Knowledgence Associates is not in the business of reviewing food and restaurants, nor do we typically shill for other businesses. But since our work is centered around dedication to the customer experience, we feel the need to share with our readers a magnificent example of a business that obviously “gets it,” and how our experience with this business made us feel.
On a recent trip to Seattle, Lisa and I decided to go out for dinner. We had no idea where we wanted to go, or what we wanted to eat. The hotel where we stayed had a shuttle bus, so we asked the driver for his recommendation. After a few suggestions were considered, we finally decided on Daniel’s Broiler, on Lake Union. This was to be serendipitous.
We walked into the restaurant, and I immediately thought that this was a far nicer restaurant than we had planned. We were not seeking fine dining, just a decent meal at a decent price. However, the hostess made us feel welcome, and directed us to the lounge, where we could get a drink while waiting for our table.
Before we got halfway through our drinks, we were told that our table was ready for us. One small detail that foreshadowed what we were to experience was that the bar did not insist we settle up before being seated. The waitress simply told us she would arrange to have the drinks put on our dinner bill. Simple, effortless, but it made a great impression. Why do other restaurants act like you are going to dash out the back door instead of going to your table to eat?
On the way to our table, we passed a refrigerated display case, which housed various cuts of steak and lobster tails. And we received a mini-lesson on the quality and freshness of the food. I am not typically one to get carried away over hunks of raw beef, but friends, these were some pretty steaks. The hostess informed us that Daniel’s served only USDA prime steaks, and that they tasted as good as they looked. The lobster tails were impressively enormous.
We were seated at a spacious, comfortable, immaculately-set table, where our waiter, Eric Martin, introduced himself, and then asked about us. How were we doing, where were we from, what brought us to Seattle, etc. But instead of the rapid-fire interrogation that many wait staff are programmed to perform, Eric was actually having a conversation with us. After a brief but friendly discussion, he asked if he could go over the menu with us, to explain a few things, and to answer any questions we might have. Rather than push us toward “specials” or any particular high-end items, Eric was confident in his employer’s products, and discussed the highlights of many of them.
Shortly after Eric took our orders, we were visited by Cullen White, our busboy. Again, unfailing polite and courteous, he too took an interest in us, and wanted to ensure we were enjoying our experience at Daniel’s. At this point, Lisa and I looked at one another, and we realized this was not just another steak house. Either we had lucked out and just happened to get a couple of the finest servers on the planet, or else the management of Daniel’s must really understand, and buy into, the value of premium service, and then hire and train accordingly. We had come to this conclusion before we had tasted a bite of food.
But frankly, as much as we enjoy good conversation, food is what we had come for. When our meals arrived (Lisa ordered surf and turf and I ordered filet mignon), this was the crowning moment of truth. The hostess who seated us, as well as Eric, who served us, had made a pretty big deal over the quality of the food. Well, as my Mom used to say, they weren’t just a-whistlin’ Dixie. Now, let me reiterate that I am not a food critic. However, I have been a meat-eater since I’ve had teeth, and this filet mignon was without a doubt the finest steak I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. It was a generous portion, prepared to my specifications, and to say it melted in my mouth would be to rely on an overused cliché, but one that is completely accurate in its description. The lobster tail that topped Lisa’s surf and turf was three times the size of anything she would have gotten in New England, and the steak beneath it was as tender and juicy as my filet. Of course, Eric gracefully separated the lobster meat from the tail for Lisa, then left us to savor our meal.
And savor is the operative word here. Lisa and I have both been known, on occasion, to scarf down a pedestrian meal in minutes, without giving it a second thought. But this meal begged to be slowly experienced. Eric and Cullen were never far from us, to ensure we had everything we needed, and that everything we had was to our liking. Our water glasses never got below half-empty (or shall I say, half-full). But these gentlemen were not hovering; they were invisible until needed, materializing out of thin air to check on us, and then, poof, they were gone. Cullen had mentioned to us that, in order to ensure quality service to its customers, the restaurant’s management did not overload the service personnel. They teamed waiters and bus-staff, and limited them to serving three tables at a time, this way they would never be too busy to provide courteous, timely service. What a concept!
After dinner, we had to pay the check. And it wasn’t cheap, by any stretch of the imagination. But we did not flinch, nor did we regret coming to this establishment. Truly, this was an instance of value triumphing over cost. We gladly paid the fare, with a fairly substantial tip. And every penny was worth it.
When it was time to go, we had one final favor to ask of Eric, our waiter. We wanted to get a cab back to the hotel. He had the hostess call the cab for us, and we said our goodbyes, and thanked Cullen and him for the outstanding experience they provided for us. On the way out, we met the manager, and told him of the world-class service and food that we had enjoyed. The hostess, standing close by, remembered us and where we were from, even though she had almost certainly spoken with scores of other people since we had come in. (The restaurant was packed with a Friday night crowd!)
We went out front of the restaurant to wait for the cab. And we waited. And it started raining. And we waited some more. We walked back inside, to get out of the rain, and the manager was shocked that the cab hadn’t come yet, so he had the hostess call again. The cab company said that they were backed up at the moment, so the wait might be up to 40 minutes. So the manager asked where we were staying, and when we told him, he called the hotel and asked that they send the shuttle for us. Even after we had paid our bill, these people were still looking out for us.
So, what are the take-aways from this story? First of all, the combination of great product and great service is an absolute winner, every time. Had we received this kind of service, but been given mediocre food, it probably would have been a decent experience, nonetheless. Conversely, had we been served outstanding food by an indifferent staff, it would still have been a pretty fair dining experience. But the combination of world-class food delivered by world-class service providers made for a truly memorable customer experience, and created what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba call Customer Evangelists.
Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean was fond of touting his own exploits, saying, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.” So it goes with businesses. Our friends at Daniel’s were not hesitant to plug the excellence of their product, because they knew that the proof was in the pudding (or steak, to be precise). They weren’t obnoxious about it, but rather, they exuded a confidence that set up the experience. We couldn’t wait for our meal to be brought to us! And when it was, it was still better than we had any right to expect!
Another lesson to be learned from this experience is, treat every customer like he or she has the power to positively or negatively impact your business. Because, frankly, you just never know. The people at Daniel’s soon realized that we were out-of-towners, and thus perhaps unlikely to be regulars at their restaurant. They did not initially know that we are customer experience specialists, and that we write and speak and consult on that topic to an international audience. Yet they treated us like we were big-spending regulars who were buddies with the owner. (Trust me, our apparel did not convey that impression at all.) The fact is, we were weary from traveling across the country, and just wanted to grab a bite to eat. It is our hope that this article will have a positive impact on Daniel’s business, and the people who work there.
Once you have experienced such excellence in service and product, it makes you wonder why every business doesn’t strive to provide such an experience for its customers. A lasting impression has been made.
— Chuck Dennis