enjoy the sense of community among the regulars. Today, however, I drove into the parking lot and it was empty! I then remembered seeing a sign that they'd be closed for a week. Oh well.
There's another breakfast joint in town, though, and the few times I'd been there, I wasn't really impressed with the food, though it was less expensive. I thought I'd use this opportunity to give it another try. When I walked in, I saw it had been renovated, which was nice. There was a good crowd and I noticed some denizens from the regular spot, as I figured. There were still plenty of places to sit, so I selected a booth where I could look out the window and watch the morning show on TV.
As the meal progressed, I noticed more & more how the little differences between the two diners added up to
a different customer experience. My regular spot has menus at every table, and the server brings a coffee pot
and water as soon as they greet you. Here, the server asked if I wanted a menu, went to get it, asked if I wanted
coffee (I didn't), asked what I wanted instead and seemed annoyed when I requested water. In fact, she was
harried to just shy of rudeness; I noticed only two servers for quite a few tables. The regular spot always has
more servers on duty for less tables, and this obviously leads to better service and quicker turnover times. The disconnect extended to condiments - she had to ask about and bring me ketchup and hot sauce, whereas they're always on the table up the street. Even the quiet TV held evidence of consideration for the customer; the regular spot has the captioning on so you're not straining to hear or being blasted by the audio.
The food was good, though, and arrived quickly and hot. The prices had gone up somewhat, basically equal to the
regular spot. So here's why I considered a $14 tip on a $6 bill: I stood waiting to pay for a few minutes while the
server bussed tables on the way to the register. I had a $20 bill, simply didn't want to wait any more, and would
never, or rarely, be back. I tipped well but not nearly that generously at the regular spot, but I returned every week, spending more than that overall and happily so. In the end, I waited for my change and tipped 20%, saving my money to spend at the regular spot when it re-opened.
The moral of the story is that each business interaction we have today is a chance to create a repeat customer, and those customers' expectations have changed. We want everything at our fingertips now - the Internet has created customers who do their own pre-sale research on a product and are targeted by marketers based on their likes and dislikes. It's more than a marketing trend, it marks a cultural shift that extends even to mom & pop diners. In an era where technology automates many human jobs and equalizes providers, the human touch at the service level becomes paramount. It's not difficult to fulfill an order once the customer has reached out to you, but what are you doing to ensure they come back? Why should I wait for hot sauce here when elsewhere it waits for me?