One Saturday, my wife, Deb, and I headed out to our favorite restaurant for an early lunch. It’s a chic Newport Beach research and development test kitchen that experiments with new menu items before putting them in their well-known chain of restaurants.
Their food and ambience are spectacularly perfect, and for more than two years, and during one hundred visits, the experience and service were always exceptional. In fact, the servers joked that Deb and I should have our name etched in the bar stools because we always sat in the same two spots, had a leisurely lunch, and watched sports. That was our idea of the perfect Saturday. We liked to call it a “two-hour vacation.”
They have an incredible cheeseburger. And, we figured that if we went to the gym first and worked out, we were allowed to indulge and split the cheeseburger.
That particular day, we'd already each had an appetizer and drinks when a new server came by to take our entrée order. He described the day’s special—a buttermilk and bacon waffle with Vermont maple syrup, topped with a sunny-side up egg. It sounded decadent, but I had already worked out and had my heart set on the cheeseburger.
My wife loves to have a fried egg on top of her burger, so in an attempt to be nominated as husband of the year, I asked if they could add an egg. Being Scottish, I also asked how much it would cost. The server said, “Two bucks, but I’m not sure the kitchen can do it.” After checking, she said, “The kitchen can’t add the egg. They are too busy.” The restaurant had just opened, and the kitchen was making sunny-side up eggs for the waffles. But when someone tells me something isn’t possible, and my wife is involved, I don’t give up easily.
I waited a few minutes and ordered the same thing with another server who knows us well. He grimaced. “Let me see if the kitchen can do it.” Same answer: “They are too busy and aren’t prepared to do anything that isn’t on the menu.” We didn’t get it. I smiled and asked if I could speak to the manager, Natalie. The minute she arrived, you could tell she was ready for a battle. No smile. No positive gestures. Just a simple “I understand you have a problem?”
I explained that I simply wanted a side order of an egg. She said, “We can’t do that.” I asked, “Why?” Her response was: “We only order a certain number of eggs per day, and we have to save them for our special waffle. If we don’t have the egg, we can’t sell one of our most popular dishes.” So I said, “So you can’t do it?” She said, “Nope.”
“So, let me make sure we are tracking here. I spend at least $6,000 a year at your restaurant, and I have one simple request for a two-dollar egg for my burger. You are telling me you can’t make that happen because you only order enough eggs for your waffle dish?” She said, “Yes.”
I said, “So a one-time visitor who orders a waffle for fifteen dollars is more important to you than a $6,000 customer who comes in at least four to six times a month, but for whom you can’t figure out how to get an egg?” Her response was: “We have to be able to serve the dishes we advertise, and we usually run out of the special ones. If we run out of eggs, we can’t serve the waffle.”
I asked, “As a manager, wouldn’t you rather be one egg short and throw away a waffle that probably costs you fifty cents to make than throw away a loyal customer who brings you $6,000 a year?” She said, “It’s our policy.”
How sad she didn’t have the authority to grant an egg. It was clear to me at that point that the manager—and perhaps the whole restaurant— had no clue about the value of a customer. But she could still save the situation, if she wanted.
I said, “You know what I would do if I were you? I’d send a busboy two hundred feet to the grocery store next door and buy half a dozen eggs. That might cost you a couple of bucks. You wouldn’t have to throw away a waffle, I’d have an egg, and you would make me one happy customer.” She said, “I can’t do that.” I laughed. “In the time we’ve spent arguing about this, someone could have been there and back.” I could not believe what happened next. Natalie said, “I’m happy to take care of your bill for your inconvenience.” I said, “That’s stupid.” She looked at me, dazed and confused. “You would rather spend your company’s money to pay for my seventy-five- dollar tab than figure out how to get me a two-dollar egg?”
I looked her squarely in the eyes and said, “We are never coming back. This egg just cost you $6,000.”
We left immediately. For fun, we went next door to Whole Foods Market, the natural and organic grocery store, to check the price of eggs. We found them for thirty-three cents. Then, to our surprise, we stumbled upon a restaurant in the back of the store called Back Bay Tavern. We shared our experience with Sandee, their server. She shook her head and told us that their company creed is “We don’t say no here.”
We looked over their menu and asked if we could create our own pizza, a combination not on their menu. She picked up her pen, smiled, and said, “We don’t say no.” We got creative and ordered a bacon, cheese, garlic, and olive oil pizza, with a sunny-side up egg on top. It was amazing!
Sandee told our story to several other employees who gathered around and talked about how great it is to work in such a customer-centric environment. At this restaurant, employees are empowered to do whatever a customer requests. They need not place a phone call or get an approval from a manager. That’s empowered service.
It’s absurd that any business owner can think for a moment that customers don’t have other options. There are more than five hundred restaurants we can choose to eat at where we live. Why would the company that owns the research and development restaurant, as well as three others in our zip code, ever allow a service breakdown, especially over an egg?
This is what is wrong with businesses today. They don’t understand the changing dynamics of how consumers are spending their money. There is a new day in the service world. It’s not coming—it’s here!
Visit the 6000dollaregg.com to learn more!