We are winding down after a busy season and as usual a tirade is unleashed of how restauranteurs are hell-bent on taking their customers to the cleaners, on turning a quick buck and cashing in on season. But there is another side to this coin, and that is that restaurants have to deal with the demanding, inconsiderate and generally unappreciative public. If the hallmark of a good restaurant is consistent food, value for money and attentive service, what then is the hallmark of a good customer?
First and foremost, honouring bookings: the single biggest complaint from restauranteurs, particularly during the busy season, is that customers make reservations and then fail to pitch – without cancelling. Destination restaurants depend heavily on bookings for their business to succeed. They have a hard time filling seats should their booked customers not show, whereas restaurants in the Waterfront, for example, don’t have this problem as they rely on walk-in customers. This equates to huge a loss of earnings. Restaurants do their utmost to confirm bookings on the day but also rely on their customers to make a simple phone call to let them know if they can’t make it. In New York customers must phone and confirm their own reservations on the day and no-shows are blacklisted. Some restaurants in Cape Town have begun to take credit card details for larger bookings and if they fail to cancel, they are charged. Think of your dinner reservation as a theatre or airplane ticket; you have booked that seat for the evening and it will be held for you in good faith, so do the right thing and cancel it if you can’t make it.
Another equally important issue is that of complaining. You are spending hard-earned cash, so if your experience does not meet expectations let the restaurant know about it. Contrary to popular belief most restauranteurs welcome complaints. In the industry it is a common belief that every unhappy customer that leaves your restaurant will tell at least four people, and so and that number multiplies exponentially. The moment a customer walks out the door, any chance of turning a miserable experience around is lost. Many a disastrous evening has been saved by swift intervention from the manager, food sent back to the kitchen, a complimentary round of drinks or whatever is necessary to rectify the problem. Happy diners spread the word, and more importantly – they return.
The etiquette surrounding tasting wine and of sending wine back is clouded with controversy. Remember that the exercise of tasting wine is not to decide whether or not you like the wine but to discern whether or not the wine is tainted in some way; by being corked for example. This is where the cork itself is defective and has spoiled the wine giving it an unpleasant, damp cardboard smell. The restaurant will keep corked wine and the wine estate from whence it came will willingly replace it. The issue of not liking the wine because it is too dry, too sweet or too wooded is a separate and personal issue and usually a non-negotiable one. Remember that you have ordered the wine; they have opened it at your request so now provided it isn’t faulty you must pay for it.
The relationship between a restauranteur and their customers is the lynch pin to an establishment’s success. Fostering this relationship takes work, understanding, respect and tolerance and it needn’t all come from the restaurant.