Sunday, June 26, 2011

Whatever Happened to the Customer is Always Right?

At a time when people are tightening their belts like never before because the economy, for lack of a better word, sucks, businesses and service people should be going out of their way to please the customer, and to take heed not to offend the customer. Lately, I've noticed the reverse.

Take, for example, last night.

Husband and I are big fans of the Applebee's chain. They have this queso blanco dip that is too die for. (If you are a normal red-blooded American that likes spice and cheese, that is.)

We ventured to the Rancho Cordova location because we had been out shopping in the Sunrise area. We normally dine at the Arden location. So begins my story:

Our waitress greets us shortly after we sit down and asks, "Can I start you off with some drinks?"

I reply, "Water." And she replies, "Two waters, then?" Aaron nods.

Waitress leaves the table and I notice a flyer saying if your server does not offer you a Corona or margarita, you get a coupon for a free appetizer on your next visit. I point it out to Aaron, but it is too early to get excited over a free deal.

We settle on the Ultimate Trio, picking the three appetizers of Wonton Tacos, Steak Quesadilla Towers and the said Spicy Queso Blanco. Waitress takes our order, and to my delight, she still doesn’t offer the alcoholic drinks.

Aaron comments, "Maybe she doesn't think we look old enough to drink?" I laugh. We're only 27 and 30, going on 31, after all.

Everything is going well. We’re surprised by the amount of food, and I discover I love Wonton Tacos, made with "zesty pulled pork ... stuffed in crispy wonton shells and topped with crunchy Asian slaw with cilantro." Yum!

Several times our waitress comes by asking if we were ready for dessert, but we are both so stuffed, we can’t decide. The lure of dessert at $1.99 is too much for Aaron, so he talks me into ordering two Strawberry Cheesecake Shooters, promising he’ll help finish mine because I am oh-so-full. (What a sacrifice on his part.)

As Aaron's finishing off my shooter, the bill comes. We notice the waitress billed us for three appetizers at the happy hour price instead of the Ultimate Trio price, which is cheaper. We point this out and she replies, "Oh! You wanted the trio!?!" 

Yes, that's what we ordered when Aaron said, "We're going to have the Ultimate Trio" and pointed to it on the menu and made our three choices.

Waitress leaves to correct the bill, and I (think I) overhear someone (her manager?) telling her that she actually served us three separate appetizers instead of the Trio. This would make sense, considering the large portions. But, I can't be sure that's what I heard or if that's what happened. 

Waitress brings back the corrected the bill, and I show her the flyer for the free appetizer and say with a smile, "So, do we get this because you didn't offer us one?" 

"I did! It's the first thing I do at every table." 

Aaron and I look at each other confused. No, she didn't.

"I offer every table a margarita. It's the first thing I do because we get in trouble if we don't. Maybe you didn't hear me."

“Uh, no we didn't hear you ... ”

“Yes, because we get in BIG trouble if we don't. I make it a point because we get in BIG trouble if we don't.”

We laugh awkwardly. "Uh, we didn't hear it." 

I'm now thinking, Wow. You can't just admit your mistake? You have to make us feel bad for you because you didn't do your job, so you're making us the bad guys if we push the matter? 

When she comes back with our card, she hesitantly asks, "So did you want the appetizer? Did you want one right now?" 

"Well, we're full ..." (Thinking, the flyer says it's a voucher for your next visit ...)

She reiterates for the billionth time how it's the first thing she asks and how they get in trouble if they don't, so we finally let it go. 

Aaron tabulates the tip for our unprofessional waitress, because again, if we don't leave the minimum standard tip, we're the bad guys, even though my husband doesn't have a job and I'm self-employed and underpaid, we're still expected to leave a tip for a job poorly done.


I notice this just about every time I go out to eat. The servers don't work for their tips. They expect it. And when they make a mistake, they don't own up to it. I don't know if it's Restaurant Theory 101, but it's like they've been trained to say, "Oh, you wanted ... " instead of "Oh, you ordered ..."  

Maybe it's human nature to use that dissociative language, but it pisses me off. Maybe next time I should reply, "Yes I did WANT that because THAT'S what I ORDERED, BITCH!" (OK, so maybe I'll leave off the bitch part.)

What happened to the customer is always right? 

And what happened to the Applebee's manager or assistant manager coming by to check on the meal and make sure the server made the promoted offer?

Applebee's put us in the awkward situation in the first place by making it our responsibility to bring it up, and then our waitress made the situation worse. That's a sure way to lose customers. And that location certainly lost our business.

I just wanted my freakin' free appetizer. I didn't know my meal was going to come with a guilt trip for asking what I was entitled to. 

Update: After complaining online, the manager called me, apologized for the waitress' behavior, and noted that waitress no longer worked there. The manager also sent me coupons for free appetizers/desserts. I am satisfied with the way the manager handled the situation. She was very professional.


  1. While, in this case, I totally agree with you, since I work on the other side of the counter, I can tell you the customer is most decidedly not always right. I have customers that come in, walk up to me and say "mocha". From that one word, I'm supposed to guess the size, whether they want it iced or hot, whipped cream, etc. And then, when I have it made and give it to them, they ask "this is decaf, right?" I say "No, you didn't say decaf". They almost always say "Yes I did". Makes me want to jump over the counter and strangle them! So, again, while you got screwed in this instance, please remember that most people don't know how to be good customers. :)

  2. Oh, absolutely. Aaron and I are so nice and friendly to service people, whether it's someone serving us food or just ringing up our groceries. That's what really gets me when we get bad service. I have pretty limited experience ever being on the other side of the counter, but Aaron has plenty, so he knows what it's like.