I enjoy the Red Elephant in Tampa. So much that I took 20 other people with me in the month that followed my first visit! I introduced these new customers to the place by scheduling lunch meetings and appointments there at various times during the month. All of them liked it and now they're going back too. Since then I've taken about 20 more people. I'm responsible for at least 40 additional Red Elephant customers who are now loving the roasted tomato soup and the chicken grill and the elephant ears as much as I do!
Red Elephant customer service is what really sold me on the food because my first time there they brought me little sample cups of all the soup, without me requesting it. They did the same thing with their signature dessert. I have purchased so many now that I can't even count, plus lots of other things on the menu. It is Red Elephant's custom to give samples and to go the extra mile. It serves them well.
Red Elephant's customer service contrasts sharply with what was quite possibly the most pathetic customer service experience of my life last night at another restaurant in Tampa. A redeeming quality of the night was the wonderful friends we shared the meal with as well as lots of laughter.
I'm not naming the restaurant here because my goal of this blog is not to destroy a restaurant but to make a case for something else.
Larry and I went to this restaurant with three other friends. It was a sit down restaurant in an extremely neat and clean atmosphere with waitstaff, and food served on real dishes and glassware. We all commented on how nice it was.
Everyone's entrees came out except one serving of rice. The rice was supposed to come with the meal, in fact the entree was meant to be served over the rice but the server said it wasn't finished cooking yet. That was really odd that he brought it out without the rice, but he said it would be out shortly. It never came even though my friend gently reminded him several times.
Everyone's food was tasty but mine. I rarely if ever complain about food and even if it's bad, hesitate to say anything. I am so easy to please when it comes to food. But this dish? I'm telling you it was horrible. Everything on the menu had a photo to go along with it, and my dish looked nothing like the photo. Although it tasted terrible, everyone at the table sampled it. [In retrospect I know that's crazy! Later after I got home I realized how bizarre it was that we all subjected ourselves to it by taking a tiny bite. Maybe we were the crazy ones after all.]
Everyone at the table took a little taste of my dish and said, "Ughhhh!!! That's nasty!!"
I was willing to let it go, say nothing and just eat something later at home. But my husband was uncomfortable with that idea. He spoke to the server and told him that I could not eat the meal it was so bad, and furthermore it looked nothing like the photo in the menu and was misleading. He respectfully asked for a replacement. The waiter said he thought that would be a problem. We thought maybe we mis-heard him. Nope! He went to the kitchen, came back and said that he spoke to the manager and they said I could have something else to replace it, but they were going to charge me for both entrees.
I said, "no, I'm done." I kindly asked him to take the dish back to the kitchen and just forget it. My husband was not a happy man.
Our friend's rice never came. Neither did drink refills. When the server came back my friend said, "you never brought the rice." He said, "Oh, that's okay, I won't charge you for it." Unbelievable. How could you charge for something that you weren't being charged for in the first place? It was included in the price of the entree. When our friend brought that up the server said, "Okay, well do you want me to bring you some rice now?" We pointed out the inappropriateness of this since she had already eaten the rest of her entree and her plate was completely empty. Was she just going to sit there and eat a little bowl of rice? It only gets better...
Our friend reminded the server that that she had never received a drink refill so he took a water pitcher, and with a terrible attitude he filled it and scowled, "there!!!" and walked away.
My husband asked to see the manager.
The manager refused to come out and talk to us.
Just when we thought it couldn't get any more interesting, another man came out from the kitchen and introduced himself and said he was the chef. He wanted to know what was so wrong with the entree we sent back. We explained it and told him the other dishes were good and in fact I had wanted to order one of those in replacement, but had been refused. He offered to re-make me the same exact (nasty) dish again but try to do it better this time. We pointed out that everyone else had finished their meals and it was too late. Second, I did not care for that dish at all and had absolutely no desire to try it again. He seemed perplexed.
We told him we were very disappointed that the manager wouldn't come out to talk to us, to try to make this right. He offered the excuse that the manager was irritated, tired of dealing with customers. He said other diners had sent dishes back to the kitchen over the previous weeks and she was upset about it and didn't want to talk to anyone. My husband said, "Sir, that really has nothing to do with us. We are first time customers here. And now you are losing us. It's a shame because the other food was good, but honestly the way we have been treated is simply unacceptable." He just shook his head and said he was sorry and mumbled something about hoping we could understand where they were coming from.
We asked for our checks. Again he offered one more time to bring our friend a bowl of rice. [Sigh. Did he still not see the absurdity of this?]
Moments later the waiter appeared with our checks, and then the best line of the night was uttered. After placing our checks on the table, he motioned toward the table and said to us, in all seriousness: "Just leave all these dishes here. I'll take care of them." What did he think we were going to do? Start washing them? When he told us to just leave the dishes on the table, we busted out laughing. Again he stared at us wondering what all the laughter was about. By now I thought surely all of this was a prank and we were going to be on TV.
We pulled out our debit cards to pay and suddenly he became confused and said, "Hey, could you guys just all pay together? Because it would just be a lot easier." And my husband said, "Not for us!" Again he looked at us like we were crazy. We explained to him we were paying with three separate debit cards and it would be very difficult to pay together since none of us had cash to exchange with each other. He was perplexed.
To this I busted out laughing and exclaimed, "Seriously! Where are the hidden cameras?! We have to be on TV right now. This is unbelievable!!" I stood there with our friends while my husband was paying our portion and we laughed so hard at this whole debacle, until tears were running down my cheeks. At least the laughter was so good for the soul, though my stomach was growling, wanting dinner.
Just when we thought it couldn't get worse, as my husband was paying he noticed on our check they charged for the nasty entree that we sent back! The manager didn't want to budge on that. She was insisting that we pay for it although I never ate it.
All three of us paid our checks and when walking out the door after it was all done they said they noticed they forgot to put an appetizer on one of the checks and called us back in to pay for it, which we did.
I was so hungry when I left so I called my favorite pizza place on the way home, ordered some and ate it with my kids when I got home.
We will never go back there again. Even though four out of the five dishes were good, the customer service was the most deplorable we've ever experienced, even outlandish! The problem could have been easily rectified, but it wasn't. My husband remarked about how much business they could have gained from this one visit had they just taken a few moments to help us and make it right.
Not only did they not seem interested in helping, but they seemed intent on hurting.
Now that sounds bizarre, I know. But how many of us have met people before, even leaders who seem more intend on hurting others than helping them? I'm a leader myself and I have to say I'm ashamed of some of this type of behavior. It simply should not be.
Have you ever known people who actually try to drive people away instead of entreat them? It happens. I believe for a Christian it's simply unacceptable. We should be the easiest people on the planet to engage!
I'm telling you, the owner of this restaurant and her staff are literally trying to drive people away. What's the takeaway for me? I don't ever want to do this! God help me.
Whether we're in the business world or the ministry world, it's the people business. Let's always be passionate about helping, not hurting. Take a lesson from Red Elephant and not the other place.
I know some of you are really wanting to know what restaurant we were at. Again, I purposely didn't share it because my goal isn't to hurt them. I just want to make a point here for all of us, let's be sure we're helping, not hurting.