Back of the House: ASS-U-ME

Posted by / Friday, March 18th, 2011

Back of the House: a Service Manual of The Divine and Diabolical ©

An insider’s guide to the navigating the fine dining restaurant world.

~

There are definite procedures to ensure a positive dining/restaurant experience. It all begins with this idea: Prepare for good dining karma.”

- Restaurant Eve Service Manual

Here’s an idea that may sway the dining pendulum in everyone’s favor:

Do not immediately assume the worst.

And this is why.

There’s a banking practice that goes on every day. If you dine in restaurants, pay with plastic and regularly check your account, you may already know of it. If not, you should. It’s one that has caused temple rubbing and furrowed brows from restaurant managers everywhere and unwarranted finger-wagging from the likes of those who, I think, like to finger wag.

The following letter/email correspondence has been altered to protect the innocent—or guilty, depending on how you see it. I’ve kept a collection of goodies or not so goodies that I use in training our staff—a “see what happens when you slack off” sort of thing.

These letters, no matter how they sting, are very important as they illustrate how perceptions are interpreted: rose-colored, true to nature or shockingly skewed.

Don’t worry Mr. and Mrs. Assume-the-Worst letter writer: I’ve altered them enough to protect you, but kept the tone true to form.

While keeping email correspondence private is a courtesy I would usually honor, if communication such as the enclosed applies and we can learn something to help improve our dining karma, I’ll share one with you from time to time.

Unfortunately, this exchange does not end very well.A sodden mess actually.

And while I like to think I am an unflappable professional and a proficient apologist, when provoked, I get angry too.

I know some of you out there may be gasping or thinking “Oh no, she did-unt” while another group, industry compadres who’ve been in this situation, are releasing a salvo of approval.

If you are not in the latter, I hope you don’t fault me too much. As I believe strongly that, even in the current age of “you’ve wronged me, so what do I get now,” civility still goes a long way.

Note the dates and times.

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From:

Sent: Saturday, February 12, 2011 10:23 AM

To: Meshe [mailto:meshe@restauranteve.com

Cc:

Subject: Re: Very Disappointing - overcharged... !!

Importance: High

Meshelle,

Last evening, Feb 11th, 2011, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful evening in your restaurant. We were with friends in the Chef’s dining room under the reservation----. At the time of payment, the other couple and we divided the bill and I had given them cash for a generous gratuity. (22% as the service was quite good.)

My disappointment came this morning when I looked at my account and realized that your staff had overcharged me by $62.50! The fact that your staff added an additional $62.50 to the credit charge is unacceptable.

I am requesting and expecting a quick response and immediate correction to my account. You have just lost a valued and potential long term customer. While sitting in your restaurant last evening, I thought what a great place to bring and entertain high level donors for my organization.

I doubt that will ever happen.

