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Waiter, there's a fly in my soup

While dining out recently, I was startled by a screech from a few tables away. 

All heads turned to see a woman shove her salad plate as far across the table as she could. A large hairy moth mixed in among the salad greens was obviously an unwelcome addition.

The woman's daughter picked up the plate and placed it in the hands of the nearest server, who whisked it away to the kitchen. What happened next — or what didn't happen — was a shocker to me.

The waitress who took the plate walked to the table and said simply, "Can I get you something else?" No apology. No sympathy. Nothing. The woman declined a new order, and sat in disgust with the rest of her party. It was several moments before her own server returned with an apology, and a second offer to bring another selection. In the end, the situation turned out OK. I'm assuming the salad was comped, and maybe something else. But if you've ever been in that situation, you don't know what's going to happen until the bill is presented.

What was most shocking to me was the lost opportunity to turn this very negative situation into an extremely positive one.

Accidents like this happen. It's the nature of our business. Glassware gets chipped, hair and foreign objects end up in food, bugs make unwelcome appearances on plates.

How you handle these situations is what counts. Is your staff trained to turn a negative situation into positive public relations? It's not enough to make it right. Go the extra mile and treat your guests like VIPs. It's an investment that will bring big returns.

My suggestion
First: Examine your policies on what to do when accidents like these occur. Do you have a policy? If you don't, detail — in writing — how you'd like your staff to perform. I've provided some guidelines below.

Next: Tell them, show them, and quiz them until each person knows the correct protocol.

Rules of thumb

  • Don't make excuses. Apologize and offer to make it right immediately.
  • Don't make your staff ask for permission to take care of their guest. Let them know the options that are available and trust them to do the right thing.
  • Don't make a scene. You are professionals, and most guests don't want to become the center of attention.
  • Don't get flustered. When faced with hysterics, keep calm, make eye contact, and with a soft voice and sincere demeanor address the guest with, "Again, I apologize for this unfortunate incident. What can I do to assist you at this moment?"

I've described appropriate actions for several scenarios and provided a sample apology card and gift certificate. This is your chance to do more than damage control. This is a your chance to WOW your guests — and create raving fans in the process.

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