Endangered Species: Black Owned Business Customer Service

Black Business

As lovers of great food, and especially Soul Food, we tend to frequent small mom and pop restaurants.  Being in the South, we to try to give our dining dollars and support to fellow Black owned businesses, that happen to have great food. This policy of ours is becoming harder to continue. What’s the reason of this declining desire to give our valuable dining dollar to these businesses? Very simple….  consistently bad customer service.

Why is it that some of our Black owned restaurants can have such bad service, and seem not to be concerned about it?  Also, why is it expected for us to give then our business, regardless of their customer service? You want to give them the business, and enjoy the food.  Which would be a win-win for everyone, but some businesses don’t see it that way.  Below I will give three recent examples of this problem. Each restaurant’s service has varied problems, but problems none the less.

  1. Safari World Tapas Bar, Memphis, TN – My wife and I, went downtown to met some friends on June 27th.  The place we intended to was Onix, but it was packed and jumping.  So, the group of us decided to go next door to Safari. It had plenty of tables available, but there was a reason why.  Once we were seated, we saw many employees walking back and forth, but no one stopped to take an order or to ask if we needed anything for ten minutes.  Mind you there were only one other occupied table in the restaurant.  Once they took our order, there were many items on the menu, but they just didn’t have available. Even though they have a Tapas style dining, they didn’t explain it to the group.  Once we received our food, it was reheated, microwaved, and generally not cooked to order.  The portions were small even for Tapas dining.  The service was so discouraging, that we had to complain to one of the employees. Food and prices were horrible, but atmosphere was great.
  2. Tiffany Soul Food, Locust Grove, GA – During the July 4th weekend, we were in Atlanta. After leaving the outlet, we wanted to get lunch, but something different.  After seeing sign for the restaurant, decided to give it a try. Once inside, there was very minimal air conditioning. We placed our order, paid, and received our cups for the drinks. The ice machine didn’t work, but the cashier knew about it. Even though she knew about it, she didn’t inform anyone.  Once we told her that it didn’t work, she told us it doesn’t work, and gave us ice from the chest behind her.  She continued this same ritual with all patrons that we after us.  Once I checked my bill she overcharged me, and seemed surprised that I questioned her concerning it.  She spoke to the cook  in the back, and the cook informed me that they couldn’t refund my money ($5), because they didn’t have the key to override the register, and that the person who did left for the day. It was currently 11:30am.  They offered more food, in lieu of my cash refund. The next issue was that, our friends ordered the fried chicken white meat meal. They failed to inform them, that all they had was wings available, for white meat.  Once my friend mentioned that he didn’t like wings, the cook didn’t offer an exchange with a baked chicken breast or a refund or try to resolve the issue.  She just walked away. Food and prices were average.
  3. Cheesecake Corner, Memphis, TN – This evening we visited the Cheesecake Bistro located downtown Memphis.  The experience that we encountered tonight is what spurred this article.  I have to say that the customer service this evening, had to have been the worst that I have had in my adult dining memory. That’s a bold statement.  We travel in and outside the country very often, and enjoying dining out.  Sometimes there is the argument that Black owned businesses treat Black customers different than other customers of other races. I can say that the Cheesecake Bistro treats everyone equally horribly.  While we sat and talked, no one ever asked if we need anything or wanted to order. Once we decided to order from the counter, there was a line, but to be expected on a Friday night. The lone employee taking and preparing orders, didn’t speak to anyone unless your order was ready. A party of six was in front of us, and they had waited for about ten minutes, and had not received a single nod or acknowledgment from the employee. They walked out, along with two other people in line behind us. Once we finally order, he didn’t apologize for the wait, and was generally cold to us. After ring up the order it equaled $45.10 for two SLICES of quiche, and two SLICES of cheesecake. Of course bad customer service was free.  After five minutes passed our friend was notified that there wasn’t anymore of the crab quiche, and had to make an adjustment. There wasn’t an apology or anything. When the quiche was ready it was brought out by the owner/cook/dishwasher, and he spoke in firm one word sentences. “CRAB?” My wife indicated it was hers. Again he spoke “SAUSAGE?” and I indicted it was mine. This was repeated with our friends at the table.  Oh, no silver ware was give either.  Really? I received better service roadside in Honduras, and they didn’t speak english. After getting home, I googled them, and their service is known for being horrible. Food and prices were out of this world. Service was so bad it was astonishing.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good Black owned restaurants that do have good service.  Melanie’s on Watkins, I’m looking at you. :)  It’s just becoming harder to find them, and even harder to justify returning to them.  This isn’t an article just to complain about the problem. I also have ten tips to help them becoming much better. Best thing is all the tips are FREE.

Ten tips to increase customer service

  1. Communicating any known problems to customer before, the customer is aware of the problem, minimizes the inconvenience.
  2. Act like the customer is always right, even if they are wrong.
  3. A complaining customer is a potential repeat customer, but they need an issue corrected. Also the one that complains, is first one to let you know. Other customers just left and never returned.
  4. Ensure proper staffing on high volume days. The extra payroll needed for that will more than compensate for the lack of lost customers, due to slow service.
  5. If you are the owner, you set the mood for the restaurant. It’s easier for your employees to give the same sub par service that you provide, because they know that you don’t value good or even great service.  So what is their motivation for providing it?
  6. Take time to visit and introduce yourself to each table, at least twice an hour. It gives the customers someone to connect to, and learn more about your vision. It also helps you understand how your restaurant is performing.
  7. If an item from the menu has run out, have the employees inform the customer, during the greeting. This is an opportunity to up-sale another item, and create desire next time for the sold out item. See #1
  8. Hire employees that have better customer service skills than your own.  At your favorite restaurant there is one employee that you look for, that makes your experience that much better.
  9. Don’t take complaints personally, but do take service personally. That’s your brand, name, and reputation on the line. A bad employee can ruin all that and leave, and get another job. Can you buy another restaurant?
  10. Apologize, apologize, and apologize again, even if it’s not your fault. See #2

Sorry for the length of this article, but I felt that it was needed.  There are many good Black owned restaurants. If you know of one or many that you have visited, please comment and I’ll create a post highlighting them.  Remember there is no reason to eat bad food or have bad service.


4 replies
    • echristoperj
      echristoperj says:

      Thanks. I’ll call in. This is a sore spot for me, since I’m a small businessman and try very hard to make each customer interaction a memorable one. Thanks again.

Comments are closed.