Fraternally,

~~~~~~

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From: Meshe [mailto:meshe@restauranteve.com

Sent: Saturday, February 12, 2011 10:48 AM

To:

Cc:

Subject: Re: Very Disappointing - overcharged... !!

Importance: High

Dear ------

I received your email, please take a moment to review our explanation.

If one is not familiar with this bank practice, it may be common to have your response.

At the conclusion of your (or any guest's) dinner, when we process your credit card, it is first approved only for the cost of the dinner. However, at that point, the bank assumes that you intend to also leave a gratuity on the same card.

After the approval, (the amount of your dinner check) the bank then subsequently places an additional 20-25% hold on your funds. (If you calculate the charges you will see the amount in question is approximate to this.) This is not the practice of the restaurants, but that of all banking institutions. The reason it occurs is to protect debit card issuers, cardholders and the merchants. It ensures cardholders don't spend more money than they have and merchants are paid for the transaction. Normally no one notices this unless one reviews their banking profile regularly. If you check again within usually the next 24 - 48 business hours the hold is removed.

I ‘m sorry that I am the one that has to explaing this to you. I wish that banks would make it clear that this is the banking policy when customers pay with their debit card. By the way, It happens also when you get pre-approved for gas or hotels, you may have incidentals or you may purchase more gas than initially intended.

I hope this explanation was sufficient and do let me know if I may assist you further. We are honest people and unfortunately, it appears this practice has caused you to believe us thieves. If you call your bank, or review the policy they will confirm. Please do feel free to contact me directly if further explanation is needed.

M---, It is important that your memory of Restaurant Eve remains a “wonderful” one and we look forward to your return visit. If you would kindly reply to me, I just want to be sure our good name is intact.

Thank you for your valued custom.

Meshelle Armstrong

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From:

Sent: Saturday, February 12, 2011 12:48 PM

To: [mailto:meshe@restauranteve.com

Cc:

Subject: Re: Very Disappointing - overcharged... !!

Importance: High

Meshelle,

Thank you for returning my email. It seems an odd practice, however, I will inform my friends and monitor my account.

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From: mailto:meshe@restauranteve.com

Sent: Saturday, February 12, 2011 1:28 PM

To:

Cc:

Subject: Re: Very Disappointing - overcharged... !!

Importance: High

M--,

Thank You! Enjoy your weekend!

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From:

Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 12:25 PM

To: Meshe [mailto:meshe@restauranteve.com

Cc:

Subject: Re: Very Disappointing - overcharged... !!

Importance: High

Meshelle,

As of today at noon, this charge has not balanced out…

Additionally, the explanation from my bank, (-----) is somewhat different from yours. My bank stated that your business directs the type of transaction and that you can remove the excess by calling the bank. I am still upset, especially since my banks  tells me this is not their policy. You said that this would balance out in a day or two… my bank tells me it could be 5 – 6 days. You are not being truthful to your patrons. So, it is unfortunate that I cannot in good conscience return to your restaurant or recommend it to anyone else.

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From: Meshe [mailto:meshe@restauranteve.com]

Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 1:42 PM

To:

Cc:

Subject: Re: Very Disappointing – overcharged…

M —-

I am sorry it is Valentine’s day and this is where we find ourselves. May I say, having explained this situation many times normally one allows me the benefit of the doubt. The usual reply from others is : “Thank you for explaning, or I did not know that or I understand.” To be honest I am surprised by your emails. Because you were not aware of a situation or process, you immediately jumped to the conclusion that we deliberately, were stealing from you. I understood your concern so I immediately (at 10:30 on a Saturday morning) replied to your email with a explanation in hopes I could set your mind at ease.

Your bank is not explaining the situation clearly. Please find enclosed links that may be helpful. (From VISA) and one you may find interesting from your bank’s fine print.

Kindly note, when I said, “couple of days”, the business/ banking world (unlike restaurants) do not take into consideration Saturday and Sunday.

Frankly I too am upset by this incident. Being called a thief and a liar after explaining a procedure that was not even created by our restaurant affects me and the reputation of my restaurant. Your bank should really send us both an apology. Unfortunately, the act of apologizing is rare.

I am truly sorry that this incident and now our email correspondence has caused an unhappy memory for you and I’m also sorry for Restaurant Eve. The fact we have lost valued guests is disheartening – most especially, guests who began the initial letter to me as, “We enjoyed a wonderful evening in your restaurant.”

Meshelle Armstrong

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Restaurants make mistakes. People make mistakes.

If you happen to notice something—an error on your bill, a charge on your account that doesn’t belong—by all means, bring it up. Inquire. It’s your money.

However, when you do, please address us with civility. Don’t think we purposely overcharged you. Give us the benefit of the doubt. Allow us time to research and rectify the situation if we were at fault. If we tell you we’ll take care of it, believe us.

And if we don’t, then fire away.

–Meshelle Armstrong, co-owner Restaurant Eve, Eamonn’s a Dublin Chipper, PX, The Majestic, Virtue Feed & Grain, Society Fair.

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Need to catch up? Check out the debut BOH column here. Then make sure to come back for your next lesson in “Good Dining Karma” on Friday, April 1.

Got a story/ question/comment to contribute to the dining karma conversation? Leave a comment below. Or go straight to the source at: Eatgoodfood@me.com

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2 Responses

Danielle Says:


Has this customer ever dined at a restaurant? This is one of the most common practices out there. And I’m curious as to whether, when the charge finally cleared, he realized his mistake. I think you handled this very well, and hope this guy comes out from under the rock he’s been living under.

DC Says:


I’m glad you showed some spine Meshelle. I worked for a restaurant group in that past that probably would have explained things in the manner you did but also sent an obsequious reply and perhaps a gift card… The patron holding his patronage at hostage comes off as being absurd. Would he threaten to stop going to a supermarket after the BOGO deal he was eying up wasn’t honored because it was expired? Well.. maybe he would…

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