Monday, August 24, 2009

Too Big to Care

I am not a fan of chain restaurants. It isn't that I don't like the food, or think I am "above" eating in them; I love drive thru burritos, and chicken Ceasar wraps that are the same from coast to coast. Oh, and don't even get me started on how Happy Meals have saved my life when with nieces and nephews. No, it isn't the food that gets me, or the atmosphere for that matter, canned as it may be, since I like clean places, and chains are usually the cleanest. No, what gets me is the fact that most chains have crappy customer service, because they aren't required to do any better. After all, a company with millions of customers, even in this economy, isn't required to care about one or two. Or, in this case, fourteen.

My husband comes from a large family that tries to get together at least once a month. Due to the large number of people, and varying tastes, that usually means we end up at one of the many chains that populate Utah. Yesterday, to meet to review pictures from Grandpa's 80th birthday party, the choice was Olive Garden. That is when I learned that hell serves delicious breadsticks.

With a party the size of ours we usually try to make a reservation. However, the OG does not accept them. They don't even want to be warned. When I called I was told they were "never busy at that time" and that I "shouldn't worry." Nevertheless, my husband and I got to the restaurant 15 minutes early, only to find his sister was already there, and had put our name in. The wait was supposed to be less than a half an hour. We thought we were golden.

Then an hour went by, and the real adventure began.

I could go into details here, but I won't. Suffice to say, there were many, many excuses, my minor blow up asking for the name of the regional manager, and three, count them, THREE, free appetizers. Then there were lost orders, long waits, mixed up dinners, and a family member left to watch as we all ate and then asked him to put his dinner in a box because the kids were about to explode.

At the end of the meal I walked out ahead of the family because I thought I was about to explode. And that's when I noticed it: nobody cared. It wasn't just the restaurant treating customers shabbily, it was the other way around as well. I overheard two waitresses talking about how they had been stiffed by mid-size parties. I saw a couple simply walk away from an enormous amount of food debris left on the floor by their toddler. And I saw a table of teenagers run their fingers over their glasses, creating that galling, high pitched noise, despite the fact it was obviously bothering other diners. That's when it came to me: no one cares. If it is a chain, no one thinks they are accountable for their behavior. Everyone believes they are anonymous, and absorbed into the crowd, and therefore have no real responsibility.

It almost makes me think that Locavores should stop pushing the global warming issue, and start pushing the manners issue. Of course, what do I know? I am only one person, and the Olive Garden certainly won't miss me. And as long as I eat at other restaurants owned by their parent corporation they won't care.

Should we?

15 comments:

Susan said...

Hmm, maybe you really were eating breadsticks in a circle of hell. Did you take any wrong turns getting there? Was it hard to get out? And did anyone turn into a pillar of salt?

Chief said...

Olive Garden has dished out the worst customer service that I have ever experienced. We never returned. I feel your pain.

Yellow Trash Diaries said...

The heavens have parted and a ray of sunshine has shone down on me for lo, this is the one topic for which I am unequivocally qualified to answer. Having thrown my youth away in this industry, I can tell you as a former manager and owner that someone absolutely does care about your crappy experience. You need to write a letter to the corporate office telling them about your experience. Big chains care A LOT about complaints like this. Be specific, and try to refrain from going into detail about what you believe to be the manager's lineage. Believe me, promotions and dismissals get made from stuff like this. There, that's the extent of my expertise. Unless, of course, you have any questions about animal husbandry.

Gina said...

You nailed it. I had my worst dining experience ever in a chain. I went with a large party (for a wedding celebration, no less) and except for me - the entire party was African American. I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but as I watched other tables get seated and served - larger parties than us, even - while we sat and waited and were ignored for over an hour at one point - it was clear there was only one thing different about our party.

They woulnd't seat us because someone was stuck in traffic and our whole group wasn't there - it was there policy, but it was a huge, and empty restaurant. And then they seated another partial party. It went on and on.

The manager made his rounds and asked how everything was and I spoke up and said that we had a bad experience and he said "great, thanks for coming" and walked away.

I contacted the highest up person in the company that I could find, told them the story and in return got an "oops" letter and a coupon for a free dinner. Like I would ever be going back. Not to mention the other 16 people.

just making my way said...

I have never experienced an Olive Garden, and never have really wanted to. More back-up for that reasoning after reading this post.

