Judge Judy-in’ Manhattanite, this observation carries zero ill will. At a basic level, I think everyone is doing the best they can from where they are. And the staff on hand seemed to at least (kinda?) give a shit.

The lesson is that when you’re in a service business, you have to:

  • Create clearly documented standard operating procedures
  • Train the hell out of your team to execute the SOP’s and
  • Make sure they’re consistently meeting expectations over time

One of these things went wrong this fateful Friday night. 

Perhaps the owner(s) didn’t know how to create good systems for service, food, and cocktails because they didn’t know any better. Maybe they just opened up the restaurant on a whim.

Or maybe the owners did know what they were doing, but failed to properly train the team. It was clear that this bartender was working her first ever shift. She was soooort of being guided by another staff member who didn’t seem to know much about cocktails either. 

(Cue the sad, sad sound of a limpidly shaken cocktail shaker…)

The third scenario, though not in play here, can also be the culprit. 

Even IF the SOP’s are clear and excellent…

And even IF there’s a great, rigorous training/ onboarding system... 

When there’s no system of on-going training and accountability, standards will naturally decay over time.

So my wife and I had a good laugh at the service shenanigans, and we still had a great night. 

But it reminded me that systems, training, and management are the lifeblood of any training gym..

My question to you is this:

  • Are you happy with your clearly documented standard operating procedures?
  • Is there a strong training/ onboarding to ensure your staff has mastered the SOP’s?
  • How do you ensure the standards are being met over time?

If not, your well-intentioned team may accidentally be serving rubbery octopus and drowning whiskey with sugar. Eek!