Food Tips

It Was Just A Bowl Of Soup

Recently, on a visit to a national brand name restaurant, we ordered two bowls of soup, one roasted mushroom the other French Onion, along with a flat bread Bruschetta, nothing special and certainly not difficult for any kitchen to get correct. Yet, they have not done that one simple thing, get it right.

Both soups had sugar within, while the onion soup contained so much it was complet

ely inedible, think “onion syrup” it was that sweet. We complain, they take it off the check, nothing further is ordered from the kitchen. The other soup is half eaten along with the flat bread, a $50.00 guest check is paid and the experience is done, correct, well, not really. Let’s look at the result of serving something as simple as soup and not doing it well.

First, remember the soup is an appetizer, it is the beginning of the meal, hence further courses are to come, or, it is supposed to set the menu for the evening.  A bad experience at the very beginning tells the customer they do not want to experience anything further from the restaurant. This course was not a let down, it was a failure, and most customers do not want to experience any further failures of the night, they will move on to the next establishment.  Should they stay, each additional course will come under extra scrutiny with any little flaw becoming something huge in their mind. The remaining of the dinner will become less than what it was intended to be. No matter what the customer leaves unhappy.

Surprisingly, even though the offending soup is removed from the meal, and perhaps some free item is given in an apology, it does not remove the experience of tasting inferiority. The customer leaves, but the experience remains, no matter how good the remainder of the meal may have been, they will always talk about the soup.

Before we actually get to the soup, here are a few interesting facts a bad experience (like a bowl of soup) in a restaurant can and do cause:

The brand charges $10.00 per bowl of soup, while most of their competitors charge$3.00-$5.00, at twice the price should the consumer not believe that it should be so very much better. Although price may not be a factor to begin with, when the product is inferior price does factor into the complaint, twice the price denotes twice the quality.

95% of customers share bad experiences with others. (Zendesk)

48% of people who had negative experiences told 10+ people about it. (Harvard Business Review)

79% of high-income households avoid restaurants for 2+ years after a bad customer experience. (Zendesk)

For every customer who complains, there are 26 customers who don’t say anything. They simply never return.Therefore the complaint becomes a valuable opportunity to learn and change.

A customer is 4 times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service related than price or product related – Bain & Company.

It costs 6 – 7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one – Bain & Company.

Online adults aged 18-34 are most likely follow a brand via social networking (95%). (Source: MarketingSherpa) So negative reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp can severely hurt a brand, and a bowl of soup could keep another person from visiting the brand.

When there are consistently similar complaints within an establishment (as our server notified us of) fewer than half (49%) of employees would recommend their employer to a friend. (Glassdoor Data Labs)

It will take 12 positive experiences to correct one negative one (Ruby Newell-Legner) unfortunately most customers will never return after one negative the 12 will also never happen.

This is not what could happen over a bowl of soup, it is exactly what takes place in the restaurant brands or privately owned all across the nation daily.

There are many reasons the “onion syrup” was served as a soup, most likely, however it came down to an unskilled cook or chef trying hard to correct a poor quality commercial beef broth base. Look at the ingredients of just one national brand: maltodextrin, sodium caseinate (a milkd derivative), natural and artificial flavors (including autlyzed yeast extract), hydrolyzed soy protein, contains 1% or less of dipotassium phosphate, salt, caramel color, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate (flavor enhancers), polysorbare 60, onion powder, yellow 6, ascorbic acid, Vitamin E acetate, ferric orthophosphate, dicalcium phosphate, zinc sulfate, Vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide, copper gluconate, calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine hydrochloride, Vitamin D3, riboflavin, folic acid, biotin, potassium iodide, Vitamin B12. A simple mistake in the quanity used will result in a salty, chemical infued broth. The cook, after tasting the broth, experienced the salty flavor and decided to use sugar to counteract the salt. However, there is much more than salt to contend with, how about all those chemicals. The sugar was not the fix and just resulted in a syrup broth, as the soup sat on a steam cooker slowly evaporating throughout the day.  No chef, sous-chef, floor manager or any other qualified person tasted the soup before the evening service, so a poor product was served setting off a chain of events that became very negative for the brand.

Often the server gets the bulk of the dissatisfaction, rarely will a chef come from the galley to the table to  deal first hand with a food complaint, although every restaurant should have a policy that mandates exactly that. Too long, have servers had to deal with the rude, arrogant consumer over something that is completely out of their control. With too many complaints, the server will soon change establishments, costing the brand even more. Training, new  server mistakes and a lack of knowledge, all incur hard costs.  So why not send the chef out to deal with his or his staff’s failures and mistakes, know for a certainty this policy will see a huge drop in consumer complaints. If the kitchen knows they have to deal with the problem they create, they simply won’t continue to make complaints. Gratuities lessen as servers deal with the complaint, checks are reduced or completely forgiven, leaving a smaller gratuity or none at all. Although the server is completely without fault they usually receive the repercussion of the unhappy consumer.

It’s a bowl of soup, it’s the entire business, 80% of restaurants fail within 5 years, 50% within the first year, the lousy bowl of soup could be a major factor for that failure.

The fix is so simple, set a standard, then never back away from it, find ways to improve daily. Create and do, checklists. Assign a “dining chef” someone from the kitchen who speaks with every table during each service. Love your customer, get them to love you back.

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