Sadly, I think even if you do write to someone in their corporate office, it's not going to change much of anything in the actual restaurants themselves.

Anonymous said...

I hesitated to post a comment to this, firstly, because I do not necessarily enjoy proclaiming to the masses and the heavens that I....work....at...the...O.G. It is not my life's ambition to provide folks with unlimited breadsticks...but, it's a job (with flexible scheduling)...and I? Do it well.
I definitely agree with the gal above me here...they DO care. Trust me. The managers care and corporate cares. Whether the young man or woman who waited on you cares is another matter all together. How much care can one muster for $2 an hour? (that's another rant altogether). The big corporations care tremendously and their research & development teams come up with WEEKS worth of training and manuals that are supposed to teach/train employees to care too. (yep, I'm a certified corporate trainer too) Getting the floorstaff to adhere to those service standards is a completely different story though. (again, $2 an hour folks)
I also agree, write your complaint to the restaurant. I believe you can email olivegarden.com
That complaint will hopefully be handled as a training "tool".
I honestly don't think the size of the company has anything to do with attentiveness of service. You either get a good server who cares about their job or you don't. Mom & Pop places are the same.
I'd like to pass your blog on to some of my coworkers and the management at my store (which is NOT the one you went to btw) because THIS kind of word of mouth is a restaurant's worst nightmare! It makes ME sad, because if you came to MY O.G and you asked for ME, I'd make sure you got the best service ever! (ha!)

Jules said...

It is so true. They are making so much money, they could care less about customer service. All of those kinds of restaurants. It's disgusting!

Rob said...

I'm late to the party, but your new layout is really terrific!

LB @Wait, She Said What? said...

Wow! Customer service in general as gone down the toilet. The OG here takes reservations, or at least they used too. It's always packed so it's kind of a must. You should make an offical complaint though!

My mom just went to battle with Wendys for not securing the cover on their new boneless wings containers. The cover wasn't on and sauce leaked out, through the bag and all over the seat of her car. Worst stain ever! She fought with them and was even hung up on and told "it doesn't matter" but she finally won. They're paying to have the seat detailed to remove the stain.

You have to make yourself heard sometimes!

Scribe said...

Thankfully, we don't have an Olive Garden where I live (we used to, but it shut down - oh the dismay!). My horrible customer service comes from a Canadian chain of coffee shops - Tim Horton's. I waited 15 minutes in line for one coffee (the first in line and the only customer in the place) while the "server" was taking orders on the drive-thru. After being told "one more minute" several times and me asking if there was a manager to help, I went behind the counter and poured my own coffee (and also five coffees for the people who eventually lined up in the store). We all paid for the coffees (with exact change AND I didn't even venture near the till). I got "kicked out" for six months. Lucky for me, there is a coffee shop/donut store on every corner here so I still got my caffeine fix.

I also have a big thing about please and thank you from the customers. Everyone deserves it and not everyone gets it, especially in chain restaurants, where manners seem to go out the drive-thru window.

Enough of my rant, write the head office. Your experience may make it better for someone else.

Aunt Juicebox said...

I don't care for Olive Garden at all. I think they way over charge for the quality, and the service is so-so. Plus, for some reason, they ARE always packed, and you have to wait forever. It isn't worth it. I never go out on a Friday or Saturday for dinner, it's a rule - unless I go between 3 and 4 pm. Otherwise, it's a nightmare, mostly because you are so right - other people don't care. I have lost count of the times I've been ticked off because of the way other customers were acting. And I'm not gracious, I run off at the mouth, slam my dishes etc, and end up walking out. It's the same with movie theaters. So....I just don't do it anymore. We rent from Netflix or Redbox, we have cable, it's so much cheaper and pleasant, and that's worth more than I can tell you, to be in my own home with people who aren't acting like jerks, plus saving a little money too.

*Akilah Sakai* said...

I really hope you take the advice of Kim and Anonymous. It can't hurt and you never know what it may do in the long run. I think more people should take the time to write letters and I plan to do so more often thanks to this post.

Tara said...

a DRIVE-THRU burrito!!! That's awesome! How big must that be?

MomZombie said...

I tend to avoid the big chain concepts, whether it be for food or household items, for these reasons: lack of care or concern, lack of knowledge about product. I am loyal to my local businesses because they know you and aim to please you. As some of your commenters suggested, a call or a letter may have an impact. Perhaps that is what we need to do more to make a difference.

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