Let’s set the stage.
Violet, a relatively small, neighborhood bakery in a north London suburb, has gained a degree of notoriety lately, and rightly so, as the bakery that designed and produced the wedding cake for the recent Royal wedding between Prince Harry and Megan Merkle. My wife, somewhat of a Royal fan and follower, wanted to visit this bakery on a recent trip to London, so we two foodies made the trek to 47 Wilton Way, London, to visit Violet and “sample” the goods, so to speak. Well, we more than sampled things – three cook-books later and slightly shy of £100 of baked goods, we made our way back to our hotel in central London. The cupcakes and other pastries that we purchased were absolutely wonderful! We were very hard pressed not to eat our “treasures” before we made it home, but discretion paid off and we were able to share our “goodies” with friends back in North America. And did we ever brag about Violet to our friends and fellow foodservice industry colleagues and foodies. “Whenever you visit London you MUST make your way to Violet bakery. You will not be disappointed. Their products are incredible.”
I had to make a trip back to London three weeks later and of course my wife strongly suggested that I make another trek to Violet to pick up some more of their bake goods. Specifically, she wanted me to order to different cakes that I was to bring home. Whilst looking at Violet’s website (www.violetcakes.com) I saw that to order a cake you must do so in advance and before 5:00 PM for delivery, or pick-up, two days later. OK, no problem. I can do that.
When I arrived in England on a Tuesday morning I was picked up by a client and driven to their facilities for a meeting that was to last the remainder of the day. Planning ahead, I was going to call Violet when I got to my hotel room and make that special order. After all, ordering it on Tuesday for a pick-up on Friday afternoon – plenty of time I thought. I got to my hotel at 5:30 PM and immediately called the bakery – it was now 5:37PM. I told the individual whoever answered the phone exactly what I wanted to order and that I would like to have it delivered to an office in the immediate Tower of London area. Her response to me was …
“I’m sorry sir, but it is after 5:00 PM and we cannot accept any orders after 5:00 PM. You will have to call back in the morning and place your order.”
“But it is only 5:37 and surely you can take my order as I’ll be in a meeting tomorrow starting at 8:00 AM. Would you please check for me.”
The bakery employee who took my call, politely dismissed herself and came back a few moments later and again said …
“Sorry sir, it is after 5:00 PM and we cannot take any more orders. Please call back in the morning and we will try to accommodate your request.”
Why argue. So, I said “thanks” and said that I would try to call back in the morning during one of our meeting breaks. Which I did, around 11:00 AM. Again, I told the individual who answered the phone that I would like to order two cakes for Friday delivery (it was now Wednesday morning). And somewhat to my surprise the individual said …
“Sorry, we are not taking any more special orders for Friday.”
Well, needless to say, I was a bit perturbed. Here I was, willing and able to pay the day before for two cakes but because I called in 37 minutes after the self-proclaimed “drop-dead time” of 5:00 PM on Tuesday (the bakery closes at 6:00 PM by the way) I was not able to get two cakes that my wife so dearly wanted. Major disappointment, to say the least.
Now, let’s move on to Act III …
Friday evening, I spent the night with a dear friend and professional food service industry colleague and his wife who live in Orpington, Kent. (One of the three Violet cook books that my wife and I purchased three weeks prior, we had given to his wife and she in turn proceeded to bake several of the recipes.) Early Saturday afternoon my friend suggested that we make the trip “up north” to the bakery as I had spoken so much about it, and I also wanted to see if I could purchase a few things to take home to my wife. So, we made the train, tube, and bus trek that afternoon and after 1 hour and 10 minutes we arrived at Violet. It was great to be at the bakery again that produced some of the finest baked goods that I have ever had. Yum!
There was a limited amount of product left in the retail display case, which I can thoroughly understand, but I shortly selected close to £70 worth of items that I was proud to take home to my wife. Time to exit and leave and make the return journey back down to Kent.
The FINAL Act – Act IV.
Shortly after exiting Violet, my friend and colleague said that he would like to go back and pick up a cook book to give to one of his employees for a Christmas gift. So back we went to pick up a signed cook book.
Whilst waiting to pay my friend noticed a very attractive gift basket that he also wanted to purchase as a Christmas gift. When my friend said that he would like to purchase the basket that was on display, the gentleman behind the counter said …
“I’m sorry sir, but you cannot buy that. It is not for sale. If you want to buy one you will have to special order one.”
To which my friend replied,
“OK, I will order one right now.”
“I’m sorry sir, but we do not take orders on weekends.”
“But here is my credit card, I’m willing to pay for it right now. I don’t want to have to call in on Monday to order something that I can do right now whilst I’m here.”
“So sorry – you will have to order one on Monday. We open at 8:30 AM.”
My friend then picked up a blank card on the counter that the employee said was a card that they place orders on. He then offered to fill it out with his name, and all other pertinent information, along with all of his credit card information, and suggested that the Violet employee give it to whoever is in charge of accepting orders on Monday morning.
Again, the employee said, …
“I’m sorry sir, but we do not accept orders on the weekend. You will have to call back on Monday morning.”
My colleague then said, …
“You certainly don’t make it very easy to order something, do you?”
To which the male employee replied, and get a load of this, …
“It’s easier for us.”
Immediately upon hearing this we turned to each other – my friend’s face had started to turn Violet after repeated attempts to buy something – and telepathically said to each other that it was time to exit this place and to never come back.
It was very interesting – the exchange was like we were being recited an encyclopedia of reasons as to why they couldn’t sell my friend and food service industry colleague something. Oh well, their loss. Needless-to-say, that call that Violet suggested be made on Monday morning to order a Christmas basket will NEVER be made. And nor will it occur at any time in the future. And that’s just too bad – for all.
Claire Ptak, the owner of Violet, has worked and trained at a very prestigious eatery in the United States called Chez Panisse (owned and operator by the famous Alice Waters), where customer service and making it easy for the customer is a major priority. I would have thought that instilling a culture of customer centricity would have been a major priority for Claire at the Violet bakery. Based upon my, and my friend’s experiences there this past week, I can only assume that that is not the case.
Yes, there always needs to be an epilogue.
We talked about this experience during the entire journey home. And we continued the “experience” with friends and professional colleagues during the evening and the rest of the weekend. And I can assure you that the story will find its way around the globe as I do talks and seminars about the industry and the increasing role of outstanding customer service. If you would like to read about an incredible contrast, go to the article I wrote a couple of years ago and is posted on my web side entitled, “It’s All About a Piece of Cherry Pie.”