I am one of those who sees food as much more than fuel, more as an art form, entertainment, expression. The dinner table as the best place to spend quality time. Great food, great wine, great conversation.
I love exploring new tastes. But I am also fiercely loyal. Once I find a restaurant which delivers, I become a top customer. If any of my favorite restaurants awarded “frequent flyer” points I’d be a million miler.
I am a restaurateur’s dream.
I am a restaurateur’s nightmare.
I have blacklisted more restaurants than I care to mention.
For the slightest transgression.
You see, I work hard for my money.
And I expect others to work hard for my money too.
Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, the company that took the shoe store online, says that “every phone call is a chance to build the Zappos brand.” How right. Brand is built at the point of customer contact. There are multiple contact points in service-based businesses. Contact points which go way beyond exposure to advertising and packaging. Think of banking, for example. Your bank probably spends millions on advertising, and more millions on retail design. But the most powerful and lasting impression you have of your bank was made by the last teller who served you.
Back to restaurants. And to one in particular. A famous New York steakhouse, one of the best in the city, located midtown on Third Avenue. You may know it. You may have been there. Two blocks away from my office at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, I was a lunchtime regular. With or without clients, I was there twice a week.
Until that night ….
I arrived late. Around 11PM. The lunchtime shift had long gone home. None of my familiar waiters to greet me by name. I was seated at a table. Not a good one. I asked to move. The restaurant was empty. The waiter refused. I asked to speak to the maitre. He came over. “Your waiter,” I said, “is a jerk.” He told me that he could not allow anyone to speak about his waiters in that way and asked me to leave. I did. And I never set foot in there again.
To Greece. Several years later. I was enjoying an outside lunch at my favorite Italian restaurant in Vouliagmeni, Athens. I felt like a cigarette but had no matches. “Excuse me,” I said to a waiter, “do you have a light?” The answer came in a backward upward flip of the head accompanied by a clicking sound. Greek for no. I said, “Can you find me some matches?” “Where should I find matches?” came the reply.
I saw red. Jumped out of my chair and walked straight over to the maitre.
“Your waiter,” I said, “is a jerk.” “I know he is,” he laughed, “you’re not telling me anything I don’t know.” I burst out laughing, returned to my seat and asked the next table for a light. I continue to eat there at least once a week.
There are some things I really love about Greece.