Customer Service Quandaries: Part One

Tina Haapala |

It’s become a tradition for me: I go to Dallas, stay at the same hotel, meet a group of folks at the same restaurant and get some work done. I’ve always enjoyed both establishments which, while not perfect, certainly have done well by me in the past. This last time, things changed.

The arrival at the hotel was fine. It was booked solid, so no upgrade. No problem; I expected it. I settled into the room to do some training, work on spreadsheets, and to write (no, business trips aren’t like they look in the commercials). The next day, I left for my late-lunch/early dinner meeting.

Arriving at Pappadeaux, I received a text.  The babysitter was delayed so one couple would be late. The rest of my party was on-time so I went to get our table. The hostess said they could not seat any of us until all of our party was present. Before we jump to conclusions, realize that in the past, I had been warned that we would not be seated as a partial party, so while off-putting, this was not surprising. I had assumed this rule was there so that they didn’t waste a big table on a small party, having to turn away others in the process. That would be perfectly reasonable.

On this night, however, it was rather obvious that they were not full. Looking upside-down at their reservation list it was clear they wouldn’t be crowded later on either. So I asked if they would make an exception. I had people present who wanted to begin with some appetizers and drinks (a win for the restaurant, as these are typically high-profit margin items) while we waited on the rest of our party who were now on their way.

While wary, they agreed to ask the manager. Off one of them went to talk to someone about the problem. I asked the remaining hostess how long they would hold the table, as it would be another 20 minutes until the rest of my party arrived. She told me that holding the table was not a problem at all. They had plenty of room that night. By then the other hostess had returned to inform me that the manager would not waive the rule.

I’m sure that I got a little terse at that point. “Let me get this right,” I said, “You have a table open, one that you will not need to use whether I sit at it or not. I am here with people who want to spend money to buy food and drink while we wait on our friends to arrive, and yet you will not seat us until everyone is here?”

The hostess replied, “Yes, that is correct.” About 10 feet away, the manager was looking on, but he did not make a move my way. It seemed as though he did not want to speak to me directly.

Come back next week to see what happened.

This article was published under the title "A traveler's customer service experience"

in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on July 6, 2014.