Bad service – who gets a pass?

My wife and I just spent a few wonderful days with friends in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Crazy Horse, Wall Drug… it was a GREAT time!  We even got to stop and see my friends Cameron, Vivian and Mark at Rushmore Tramway Adventures (with a bonus ride in the Mammoth)! 

And of course, with great times come great guest service lessons! 

Because it was October, the area was in the wind-down phase of their busy season.  We caught our friends at Rushmore Tramway Adventures on the very last day of operation, and other establishments were closing up soon or were at skeleton staffing levels.

Unfortunately, two experiences stood out with underperforming/unprepared staff members, but they were received very differently.  Here they are – would love to hear your take.

  • Server 1 – mentioned multiple times that she was normally the bartender and was not used to waiting tables. The service at this restaurant was slow and inconsistent.  There seemed to be one ketchup bottle being shared by all tables (5 out 30 were occupied), and 4 out of 6 of our orders were delivered incorrectly.  When service recovery was performed, it was with an air of frustration.
  • Server 2 (different restaurant)- When asked what beers were on draught, the waiter said, “I’m not sure, it’s only my 4th day.”  He was young and timid, hoping against hope to make it to his 5th day. “Could you find out, please?”, we asked. “Sure”, he said, and disappeared.  He came back with a written list. His confidence grew throughout the meal, and when service recovery was needed this time, there was a sincere apology AND a 10% discount on the bill.  In fact, one of our pizza’s came without the pepperoni we ordered.  We were too hungry to wait for another pizza to be made, so he brought out some cooked pepperoni to add to the pizza that had been delivered.

When analyzing the groups’ reaction, it confirmed something I have believed for a long time about service… people don’t necessarily want service perfection, but they do want effort and don’t want to hear excuses.  To me, the bartender telling us she wasn’t normally a server felt like an excuse.

I think it felt like an excuse because she didn’t put forth any effort to overcome the deficit.  We joked that she was probably also responsible for housekeeping, maintenance and renting kayaks at the lake during the summer… and she would have rather been doing any of those activities at that time.

It may be a fine line, but server 2, after announcing that it was his fourth day, never returned to the scene of the crime.  He didn’t use his lack of experience as a crutch. He smiled, answered our questions, apologized for errors, made efforts to improve, and actually did improve, right before our eyes.

Here’s what I find interesting… server 1 was probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s (I am a terrible judge of age), and had a worn name tag, like she had been working at this establishment for some time. She’s the experienced one who fell back on the “this isn’t my normal job” excuse. You would think, hope and maybe even expect that with her level of experience at that hotel/restaurant, that she would be able to jump in to many different positions and perhaps not excel, but at least not act like a fish out of water, either.

By contrast, server 2 was probably in his early 20’s, admittedly in his 4th day of employment at that restaurant, and didn’t seem to possess a TON of worldly work experience.  He was the one who busted his hump to make things right.

And who knows, maybe server 1 was like server 2 on her 4th day on the job?  Maybe she LEARNED how to shirk responsibility and play the victim from the people around her and her – GASP – leaders! Since we know that leaders have a tremendous impact on employee morale, engagement and productivity, she could just be reacting to her environment.

What are the lessons?

  • Cross train early and often – to combat the “not my job” syndrome at the end of a long season, prepare those who will be with you to the very end.  Create a plan to have them ready to take on the new role BEFORE others vacate the job.  Just because it’s the end of the season, it doesn’t mean that training is automatically easier or less time consuming (if you do it right).  When cross training is done at the 11th hour, it can be viewed as a desperation move, and people will be less likely to see it as an opportunity.  Doing it early gives you a chance to reframe the conversation from “oh crap, we have to do this” to “this is what we planned all along.”
  • Encourage effort, even if not perfect – server 2 wasn’t perfect, but he did display a good amount of effort.  That effort needs to be encouraged so he will put forth the effort again. That effort might show up as learning the draught beers by heart or reaffirming the order with the kitchen.
  • Discourage the “victim voice” – Even as you reframe the conversation with early cross training, you may still hear people saying “it’s not my job”, or “I normally don’t do this”. If they say it, they believe it.  If they believe it, their actions will reflect it. There is no need to beat them over the head with “it IS your job!  Your job description says ‘and other duties as assigned!'” Instead, talk to them about their objections… maybe learning a new area brings them back to new hire fears… maybe they have gotten so comfortable (and it’s taken awhile) that they don’t feel they can achieve that level of skill in such a short time.  They need to SEE for themselves that it IS their job (and that it will be okay) before they start telling themselves that.

What do you think? What do you do to prepare your team for the end of the season?

And oh… would you have given a “pass” to server 1 or 2?  Neither?  Both?  Let me know.

Server 2 gets a pass from me.  Server 1?  Not so much.

Thanks for reading!

FREE Event in Orlando – November 12, 2017

Seating is limited!  Click the pic for details and tickets!