How to Lose Customers and Influence Bad Press

How to Lose Customers and Influence Bad Press
Jamie Lee Wallace - Tue May 26, 2009 @ 08:16AM
Comments: 19

Have you ever experienced a real life marketing situation and suddenly understood a point that was previously only hypothetical?

Dinner for five, hold the attitude
Last Friday night my parents, beau, and I took my 87 year-old grandmother to see the Glenn Miller Band. (If you have even the smallest appreciation for big band music, they are worth checking out.) Before the show, we hit a local restaurant - The Village - for dinner. Little did I know I'd be getting a side of Marketing 101 with my fried seafood.

Waiter, there's a stupid tule in my soup

When the waitress came by, we paused our familial chatter to place the following order:

  • Me and my beau: Fisherman's platter - $29.99
  • My parents: Cajun popcorn shrimp appetizer ($8.99) and baked, stuffed clams ($8.50)
  • My grandmother: Crumb-encrusted haddock - $15.00

A moment after disappearing towards the kitchen, the waitress came back with the unfortunate news that there weren't any baked stuffed clams. (That always happens to my dad.) Nothing else appealed to him, so he opted to go with just the Cajun shrimp. The waitress departed again, but was back in less than two minutes to inform us that there was a restaurant rule against sharing meals and a $4.50 minimum per-person charge.

A slightly stunned silence fell across our table. The waitress turned to me, and asked, "So, would you like to order a cup of chowder?" On top of my $30 plate of seafood? I think not.

I felt bad for the poor girl. After all, it wasn't her rule. It was the rule of the establishment's ill-advised management. In the end, my beau and I weren't forced to order food we didn't want. My parents, however, ordered a dessert to take home for later.

Reality check
Here's the thing. If you do the math, we spent over $60 between the five of us ... $12 and change per person (nearly three times the mandated minimum). And yet, the restaurant owners still stuck inflexibly to a rule that shouldn't have been applied in the first place.

Although my dinner was good, I walked away from the table with a bad taste in my mouth. Being asked to order food I didn't want simply to fulfill a financial quota made me feel more like a number on a spreadsheet than a valued guest at a friendly, neighborhood eatery.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the restaurants that make me feel like I've been invited into a friend's home. One place my beau and I visit frequently is The Black Cow Tavern. When we split a burger at this cozy little retreat, they not only take our order with a genuine smile, they serve it up to us on separate plates. It's not hard to figure out why we keep going back.

The marketing lesson
From a marketing perspective, The Village restaurant would have benefitted from more careful consideration of how their rules would be perceived. If you're considering implementing minimum order requirements or similar constraints on your customers, be sure to think about how they might react to your demands. Put yourself in their shoes. Weigh out what you stand to gain against what you might lose. In the case of The Village restaurant, I doubt the extra $4.50 we paid for the unwanted dessert compensated for five disillusioned patrons.

What do you think? Are consumers savvier about these types of demands? Have you experienced fallout from a poorly conceived customer requirement?

Read more posts from Jamie.

Comments: 19


1. Jonathan Kranz  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 09:03AM


A classic! And an all-too-common business snafu. I think your experience speaks to a larger point: a brand isn't merely a message; it's the sum of multiple policies and practices. In this case, The Village compromised it's business by failing to consider the impact of its behavior as the true brand its customers will remember forever.

2. Jonathan Kranz  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 09:05AM

Rats, I meant "Jamie," not "James." My apologies!

3. Peter Bowerman  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 09:09AM

I'm SO with you on this one. Jamie. It never ceases to amaze me the boneheaded things companies do to sabotage goodwill. As a successful businessman friend of mine said when were discussing this very thing: "People, this is NOT rocket science." Amen to that. It just isn't.

And the amazing thing is this: in this day and age of people watching their money, if you're going to lose a customer (and restaurants catering to every demographic are), then lose them for a good reason: you're too expensive, general belt-tightening, etc. NOT because you pissed them off thanks to an idiotic policy.

