Last week, my family and I went on vacation. On our way to South Carolina to board a Carnival Cruise, we stopped at an Olive Garden to have dinner. Did I have great expectations for the service at Olive Garden? No, but I did have some expectations. I expected what I see on Olive Garden’s TV commercials and on their website, and what I’ve experienced at other Olive Garden locations: a smiling, helpful hostess; a courteous waiter or waitress who leads us to table and engages us in polite conversation; and a family-friendly, upscale-for-a-chain-restaurant atmosphere.
When I stepped inside the door, there were several other groups waiting, so I asked “how long is the wait for a family of four?” The hostess, not smiling, but chewing on a bite of breadstick, says before swallowing, “20 to 30 minutes.”
Not a minute in, and my general customer experience expectations are already let down by a subpar greeting….
Thirty minutes is about my husband’s max wait time at a restaurant, so I wanted to check with him before I asked the hostess to put down our name. I turned to look to see where he was, and when I did, the hostess said, “Do you want to put your name on the list or not?….” Wow. Okay. “Yes, I’ll put our name on the list, thanks.”
So we take our table timer and have a seat, and eventually the buzzer goes off. My youngest son leads the charge to the hostess station where she takes the buzzing timer and points to a table in the bar area. “That’s your table,” she says.
Okay, so I have to tell you sitting in the bar area with kids is not my thing (and I’m sure the bar patrons wishing to relax with a drink aren’t thrilled with my kids’ loud talking either). I ask, “Is that the only table you have available right now?,” and I explain to the hostess my reasoning. “Yep, that’s it,” she says.
I look back at the crowded waiting area behind me, and then reluctantly tell the hostess “we’ll take it.” She points again at the table and says, “OKAY… there you go.”
I ask, “so just go sit down?
“Yea, go for it.”
“Do we need menus?”
She sighs, glares at me, and hands me four menus. I look at her with my confused/”are you serious?” look and look back at my husband who has the same expression on his face.
“Wow. I’ve never been to an Olive Garden like this before,” I say, hoping that she’ll sense my disappointment. She says nothing, continuing to glare until we go to our seats.
Since we were seated steps from the hostess station, I watched during our meal to see if it was just me that the hostess seemed to have a subtle disdain for. But it wasn’t. She continued to eat while talking to people, didn’t smile, was terse, and pointed to seats instead of having guests seated by the wait staff. It was easy to read people’s disappointed expressions. Their general service expectations were let down from the start, perhaps the very worst moment to deliver a poor customer experience. Even the great service by our waiter could not make up for the bad taste left in our mouths by the initial greeting.
Like our family, most people didn’t say anything to or about the hostess at the moment, but here I am telling you – and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others – about it now because it disappointed me so much. Customers don’t usually have great expectations for service, but they do always have some expectations, and we should all try our best to meet (and even better, exceed) them, especially if we’re the first touchpoint for a company, organization or brand.
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