Hartleys is one of my favourite restaurants with Paul, the affable owner, as its star. Yesterday I rang him up to ask for an appointment, to offer a service. The reason I did this was because three times in succession over two years I have signed up for receiving a news bulletin about the activities and features of the restaurant and I have never had a response.
I never make criticism without making an offer. This is easier in small self owned establishments than large establishments such as the gas company, where personal bartering and offers do not count. Since there was clearly a defect in the mail system I went along, intending to offer my services in case there was a weak link in the chain. As a result, the conversation was as affable as I could have wished and Paul was able to explain the situation from his point of view. He said that someone had been helping him for a number of years.
We identified two possible weak links in the chain. First of all people write their e-mail address in the restaurant after having received service. This is then passed manually to the mailing list provider who will add the information as and when they have the time. The two links were easy to identify. Sometimes, people write their e-mail address indistinctly so that information is lost. Secondly, it is up to the ultimate recipient of the list to put them on a database. This is done on a voluntary basis.
A loss of even 10% of addresses would have a huge impact over the year on the number of returning customers. In this age of tight profit margins, and I believe that most restaurants operate within this, that last 5% or 10% makes the difference between profit and loss.
After our meeting, I said I would write to him and leave the ball in his court. It is after all his business and not mine and he is entitled to run the business in any way he pleases. I find that with small organisations, complaining of grumbling is the least helpful way of going about things. It is much better to praise the organisation with qualification for example, I loved your food but it was such a pity it was served on a cold plate.
Putting people’s backs up when you first open your mouth just starts the adrenaline to flow and you will get standard answers, anything to placate the customer and nothing will ever be done. It is really worth putting yourself in the place of the service provider to try and imagine what problems they may experience. If the person you’re complaining to feels that you’re on their wavelength, they are far more likely to cooperate .
When I finished the dialogue I went along to Rocky Mountain nursery. There were not many people around but as the following pictorial essay will show, they are preparing for the coming of spring.