“Being Right is the Booby Prize”

That’s a direct quote from my friend Holly Stiel, who has been a guru in the world of hotel and spa concierges for years. Far from being just good advice for “hospitalitarians,” these are words to live by.

In Santa Barbara last Sunday night, I arrived at a restaurant. The host was all smiles until it was revealed that our party of six did not have a reservation. It was a cold, post-holiday evening but the little cafe on State Street was busy.

He explained with a weird, tense smile, that we would be fortunate indeed if there was a way to fit us in. Could he recommend another restaurant for us, I asked, not wanting to participate in the song-and-dance.

Turns out there was a way to get us in! A miracle.

So as he seated us, he made sure we knew how lucky we were. He told us exactly that, with the same taut smile.

This restaurant owner won the Booby Prize. By making sure we knew we were “wrong” (assuming there would be a table for us as walk-ins) he had hoped to school us (my restaurant is very popular, and you, Ms. would-be Guest, are being incredibly presumptuous sashaying in here with your party of six!) Instead, he lost my future business.

Being Right is something most of us aspire to and we pursue it, instinctively. His response is one of the most common hospitality “being rights” I see. Hosts and hostesses at restaurants do it all the time. But the gentleman could have acted more like an “agent” rather than a “gatekeeper.”  These are expressions coined by Danny Meyer, the great restauranteur, in his book Setting the Table, the Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. (Yes, you’ve heard me recommend it before.)

What if he’d simply welcomed us with, “We’d love to get you in. Thank you for coming tonight. Give me a moment and I’ll see what I can do.”

I would have continued my twenty-year tradition of dining there.

1 reply
  1. Staci Greenberg
    Staci Greenberg says:

    How “right” you are in the observation of someone who practices the “how wrong you are” customer service approach. I see it in my design business….in fact you see it throughout the services industry.

    Good customer service begins and ends with the customers needs. If in the process the service provider makes the end user, whether its a patient or restaurant patron, feel anything other than glad about the the experience then the provider has failed.

    Reply

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