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Excellent Customer Service

April 28, 2010

My husband went out last Thursday to see Avenue Q, which has been one of our favorite musicals since we first heard the music in college. When we found out it was touring to our part of the world, we jumped at the chance to go.

I actually bought the tickets for Ben as his anniversary present (Paper Anniverary = Paper tickets to see his favorite show… I am so clever), and so to re-celebrate our anniversary, we went out to dinner. On our actual anniversary we had wanted to go my favorite restaurant in town, a place called Food Dance. They use mostly ingredients grown by local farmers, and the food is always amazing. Unfortunately, on the Sunday that we had been planning to celebrate, they were closed.

Disappointed but not discouraged, we went to another great restaurant in town, where our server was truly awful (we suspect she was new). We told the hostess that we were there celebrating our first anniversary, and she congratulated us, but then nothing else happened. Our server didn’t ask us why we were there, no one said anything about our anniversary, and, to top it all off, because our server was new (and therefore slow), dinner ended up taking almost two hours, causing us to miss our movie time. The food itself wasn’t bad, but it was not the anniversary dinner I had been hoping for.

So, meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Being a Thursday, Food Dance was open. We walked in and in the course of the conversation with hostess I mentioned that we were excited about dining with them this evening because we had tried to come for our anniversary but it was a Sunday evening, so they were closed. She apologized, which I brushed off, because it would have been easy to figure out if they were going to be open while we were making our plans, and she took us to our table.

First of all, our server, whose name was Ashely, was fantastic. She was friendly, she was knowledgeable. She’d obviously been doing what she was doing for a while and still really enjoyed it. We didn’t mention that we were celebrating our anniversary to her, because it never came up in conversation. While observing her behavior with other tables, where she asked them why they had come to Food Dance that evening, I realized that either a) she had forgotten to ask us why we were here, which seemed unlikely, or b) that she already knew. I wasn’t expecting much, since it was almost a month after our anniversary, but it still made me curious.

Dinner was delicious, which is no surprise, but was a delight. I had wild Alaska salmon with a cucumber relish served over a sushi rice and ginger cake-thing. That was probably my favorite part of the whole dish. Sushi rice with ginger is amazing. I will definitely have to try to replicate it when I have my rice cooker again.

Just after we ordered dessert (we opted for the 4″ diameter decadent chocolate cake, as urged by our server, over cherry crisp a la mode), the manager came over and asked us how everything was. We gushed about the quality of the food and the service and told her this is our favorite restaurant in town. And then she mentioned that she had heard it was our anniversary, at which point I saw our server coming towards us from across the restaurant with a sparkler stuck in a dessert.

I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. They wished us a happy belated anniversary, and the manager thanked us for not giving up on coming to the restaurant. And our server told us that, in honor of our anniversary, they were buying our dessert (which is why the server had encouraged us to chose the more expensive cake).

The reason that Food Dance is my favorite restaurant is because they have incredible, delicious food. I’ve really never had anything there that wasn’t amazing. But the reason they’re so successful as a restaurant (and they are, they recently moved into a much larger location, and are still very busy) is because they haven’t forgotten that the little things matter.

They didn’t have to do anything that they did, not really.

I mean, you go to a restaurant where you’re paying between $20 and $30 for a dinner, you expect the food to be good. Maybe even great. But it doesn’t have to be perfect, and yet, at Food Dance, it always is. And this isn’t just my opinion, I’ve never talked to anyone who’s had a meal there that they didn’t love. Seriously.

It’s always nice if a restaurant has friendly, competent servers, but if you get a bad one, it’s not unexpected. I’ve been to Food Dance five times over the last four years, with five different servers, and the service has always been impeccable. However they train their servers, they do a damn good job.

The hostess, who usually is in a position to know, doesn’t have to pass on to the manager that one of their guests is there celebrating. It’s not required for her to be doing her job, but it is a nice extra touch, and shows that she cares.

The manager doesn’t have to authorize a free dessert to be bought for the celebrating people, and one of those expensive desserts on the menu to boot, but she did.

None of those things are necessary. They’re none of them hard, but they all take a little extra effort, a little extra caring. They’re not expected, but they are noticed and appreciated by guests, and they are one of those things that turn a good experience into a FANTASTIC experience.

They did everything right.

Excellent customer service isn’t terribly complicated. But it can be hard. It can be hard to keep employees motivated to do a great job. It can be hard to judge where the mark is and hit or exceed expectations every time. But if you can do it, even 9 times out of 10, you’ll reap the benefits of your efforts. It’s hard, but it’s worth it, because then you have one person who had an okay experience, and nine people like me, raving to complete strangers who will probably never even find themselves in this little corner of the world, telling them how amazing the experience was.

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