Working in a restaurant is one of the most important jobs a young adult can have. In my own experience, I've been a server, hostess, and bartender. We were trained to treat the customers and our fellow team members with total respect.
Not many other jobs teach a strong, collaborative work ethic like waiting tables. It is an amazing training ground for future jobs. It requires servers to work with all kinds of people, to adapt quickly, to read people accurately, and to work as a team. It requires high emotional intelligence.
Every team member - servers, hostesses, bartenders, busboys, dishwashers, cooks - impacts the overall customer experience.
Owning a restaurant is also one of the hardest entrepreneurial ventures. 60 percent of new restaurants fail in the first year; 80 percent don't make it to five years.
Imagine my surprise when I read about the deplorable behaviors of the wait-staff at one of Arlington, Virginia's top Asian restaurants, Peter Chang.
The waiters added disparaging comments about the customers onto the check, and then forgot to delete them when they presented the check to the customer. When caught, they were not apologetic. They found it to be funny.
That's not the shocking part of the story.
I was stunned to read that this behavior is accepted at this restaurant, and that the leadership team does nothing to stop it. There is no accountability for offensive behavior, which basically grants approval and permission for this behavior to continue.
This incident conveys that the organizational culture tolerates customer disrespect. Manager Qien Chang said that servers had been previously warned about leaving offensive comments on checks. "They always do that. I've told them so many times."
Peter Chang's culture is not a culture of accountability. It is a culture of disrespect. In cultures of accountability, every team member commits to meeting or exceeding the company's goals. Employees understand their connection to the organization's success.
I completely understand that the servers saw no real harm in their actions. And, really, it's not their fault. They've been poorly trained by a management team that did not convey the importance of customer respect. This has nothing to do with age or experience. This is a direct reflection of leadership.
I worked at Uncle Julio's Rio Grande Café for 4 years during college, in one of their newly launched and most successful locations in Bethesda, MD. I was a head server and a bartender. We had a great time, but customer service and customer respect was repeatedly reinforced.
Ultimately, leadership dictates the core values and the culture of an organization. They must model the accepted behaviors, and institute firm consequences for those that challenge the values system.
Customer respect is a learned behavior, stemming from the top.
Qien Chang could learn a few things from Tony Marciente, chef and owner of Chef Tony's in Bethesda, MD, and also co-host of the Creative Entrepreneur Buzz podcast. Tony is known for his superlative service and his ability to make every customer feel as if they are the only customer that matters. This is one reason why his establishment is packed everyday for lunch and dinner, and why it is a favorite place for business events as well.
Troy Guard, chef and owner of TAG Restaurant Group in Denver, CO is also known for superlative customer service. One of his 7 values is Caring. "This is so important--not just for the restaurant, but for life. You need to care for yourself, care for your team, care for your guests, care for your community.
If you don't care, why should anyone else?"