Something for Everyone

That’s the tag-line for The Cheesecake Factory in Burlington, MA where I had dinner with a business colleague last week.  In my ongoing quest for the points where marketing, sales and service connect, I had a really interesting experience that I’d like to share.

As anyone knows who goes to The Cheesecake Factory, there is usually a wait to get in.  I’m not one of those folks who minds that wait – and they handle it all pretty professionally there, moving things pretty quickly.  We got called for our table which was a small table for two, right across from an empty booth that was just being re-set up.  My dinner partner asked if we could sit over there instead.

Our hostess hesitated and then informed us that we’d have to go back to the lobby and get reseated by “the computer.”  I asked her what that meant and she told me that all seating was done by a computer, and that we’d have to be re-entered and would probably have to wait another 15 – 20 minutes for a booth.  “Would you like to do that, or would you like to sit here?” she asked.  We looked at each other, and then sat down.  Needless to say – we had quite a bit to say about this between ourselves.  A computer.  To sit at a table that was empty and not 3 feet away from us!  Interesting approach: customer service dictated by technology.

We quit talking about it when our waitress arrived – but she sensed something and asked if there was anything wrong.  I demurred – but she asked again because maybe she could help us.  So I related our exchange with the hostess. Our waitress quickly said she’d bring back a manager to talk with us.  I said it wasn’t necessary – but she said he’d really want to talk with us, so would it be okay with us if she got him?  Okay, we said.

He came back, knelt down next to my seat so we were looking eye-to-eye, and asked if there was anything he could do to help us. He seemed genuinely interested. I related the exchange to him, and he was very quick to apologize.  He explained that the hostess was new, and that he was surprised by her comments.  “Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to want a booth,”  he said.  “I’d be happy to give you that booth in just a moment.”  He went off to make the arrangement.  Our waitress offered us a drink before we were reseated.  We thanked her and said we’d wait until the switch.  “Are you going to be our waitress over there?” I asked.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, but she brought us our new waiter and introduced us.  Then we got moved the the table we wanted.

Sounds like a happy ending, right?  Our request was honored.  Everyone was happy.  But did the manager, Jason Spieler, stop there?  No.  He took it upon himself to exceed our expectations going forward. So here is what also happened in turning around our initial negative first impression:

  • Our drink orders where taken immediately by our new waiter.
  • Jason the manager served our drinks.
  • Our waiter took the time to make great meal recommendations.
  • Jason also served our meals himself.
  • Our former waitress stopped by to check on how things were going.
  • Our new waiter was solicitous, on top of things, and really funny to boot.
  • We didn’t lack for anything – we were completely taken care of.

By the end of dinner, we agreed that this was one of the best service experiences either of us had had in some time.  In fact, I’m hard pressed to get this kind of service from other “high-end” restaurants.  Now, let’s think about this. It started out less than stellar. It was packed in there.  Most restaurants would have either stuck by their “policy” or just reseated us and left it at that.  The Burlington staff “got it” right away – from our first waitress, to the manager, to the new waiter. They worked together flawlessly to reset our impressions and to make up for a rocky start.  Fantastic job!

I told Jason what a great meal we had and how impressed we were with their response to our little problem.  I shared with him a little information about customer loyalty.  A study by Technical Assistance Research Programs ( a customer experience research consultancy) shows that customers who have had a problem resolved successfully and amicably tend to be more loyal than customers who have never experienced a problem with a particular business.  Jason thought that was interesting and noted that he had never heard that before.

Here was another really interesting thing.  Jason shared with me that when he goes away on vacation to see his family, he goes to the local Cheesecake Factory for dinner purely as a customer.  He says being a customer while he is away helps him focus on delivering service to his own customers, and he gets new ideas he can use when he gets back home.

How many of us would visit work on our vacation, if we really didn’t have to?  Now I know why Jason and his team “get it.”  He’s not delivering just meals or good service – he knows he is delivering an experience. And he is a student of that experience.  His company should clone him and promote him.  Thanks Jason!  It was great being a guest in your restaurant.

And by the way, when you go to the Cheesecake Factory, get the Pineapple Upside Down Cheesecake. Cheesecake

Oh my god….I almost caused a scene eating it!

— Lisa Dennis

3 Comments

  1. Posted November 27, 2006 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I love this blog and what a great story. This is so true. What a business does to make the customer happy after disappointment says a lot about the company. Thanks for sharing your experience. My experience that offered a somewhat similar challenge that was fixed by a company is posted here:
    http://customerevangelism.blogspot.com/2006/11/recovering-from-negative-experience.html

  2. Posted November 28, 2006 at 5:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Great story. Jason’s visiting “work” during vacation is brilliant to inspire new ideas. Executives, take note. The best ideas show up when we are relaxed and away, if we are indeed taking a “real” vacation, rather than checking emails and voicemail. Clearly the team that conducted your turn around in the midst of a crazy busy day has mastered the art-of-staying-focused-and-relaxed on the job. Today I experienced two online banking problems with a new account, both requiring phone calls. A well-rescued customer problem may be better than no problems for loyalty, but as a customer, a problem almost always costs me time and energy. So I say no thanks, isn’t there a better way to get more of my loyalty? Now I can’t wait to try some of that cake!

  3. Posted December 5, 2006 at 3:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Carnivale of Customer Service–Best Practice II

    Party on, Dudes! The Carnivale of Customer Service continues as Lisa Dennis, of The Customer View Blog, posts about an experience she had at The Cheesecake Factory. I’ve blogged about them before so I’m not really surprised. This post is…

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