My family and a guest ate at Chili’s Greenbelt 5 last Sunday, and had a horrible experience waiting for our table. I was so annoyed that I wrote the General Manager of Chili’s, and I am publishing my letter in full (except names, addresses, etc.) for those of you in the mood for a Marketman rant of sorts. I waited two days for a written response but did not receive any. I did, however, talk to the General Manager twice on the phone and summarize her responses below. I realize many folks wouldn’t bother to sit down for an hour or two to write a complaint, but my feeling is, if nobody does it, then we are just likely to get more and more bad service in the years to come…
Dear Ms. Chili’s General Manager (CGM),
I and three other people had lunch at Chiliâ€™s Greenbelt for lunch today and I would like to relate our experience at the hands of your restaurant manager and host.
We arrive and are met by Ms. Host (H), who asked how many were in our party (4) and asked for a name, which she wrote down on her clipboard as â€œThe Teenâ€ and party of 4. She explained that they were just â€œcleaningâ€ a table and it would be ready shortly. She directed us to the waiting area by the window.
Several minutes go by, a few other parties arrive, they agree to be seated outside (on the terrace), and they are shown to their tables.
My wife approached the front desk and spoke with Ms. Restaurant Manager (RM), who appeared to have taken over the â€œwaitlistâ€ and asked how much longer we would have to wait for â€œThe Teenâ€ and she said there were two tables â€œbilling outâ€ and we would have a table shortly. This, to us, meant their bills had been requested and the payment was just being processed.
12:15 or so
A party of three ladies arrived, and they had their names down on the waitlist (done by RM, I think) AFTER our name and they were instantly shown to the bar, which had 4 seats vacant side by side, and this party was then given menus, and asked to if they wanted to place an order, which they did.
Ms. RM CLAIMED later that someone came into the restaurant saying she was “The Teen” and that they had taken the table. She then immediately changed this answer and said the lady who said her name was â€œThe Teenâ€ had instead claimed that she wouldnâ€™t be waiting any longer, and when she walked out, Ms. RM crossed off our name from the list with a blue marker, despite the fact that my wife had just minutes before asked her how much longer we had to wait and it was clear we were ALL (including “The Teen”) waiting inside the restaurant, as requested by the host.
During this period, we also noticed that as soon as a table was vacated, it was cleared, cleaned and set within 2 minutes, hence the original advice of Ms. Host was clearly either a lie, or misleading at best, as NO TABLE WAS IS FACT BEING CLEANED for us as she had claimed.
I approached Ms. RM and asked why the three ladies who arrived after us were now being seated to a table for four, and had already placed their orders and their food was being laid down just a minute or so after, while we were asked to wait in the waiting area, unapproached for 25 minutes by their host or staff, not asked whether we wanted to place an order, and not called to a table.
Ms. RM said that a table was being readied for us. Then she said she had crossed us off the list. Then she said someone had claimed our table, then it was the mysterious â€œyung maputiâ€ who cancelled and then left. If all of this were true, then why did she first say that a table was being readied for us when I first asked?
When I pointed out that two intelligent people should be able to manage a simple waitlist between them, she simply provided a blank stare. When she inquired with the host, they were unable to provide an honest, intelligent answer. Furious, I was quite incensed by the complete and utter lack of customer service, and the inability to recover from several serial gaffes. The best Ms. RM could muster was â€œwe are sorry for that.â€ More appropriately, she should have said â€œI am sorry for having screwed up the waitlistâ€ as it was she, and she alone handling the waitlist at that point.
We have been fairly frequent customers of Chiliâ€™s, with my daughter opting to eat there some 5-6 times per year for the past 7 years. At an average check of PHP2,500, often more when with guests, we have spent some PHP100,000+ over the years. If we continued that for the next 5 years, it would mean, at say an increased average cheque of PHP3,200 for the same amount of food, another PHP100,000 or so in business. In the words of my 13 year old daughter as SHE PERSONALLY filled out your own customer survey, â€œWE WILL NOT EAT AT CHILIâ€™S EVER AGAIN!â€
But more than that, a normal unsatisfied customer would tell some 10-20 people about their experience, but in this case, I am writing a post for a food blog which I maintain and hopefully some 10,000+ regular readers and restaurant diners will read it and act as they see fit. But I am writing you this facsimile letter to give you a chance to clarify any factual errors or otherwise respond to this narration of our experience at your restaurant, so that I may publish that response as well, if appropriate.
So here are some basic questions which I hope you can respond to as succinctly and factually as possible, after you discuss this facsimile letter with your restaurant manager and host.
1. Why did Ms. Host tell us that a table was just being â€œcleaned,â€ when in fact there was no table free yet, no table that had checked out, and no table that was actually being cleaned? (For me, telling someone that a table is being cleaned, means a table is being cleaned, and based on our observation, should have been ready in two minutes or so).
2. If there was no table ready, and none imminently ready, why didnâ€™t Ms. Host or Ms. RM simply say that, and instead give a realistic estimate of the possible wait time? (The restaurant is not that large, certainly they can gauge this with some degree of experience (and as a restaurant manager, I would have expected that from Ms. RM). If we had been told that the wait would be approximately 30 minutes we would have simply found another restaurant to have lunch at. Itâ€™s a clear situation of setting reasonable expectations.)
