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Spills happen

A recent dinner out included one of those accidents that guests and servers dread...the spill. While leaning down to serve my entree, the waiter spilled sauce from the plate in his other hand onto my coat.

What happened next was a flurry of confusion about how the spill should be handled. Apologies, wet cloths, and assurances that the cleaning bill would be paid eventually made their way to the table. But the confusion and the embarrassment disrupted an otherwise pleasant dinner. Much of this could have been prevented if the restaurant had a policy for handling spills that turned the accident into an opportunity to WOW a guest.

The ABCDEF's of Spills

My server apologized sincerely... about ten times. The apology was appreciated, but one apology when the accident occurred and one at the end of the meal would have been plenty.

Paying the cleaning bill is expected, but keep convenience in mind. Set up a house account with a few local dry cleaners and provide your guests with a complimentary cleaning certificate. The guest takes the item to be cleaned, you get the bill. No hassle, no follow up phone calls, and no explanations necessary. Of course, if they choose to use a different cleaner, offer to reimburse the charges.

Do what you can to help, but beware of making a scene, or disrupting the entire party. If possible, offer to take the item from the table, or ask your guest if there is something special they would like to handle the stain. Johnson Wax makes a great instant stain treater towlette, called Shout Wipes. Have some handy.

We all know that dessert is a sweet way to end the meal-- both literally and figuratively. Offer a complimentary dessert to your guest. You might tempt the rest of the party, too!

Extra effort
How did my own story end? Two days after "the spill" I received a written apology from the restaurant's owner, and a gift certificate to enjoy at the restaurant. I think it would have been great to have the information on the dry cleaner and gift certificate when I left the restaurant, so I've written a sample form letter. Either way, it was an effective way to close the book on this incident, and I'll definitely return.

Since I would recommend presenting the gift certificate and dry cleaning information at the restaurant, a follow-up phone call from the owner or manager would be the icing on the cake. A brief message left on an answering machine to apologize once again and invite the guest to return would take just 30 seconds. You might think this is overkill, but in this day and age, service above and beyond the call of duty is rare. Give your customers something to talk about.

Accidents do happen, and luckily my coat was cleanable. Look for opportunities to WOW your guests. Turn them into raving fans and word-of-mouth ambassadors who will spread the word and return again and again.

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