Customer Service

 A recent experience (last night, actually) in the northern suburbs, but repeated elsewhere with alarming frequency.

My family traveled to our friendly local neighborhood Culver’s for dinner. We arrived at 6 p.m. We could see people sitting in the dining room and customers at the counter, so we assumed the restaurant was open for dine-in.

We got to the door and saw a sign mentioning that the restaurant would be closing at 8. This is a typical scenario — we are all getting used to labor shortages causing a variety of businesses to curtail their hours or even close on certain days. But as we attempted to enter the restaurant, the door was locked.

At the time of our arrival, four other groups were converging on the location. I knocked on the door, hoping one of the workers would hear it. They didn’t, but a customer did and came to the door to talk with us. “I think they’re closing the dining room,” the customer said.

A woman on the outside said, “but the sign on the door says they are closing at 8. It’s 6. Why are they closing?”

Another potential customer said, “this is ridiculous. It’s not 8. They should change the sign.”

“Perhaps they think they’re in Nova Scotia. It’s 8 there,” I offered. That got a chuckle out of yet another customer.

After a moment, a manager who appeared to be a year out of high school appeared at the door. “We’re very short staffed so we’re closing the dining room because we can’t provide the expected level of customer service.”

The woman who had noted the sign on the door said, “well, if you aren’t open, you should have a sign on the door.”

“I’ll go get a sign for the door,” the manager said. Then, reading the faces of the customers he was turning away, said “do you want me to get the general manager? I’ll go get the general manager.” He walked back in to the restaurant, but by then all of us decided to take our business elsewhere.

A few observations:

  • As a rule, it’s never optimal to maintain a level of service by providing no service at all. I would guess the people who departed without a meal last night would have spent between $150-200 at the restaurant. Turning away customers is always a bad idea.
  • At the same time, what could the manager do? He was trying to protect his workers, who were clearly getting swamped. If the workers who are willing to show up get abused, they will quit. The poor kid was caught between Scylla and Charybdis. 
  • I have never worked in a restaurant — a desultory semester of work-study in the college cafeteria is my closest experience to that. I have family members who have spent many years in the hospitality industry and they have many, many stories to tell.
  • Many restaurant jobs are entry-level work and the pay is generally not great. I see plenty of signs around town with fast fooders offering $15/hour or more, but most locations find themselves short-staffed anyway. People respond to incentives, and most of the incentives are pointing away from the hospitality industry. That could be changed, but the folks who could drive that change are responding to different incentives.
  • Our MSM supremos are trying to spray paint the turd. A WaPo columnist tells us to lower our expectations. It’s just this pandemic and that lying son of a bitch, Trump! They would never hurt you. You know that.

11 thoughts on “Customer Service

  1. Well, geez, Mitch, your experience only illustrates why President Brandon’s brilliant open borders policy is essential for America. He’s bringing in new employees to do the work Americans won’t do, not even for $15 an hour. He’s helping restore normal levels of customer service for your dining pleasure.

    Don’t believe me? Look behind the counter at the kitchen staff. How many are white-bread Minnesotans versus how many speak Spanish as their first language? Makes sense – who else is willing to work for a lousy $15 an hour, flexible scheduling, free food? It’s an insult, offering such a pittance. I could make more than that begging at an intersection. No self-respecting American would stoop so low as to flip burgers, which is why we need millions more Guatemalans to flip them, and to make tacos, and to fry chicken.

    Don’t even get me started on nursing home staff. Wiping old people’s butts for $15 an hour? Not a chance.

  2. I think that those of us that have dined at a Culver’s almost anywhere, they do have a good customer service model. Based on my experiences, it would be a toss up on who has better service; Culver’s or Chik-fil-A.

  3. I can see both sides of this. On one side, the employee treatment at fast food shops is traditionally not good–it’s going to take some time to change that, and then change stereotypes on the part of prospective workers. On the flip side, $15/hour is pretty good pay for someone who’s unskilled, and we’ve got to take a look at what is persuading so many Americans to stay on the sidelines–the overall participation rate is still a couple of percent lower than before the epidemic started. I am guessing that savings from the time when government was paying $25/hour to be unemployed are a big issue here.

  4. The Culver’s customer service model is very good, at least in my local store. I’ve even witnessed three staff members rushing out to the parking lot on a snowy day to help a customer who slipped while getting into her car. And Chik-Fil-A is certainly the gold standard – I’ve never encountered any staff there that appear to be having a bad day.

    In general, it may be an expectations thing. We Americans have come to expect a high level of customer service as businesses have competed for our attention. In Europe, though, it’s not really part of the retail business model. If you need something from a hardware store after 6 p.m., for example, you may be out of luck. A shop owner explained it to me that every one else wants to go home for dinner, too; if you really want something you need to get it during normal business hours (which may coincidentally happen to the the same hours you are at your job and not able to go to the store). You see a similar thing in restaurants where there isn’t a tipping culture in Europe as there is in the U.S.

    Models change by circumstance, of course. When I started my working career, pumping gas at my father’s gas station, we were expected to wash windows and check the air and oil for each customer, and give them trading stamps as well. The first thing my father did after the oil embargo – when people were just happy to be able to get gas – was trash the stamp machine, and then stations started converting half their pumps to “self-service”. Consumers were retrained, and now just about every gas station is completely self-service. I think a kind of reverse-training is happening in other areas now that the home-delivery model is showing people (well, me, anyway) are willing to pay for the convenience of not having to trudge through the grocery store (or any retail store) in person.

  5. Night;
    I also worked in a full service gas station while I was in high school. The minimum wage then was $1.50 per hour. I was making $2.00, plus commissions. We had S&H green stamps for awhile, in addition to the glasses and cups that the oil company (Murphy Oil – El Dorado, Arkansas) handed out. There was a nice side benefit though, at least for a teenager with raging hormones. There was an apartment complex behind our station, where lots of hot flight attendants for Northwest and North Central airlines lived. Halter tops were the hot thing in women’s wear in those years. ALL of their windows got extra clean.

  6. I agree that we are in an era of customer retraining, NW. What concerns me is that you can’t count on stores or restaurants to even be open. I wasn’t angry at the kid manager or the Culver’s itself. I am certain they don’t want to do business that way. But here we are.

  7. Long, but worth it, logistics thread.

    Good news: an on-topic contribution!
    Bad news: it’s on the wrong thread, unless cargo ships are going to metro-area Culver’s locations.
    Gentle suggestion: repost it on Mitch’s earlier thread.

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