A couple of years ago I was having dinner in Chicago with a very good friend of mine from Toronto. We were there for the annual National Restaurant Show. Dinner was excellent at this Italian restaurant, and so was the service. After our main meal our server asked us if we would like any dessert and instantly I gave her my standard reply that I give at most restaurants …

“Yes, I would like a piece of cherry pie please.”

She responded, “I’m sorry sir but we don’t have cherry pie on our dessert menu.”

My good friend suggested that we take a look at the dessert menu that they had and that we would quickly make a selection. As such, our server came back a few minutes later and asked if we had made a dessert choice yet.

I said “Yes, I would like a piece of cherry pie please.”

And once again she responded “I’m sorry sir but we do not serve cherry pie for dessert here.”

Not going down quickly in defeat, I retorted back (in a very polite manner I might add), “Well, do you know what you can do? You can walk out the front door of this restaurant, turn left onto Rush Street, go about eight blocks north until you find a restaurant called Gibson Steak House. They have cherry pie on their menu. You can bring me back a piece.” (A few chuckles from all three of us followed.)

After taking an order for dessert from my friend she left us and our conversation and came back 10 minutes later with the biggest piece of cherry pie I have ever seen served in a restaurant. It had to be a quarter of a whole pie!! Amazing!! She had asked her store manager if she could send a “runner” to go get me a piece of pie – a piece of cherry pie – for me for dessert. Without hesitation he said “yes.”

Man, did I ever give her a BIG tip!! And on top of it all, I wasn’t even charged for the piece of pie! Upon exiting the restaurant I briefly relayed my experience to the manager and told him how impressed I was with what I had just witnessed. Needless to say, he was delighted that I was delighted and went on to say that he encourages his employees – all of his employees – to do what it takes to give their customers a very impressive and memorable experience. Well, they certainly did that.

The next day I was giving a talk in association with the NRA Show and I was able to very easily “weave” my previous evening’s experience into my presentation. I have subsequently given numerous other speeches and talks around the world and on each occasion when I talk about my “cherry pie experience” I get the same response — “That is an incredible example of outstanding, over-the-top customer service.” And it is.

So, what are a couple of key learning points here? First and foremost, if you provide outstanding customer service you will make your patrons VERY happy and they will in turn spread the “gospel according to your restaurant” around the world. I have! Secondly, those receiving the outstanding service tend to reward such services very handsomely. I know I did, and will always continue to do so. Thirdly, it also makes the employee happy knowing that they have made their customers feel extra special. Happy employees, make for happy customers, which makes for greater business.

The cherry pie story – chapter 2

On a recent trip to Chicago while working on a market research project for a client, I decided to go back to my “cherry pie restaurant.” I spoke to a couple of the managers who were working that evening and told them of my past experience with the server and the cherry pie. Needless to say, they were delighted and, I might add, very proud to hear such a story. They described their culture there as being “fabled service.” I like it!

As another example of their fabled service they told me a story that certainly reinforces their customer service orientation culture. One evening one of the managers who I was speaking to noticed that one of his patrons didn’t appear to be enjoying her meal. Every time he walked by her table he noticed that she had hardly touched any of her meal. He finally went up to her and asked if there was anything wrong with her food. She responded, “No, everything was just fine.” This manager also noticed that the patron kept looking across the street at one of his competitors. This prompted him to say to his customer …

“I know what you would like – you’d like a plate of hot Buffalo wings, wouldn’t you?” A big smile came to her face and seeing this, the manager made an instant beeline to his competitor across the street to get his customer something that she really wanted – a plate of Buffalo wings.

We all talk (at least I hope we all do) about how important customer service is to the success of our respective businesses. But do we really “live” it? Until we make outstanding customer service an internal part of our respective cultures we will remain just another “me too” in this very competitive environment.

So, the next time you are in Chicago I strongly suggest that you go visit my “friends” at Quartino at the corner of Ontario and State streets. Not only will you have an excellent meal but you will also be able to experience that “fabled service” that puts them a cut above everyone else in the industry. And don’t forget to ask for Peter Norris or Matt Graham. Tell them that Doug sent you.