There is a restaurant in Chestnut Hill, right on the edge of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I’ve been at Paris Bistro a few times and enjoyed my visits. I was looking forward to a nice time with a friend on my last attempt to drop in.
We walked in the door at about 4:30. Immediately upon entering we realized that they probably weren’t open yet as the staff were still in the process of setting things up. We walked over to the bar. The bartender began by telling us they didn’t open until 5. I asked if we could just sit at the bar and chat while waiting for her to get ready.
“No. We do not open until 5.”
We were a bit taken aback as we had wandered in through an unlocked front door and politely asked to just sit and wait without bothering anyone until they were ready for customers in a few minutes. My friend and I looked at each other and instantly decided to go elsewhere for dinner. Chestnut Hill is filled with nice restaurants and bars within a few minutes walk of the unwelcoming Paris Bistro.
We walked out the door, ambled a few feet down the sidewalk, and turned into the Chestnut Grill. We walked up to the bar, asked the friendly bartender if we could sit at two barstools in front of her, and received a rousing “sure, and what can I get you?” in response. It was now about 4:35.
After a nice time talking to the bartender and some friendly people while enjoying wine and nice food, we left a few hours later pleased with our decision.
A few weeks later I met a different friend at Piccolina Toscana in Wilmington Delaware. Coincidentally, we walked in the open front door about 4:30 to find that they too were in the middle of setting up for dinner. A friendly waiter left the glasses he was polishing to come over and tell us they didn’t open until 5. We asked if it would be okay if we sat at a table and talked until they were ready.
This time the response was a big smile followed by “as long as you don’t mind watching us finish setting up it’s fine with us. Take any table.”
We wandered over to a table against the wall where we could watch the entire restaurant, sat down, and continued the business conversation we’d been having. In a few minutes the waiter came over and asked if he could get us anything while we were waiting. We responded that we were fine and didn’t want to get in the way of his doing whatever he needed to do to get ready.
He laughed and said he couldn’t stand to see us sitting in such a fine restaurant with such a nice wine list and not a thing to eat or drink on the table. With that he put menus and a wine list in front of us and told us to pick something. We demurred but he insisted so we ordered a wonderful bottle of wine while telling him we’d order dinner later.
Several hours later after an excellent dinner and attentive service, we left talking about how great the experience was. Having shared the less than welcoming reception in exactly the same circumstances a few weeks earlier, we compared their attitudes about customer service as well. Both of us being consultants who write and speak extensively and have a clientele of senior executives who enjoy good restaurants, we tried to figure out the impact sharing my first person story about these two experiences would have.
Frankly, I have no idea but assume good things for Piccolina Toscana and Chestnut Grill. At the very least I’ve sent them a few new customers who have gone and thanked me for telling them about these restaurants. In all likelihood some of these new customers have gone back and probably shared their new find with their friends. Maybe a few of them found themselves hungry and decided to try out these places.
A culture of friendliness and flexibility about letting in a customer before official opening versus a culture of inflexibility unable to notice that a customer sitting in an empty chair not bothering anyone for a few minutes until opening is a friendly and welcoming gesture sure to get a good response. It makes me wonder how many people have wandered in a few minutes early and been welcomed or sent packing. How many stories like mine, good and bad, are circulating? What is the cumulative result of these stories on those deciding what restaurant to visit?
Most amazing is the power of what is, in reality, a pretty minor issue. One small good experience, one small irritating experience – both rippling around touching many…