One thing that seems to be a constant is change itself. Change can be good or bad and is often one or the other depending on the perspective you bring to the situation and your role in the change process. Recently my wife and I experienced a change in the service we received and neither one of us were impacted for the better.
After a day in which we were hundreds of kilometers from home, we were traveling home and talking about where to stop for dinner. We made a decision to find a restaurant where we could sit down, rest and enjoy a relaxing meal, but at the same time, we weren’t dressed for, nor desired a fancy experience. Having had burgers earlier, we chose to eliminate those restaurants and opted for pasta.
We were in Barrie and as we drove south along what appeared to be restaurant alley, we were almost at the end of our options when we spotted a Pizza Hut sign and we settled on it. We’d soon regret that choice as it turned out, but at the time, the combination of food choices, location, time to stop and price seemed right.
The parking lot was pretty empty even though it was on a major highway so that was a bonus but maybe in retrospect could have been an omen.
When we walked in there was a small reception area and some bench seating, presumably for those who order and wait to take their meals with them or who show up early for their pick up food and who must wait. We stood there; my wife and I, waiting to be seated as is the proper etiquette for the same restaurant in our own town. From what I could see, there were two young women working in the kitchen and two groups of people eating in the restaurant itself.
One of the women from behind the cash register gave us a pleasant hello and I returned the greeting and told said, “Two please.” Right up to this point everything had happened the way I’d experienced eating in the past at this chain. Change however, as I said at the outset is inevitable, and this is right where change jumped up and caught me off guard. The employee said to us, “Oh we’ve changed things recently. We have no servers or wait staff. You order your food here and we’ll call you when it’s ready.”
Gone was the promise of a relaxing experience where we’d be seated, have a drink, order, eat, be checked in on and have our bill delivered and leave. The shift in their practice meant we had to stand there at a cash register and quickly choose from a menu instead of having time to read the menu and talk between us on what we might want to share or order individually. It kind of felt like, “C’mon, make your choice quick or you’ll create a bottleneck for other customers who come in behind you and we don’t want that!”
Well we should have said that we were looking for a different experience and walked out, but we stayed, ordered quickly and went to find our seats. We’re evolved my wife and I; yes we can find our own seats without being guided to a table. However, it was clear to me that with two staff in the kitchen and zero staff in the dining area, there was another problem and that was maintaining cleanliness. Every table it seemed needed cleaning and at no time did anyone come out during our stay to do so. That’s a turn off. However, we’d paid when we ordered so we stayed.
When I looked up at a wall-mounted television in the dining area, I expected they had it set to some sports channel like successful sports bars, but I was mistaken. There on the screen was a listing of names – mine included – and a countdown telling everyone when the food ordered would be ready. Kelly would have his food in 8 minutes and those before me must have been phone orders, because no one else was seated and waiting.
Looking around, even the plates, napkins and utensils were self-serve so we grabbed what we needed there. I wondered if I should tip my wife or myself but not being a big tipper the point seemed moot. Apparently the restaurant is saving money on salaried staff acting as wait staff and hostess staff.
For the two of us, they missed the mark completely on this new practice by neglecting to provide the customer service that diners want. The price didn’t reflect a drop in overhead and salary, so that isn’t being passed on to the consumer. It appears that you pay the same and get less of the experience you once had. Bottom line, we’re never going back there, and here I am sharing a poor experience with you the reader. Did they factor poor reviews in to their budget?
I wonder too if – horror of horrors – other chains may or already are going this way. Let’s hope not for the sake of us customers and those staff they’ll let go on the race to the bottom of the customer service experience. This is one change I wish they’d put down to a bad idea and reverse.