Image via WikipediaSubtitle: If the Customer Is Wrong, Then You Don't Need My Business
Long ago, my husband and I used to frequent a local Vietnamese restaurant - the first one established in San Diego. It wasn't in the greatest location, but the cuisine was fantastic. Mark and I would go there once or twice every week. Then Long, the owner, decided to move his family and business into the ritzier section of town, and sold the place to another restaurateur.
With trepidation, Mark and I continued frequenting the restaurant, but the food and service began to decline until one evening, when we had invited four people to join us, I did not get served my Pho (noodle soup) until everyone else had finished eating. To say the least, I was quite upset and left there telling Mark that I never wanted to return and as far as I was concerned, that restaurant could just disappear. Within a few months, we passed by the place and noticed that it had been vacated.
I often wondered whether that eatery had imploded due to the energy of my wrath. But I'm sure it boiled down to the lack of good customer service.
Fast forward to a recent excursion to the Sonoma wine country where amazing restaurants abound. Our wine broker, Alan, took Mark and me to a Sonoma bistro called "The Girl and the Fig" where they serve "country food with a French passion." Alan often takes his clients to the local wine-country restaurants and brings his wines along so that clients can enjoy the food-wine pairing, and he can then sell his wines. He and his partner produce the Abstract wines which are quite good. You may have read Alan's piece that I published earlier this year called "Rocking the Vineyards of Sonoma."
Alan told us he had called ahead to make sure that he would be able to bring his own wines, and that the woman to whom he had spoken assured him that the corkage fee would be $10 per bottle. He had already shared two bottles of wine with us during our dinner and had opened the third so that it could breathe. Now this is when the owner, a guy named Michael, walked over, not to see how we were enjoying our meal, but to vilify Alan for having opened the third bottle, and then to chastise all of us about it. He grabbed up our wine glasses and would not allow Alan to pour that third bottle of wine. I felt as if my fingers had just been rapped with a ruler by a nun in a black habit.
And yet, when the bill arrived, there was a corkage fee of $15 per bottle (despite what the woman on the phone had told Alan) and the third bottle was included - even though the owner had not allowed us to consume it. Nobody likes conflict, and Alan was trying to entertain us, his visiting guests, sans any negativity. But what's right is right - right? So we told Michael that Alan had called prior to coming and was told the corkage fee would be $10. And a corkage fee of $10 is reasonable in these economic times, the three of us believed. If we had known that the rug would be yanked out from under our feet and we would be charged $45 for three bottles (one of which we didn't even drink), perhaps we might never have gone to that restaurant at all. Michael said, "Nobody here would have told you $10 per bottle." Then he turned on his heel and walked away.
In 1908 César Ritz (1850-1918), the celebrated French hotelier is credited with saying 'Le client n'a jamais tort' - 'The customer is never wrong'. "The customer is always right" is widely thought to have evolved from Ritz's quote. Hasn't everyone heard of the Ritz? The place is celebrated in song (Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz.") It's even a word in the dictionary - "We went to this really ritzy joint." And who has not eaten Ritz crackers?
I do not believe that The Girl & The Fig will enjoy a hundred plus years of notoriety as Ritz has. They may serve food with a French passion, but Ritz's concept of the customer never being wrong has not resonated with Michael the owner of The Girl & The Fig. It's not advised to go through the work and constant challenges of establishing and running a restaurant, only to piss your customers off.
I have waited a month since our little soiree to write this, so I feel dispassionate about it now, and am sharing it as a lesson to all of us.
There was one good thing that came out of it though. Alan, Mark and I coined an entirely new word which you, too, are free to use. "Douche-baggery" - as in, "What douche-baggery is this!" Or, "There seems to be a high level of douche-baggery afoot." It's vocabulary with a French passion. Use it, share it, and recognize it when you see it, because the customer is never wrong.