You don't blame the waitress, but to a certain extent, I do. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that such a rule foisted on a table spending $60 will likely go over like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.

If for no other reason than HER own financial self-preservation (i.e., given that there was a $10-12 potential tip on the line), I'd have thought she'd have kept that silly rule to herself and if she caught heat for it later (unlikely; is the manager really going to study all the bill to check for infractions? And if so, he's a moron), explain that it's a great rule for alienating customers and little else.


4. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 09:50AM

@Jonathan - Great way to sum this post up into a mantra to live by! Thanks for boiling it down. ;) Whether you're talking about a person or a company, every entity is nothing more than the sum of its actions ... so, you'd better make damn sure that you consider each action (policy, procedure) very carefully!

@Peter - First of all, I'm laughing out loud at your comments. You've obviously had similiar experiences. Your tone is a bit like a sedated Peter Finch in Network. ;)
Thanks much for your spot-on and very entertaining (as in no pulled punches) commentary. You've inspired me to offer more of the same in upcoming posts.

5. Kate Headen  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 10:05AM

Jamie - GREAT post. I won't go into the details, but American Express got on my bad side back when I was still in college (this was nearly 20 years ago) and I swore to the "customer service" rep that I would NEVER hold an Amex again. To this day I throw away every offer for a small business credit card they send me.

6. Peter Bowerman  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 10:08AM

I must confess, I love commenting on "human stupidity" topics. It's such a target-rich arena. And speaking of which, I'm particularly fond of one of Einstein's (allegedly) wryer reflections:

"There are only two things that are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not so sure about the universe..."

Ba-dump. ;)


7. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 10:18AM

@Kate - It's amazing how few companies realize the impact that these "small" incidents can have on lifetime relationships with clients. Now, with the Social Web fully activated, if even just one of these stories goes viral, it can cause damage that will raise the eyebrows of even the CEO. Tks for sharing your story!

8. JB Mavrich  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 10:42AM

I'm a former waiter, and a current writer, and I agree with your thoughts on the waitress, but I think you can go further. And I think there is a valuable lesson here for Freelancers and B2B's.

A waitress is not a exclusively a customer advocate, nor simply a kitchen representative. That means, if she makes this scenario about a policy such as this, she loses because someone will get mad, and she'll lose valuable tips, or even her job. #RockAndHardPlace

What a good waiter does is help foster the perfect evening for guests by providing good service and recommending great food. In a sense, you never just let the customer "order whatever they want." That approach has disaster written all over it. A restuarant doesn't have 20 great dishes; its probably more like 5. A great waiter instead steers guests towards the best culinary options with an affable smile, and maybe a few good one liners.

That being said, no one comes to a seafood place that serves $30 plates to be frugal, they come to be festive. A waitress should never be shy about recommending food. If the waitress needs to sell soup to make a quota, then recommend the soup. If a plate is not going to be enough food, then suggest they both order a separate item. If she sees customers going for the split-dish, say something like "that's a good idea-- there will be plenty there for both of you and you'll save room for our phenomenal tiramisu." Get them thinking about the other fantastic options available while they're still hungry. Unless of course, your soup is too salty and your Tiramisu is runny; then recommend the prawns and the Creme Brulee.

If the waitress were doing her job, she would be catering to the customers needs and acting as a bang-up marketing rep for the restaurant at the same time. From my view, she's failing her customers and the restaurant. If they don't come back, its probably more her fault than anyone else's.

9. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Tue May 26, 2009 @ 12:15PM

@JB - Excellent and well-put value-adds. You and I were thinking along the same track as I was planning to segue from this post into one about the "Art of the Upsell." It's all about how you make the presentation, isn't it? More flies with honey than vinegar? Such simple tenets of both human psychology and business marketing, you'd think they'd go without saying. Obviously not! Thanks for making such great points.

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