THE BLOG
10/03/2013 09:32 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2013

Restaurant Miscues -- The Night When I Was the Biggest Problem

One night during the early 2000s, I was in my Boston restaurant making the usual rounds. The place was packed. The bartender pulled me over. "Steve, this bar guest wants to talk to you."
Awesome, I thought. I went over and introduced myself. The guest, a middle-aged man dressed in a dark business suit, shook my hand. "I gotta tell you, I love this restaurant. I come all the time. Best bartenders in the city. The food? I can't believe how good it is! The servers are amazing. But there's one problem."

He paused to let this sink in.

"Well, what is it?" I asked.

"You!"

I couldn't believe it. "Wait -- me? I'm the problem?"

He nodded. "Yeah! I see you talking to that guy over there, that girl over there, that function over there, that server here. You talk to everybody. But you've never talked to me! You've never once come over."

I was shocked. He was right. I never had. "You know what?" I said. "I'm sorry. I messed up. I try to get to everyone, but I missed you."

"You walk right by me! I'm here all the time!"

I pulled up a bar stool and sat next to him. We talked together for a half hour that night. And after that, I told the bartenders to keep an eye out for this guy. It was a red alert; the next time he came in, I wanted to know about it. He wound up coming back many times, and each time, no matter what I was doing, I dropped everything to spend a few minutes with him.

In restaurants it really is all about the guest. Among many other things, it's about spending time with guests, getting to know them, keeping track of what they like and don't like, helping them to feel special.

Every guest deserves to be noticed. Every guest deserves personal attention. That's why we keep a database of observations about our guests and their preferences. Every day, I go into our database and check out who's coming in and what special treatment they enjoy. When our guests come back again, they find that we've magically remembered from the last time. Do you know how cool that is to them? "How did you know I like that table?" they'll exclaim in amazement. I just laugh. "Well, we keep track of what you like." No detail is too small: the temperature at which guests like their wine, the way they like their steak (some people order medium, but they really mean well done).

If you're a regular at our Boston restaurant, you can go into Davio's in Atlanta, and we'll still sit you close to the bar, because we know that's just the way you like it. This gives us a huge advantage over our competition.

Always listen to your inner compass, stick to your restaurant's vision, and do the best you can with each guest. Even with a database helping you out, you won't get it right every time. Some nights, you will be your own biggest problem. But if you take pleasure in recognizing and pleasing guests, like I always do, these nights will be few and far between. And if you listen to complaints as they arise and make things right, you might find that even your most unhappy and critical guests will reward you with a second chance.