3. When my wife approached Ms. RM, why did she say that two tables were billing out, when in fact those two tables had NOT YET asked for their bills, though they were close to finishing their meals? We SAW the two tables which were directly beside the waiting area, ask for their bills a few minutes AFTER Ms RM was approached. And since my wife clearly walked up to Ms. RM from the waiting area, and returned to sit in the waiting area, certainly she could have remembered that â€œThe Teenâ€ and party were in the waiting area.
4. Why were three ladies who came in AFTER us, seated at the bar, asked to place their orders, and shown to one of the two emptied tables before we were ever approached by anyone? Not a host, server or manager approached us in the waiting area for some 25 minutes to give us an update, ask us if we wanted to already place an order etc. Was the restaurant manager unable to understand the simple concept of a waitlist and serving customers as they registered on the waitlist, particularly in this case where a table for 3 or 4 was required by both parties?
5. How is it possible that the restaurant manager would forget that our party under the name â€œThe Teenâ€ was waiting in the seated area just minutes after speaking with my wife? Then CROSS OFF our name from the list when a â€œyung maputiâ€ (her term) second “The Teen” told her to?
At no point did I receive a coherent explanation from the restaurant manager. She said â€œwe are sorry for thatâ€ several times, but was unable to explain and answer any of the five basic questions above. So I pose them to you again and hope you can provide some honest and logical answers.
At the very best, this struck us as a comedy of errors, really sloppy waitlist management, insensitive customer service, and a basic inability to explain how we had arrived at this situation. But you have definitely lost several customers as a result. My post on this experience will be published on Tuesday, 24 March 2009. I look forward to your timely response to the five questions posed.
First of all, let me say I am pleased that the General Manager did call me twice to try and address the issues I raised in the letter. In my experience, most restaurants or businesses in the Philippines don’t even bother to do that. Having said that, there was no written response, just a verbal explanation, which frankly, in this country, can always be recanted or taken back, so unless it is in writing, I don’t give it too much weight, if you know what I mean. If I, the aggrieved customer, bothered to write them in an effort for them to improve their business, surely they could sit down and write me a proper letter in response. So in a nutshell, here is a summary of her answers to my questions after she reviewed the “incident reports” and discussed my letter with her staff (Host and Restaurant Manager):
1. There was no table being cleaned. The Host should not have said one was being cleaned. Basically, that was a lie, or at best, an inaccurate description of the truth.
2. In their experience, when they give time estimates for table waits, they are always too optimistic. So when I suggested they DOUBLE the time they thought was necessary, in order to overcompensate and greatly reduce the risk of irritating customers, she agreed that would be better for setting the right expectations. And customers could opt to go elsewhere instead.
3. RM was completely at fault, should not have said tables were billing out, when that was untrue, should not have forgotten that the party ‘The Teen” were patiently waiting in the waiting area.
4. RM, Host and Staff completely at fault, the next party of three should never have been seated at the bar ahead of us. They should have offered the bar seats to us. They should have approached us for an early order. And we should have had the first table that became available. They admitted fault on every aspect of this question.
5. She could not explain how RM conveniently forgot that our party was waiting. She could also not explain the cancellation of our table.
Overall, the General Manager basically agreed that every question or point I raised was valid and or accurate and apologized profusely for their staff’s performance, or lack of it. They also reviewed “The Teen’s” customer survey card. They realized that it was a situation that needed customer retention/recovery skills. She admitted that the restaurant manager never approached our table to try and correct the situation or mollify the clients, another breach of written internal policy regarding customer service.
In the end, she asked that we “give the restaurant a second chance”, to which I declined. I told her the fact that the incident had occurred, that I had pointed out the issues to the RM who was in a position to correct things right on the spot, and for a whole hour while we had lunch, and the now clarification that there were indeed serious flaws in the handling of the situation, I would bring my business elsewhere instead. I also pointed out that there was no written response and I gave her overnight to provide one but I have not received one as of this writing.
It’s one thing to admit fault (a big step, though in this case by a higher up, not the culprit themselves even when given the opportunity), but a lack of remorse or real understanding of what went wrong, and a lack of immediate corrective action is for me, nearly unforgivable. And there are so many other restaurants around, so I am more inclined to patronize the ones with better service. And the more the general public demands better service, the more likely we are to get it. Considering that expenditures on restaurant dining have been declining in recent months, it behooves restaurants to focus even more on their service levels unless they want to their business to lose more money…
Oh, and one last thing. The food, was vintage Chili’s, standard family fast food. But the prices seem to have have risen dramatically now that they are in their jazzy new location. So lunch for 4 ran roughly PHP3,200 or PHP800 per person or some $17 each (and The Teen only had a bowl of chili and a drink!). At PHP800 per person, you are DAMN RIGHT I expect some decent service. Even Jollibee and McDonald’s trump this recent experience at Chili’s Greenbelt 5. Two thumbs and two toes down from Marketman and The Teen, a combined “8 digit down” rating! :(