Sunday, May 18, 2008

Harry's Broken Process Eats Up Time

Last night my husband and I drove to St. Augustine to enjoy an evening walk on the the beach and dinner. The walk on the beach was great, but the dinner experience wasn't as pleasant.
We strolled around St. Augustine checking out our restaurant choices. We passed by several for various reasons: we weren't  in the mood for Mexican, the music was too loud, the outdoor chairs didn't look comfortable, we didn't care for the musician, the wait for outdoor seating was too long, or whatever. And so we kept walking, until we came to Harry's of course, my husband's favorite restaurant in the ancient city.
Harry's has a quaint courtyard and they usually have a mellow live music on weekend evenings. My husband had Harry's on his mind before we even arrived, so I knew that he'd be disappointed if I chose another restaurant. But next time I probably will. 
We arrived at Harry's about 9:30 PM and we were told that we'd have about a 30 minute wait. So we got a drink and sat down on chairs in the outdoor waiting area. We sat down hoping to relax. About five or ten minutes later, two other couples with British accents joined us in the outdoor waiting area. Immediately, they started commenting about all the empty tables that we were looking at--some clean and some not so clean. They grew impatient quickly and the two men sat down at an empty table for two. A few minutes later, a waitress asked them to leave the table.
"We've been standing around staring at this empty table while our wives are holding their drinks on their knees," he said with his British accent. "What's the hold up?"
The waitress informed him that the kitchen was "backed up" and that they would be seating customers at this table soon. They had too many orders in the kitchen and they couldn't keep up.
In the meantime, we all joked critically about the empty tables, commenting about their slow service. The employees were all wearing black pants and black shirts so it was easy to identify three of them standing in a corner chatting.  If you know Harry, please let him know that it's not a good idea for customers to stand around waiting for service, while they watch three employees stand around talking. It gives us the impression that the customers here are a low priority.
The next time someone in black walked by the British customer, he asked, "Can you please let me know why we're standing in this waiting area when there are so many empty tables?"
"Our computer went down and our tech guy got in a fight with his girlfriend, so he left." The guys turned to us and brought us up to date with the latest report.
The next time I saw someone walk by in black, I asked if she could request the manager to come talk to us. A manager came out right away. She had black spiked hair and lips pursed with frustration. As soon as she came out to the courtyard, the people in black started looking busy. They walked over to the dirty tables, started wiping and pushing dirty dishes around. They ought to get some of these people back in the kitchen to lend a hand, I thought, to learn to make a salad or something!
"We've been looking at empty tables for almost half an hour. Is there a reason why we can't wait more comfortably at a table?"
"You've been waiting for 18 minutes on pager #152," she snapped. "We can't seat any more people or our kitchen will go down." I wondered how she knew our pager number. After getting home and downloading my pictures, my camera time showed 25 minutes between the time we arrived and the time I took a photo just after talking with the manager. I was irritated enough to check the time the next day!
When our pager finally went off and we went to the hostess station, I asked a young lady how long we had been waiting. "The pager time just cleared out," she said with a smirk. "Follow me please," she said as she grabbed two menus. I wasn't surprised that she wasn't tracking the promised time against the actual wait time. Their lack of appropriate measures was evident. If the restaurant had some better process measures in place, the manager could have improved customer service this evening. They obviously didn't have a goal of getting tables cleaned quickly or getting customers seated as quickly as possible.
We eventually got seated and had a good hot meal, but we certainly didn't have a romantic evening of conversation on Harry's patio as we had expected. Instead, we got caught up in conversation with other frustrated customers as we witnessed their broken process. We all agreed that we'd rather be waiting at a table conversing with our companions than standing on the sidelines. There weren't enough "waiting" seats for everyone who was waiting, even though there were plenty of chairs in the courtyard.
I shot a photo of my dinner plate when it arrived at 11:12 PM. If I had known we were going to wait more than an hour and a half for our dinner, I wouldn't have chosen Harry's.
If you're a hungry tourist in St. Augustine tonight, I don't recommend Harry's, but if you don't mind sitting or standing around in a nice courtyard for an hour or more, you might enjoy it.
We have visitors coming into town next week and we were planning on bringing about a dozen people to Harry's. Now we're working on Plan B. We've been going to Harry's occasionally for several years and this is the worst service we've ever experienced.
Does anyone know what's up with Harry? Is he doing OK? Even if a business is going down hill, it can survive by taking advantage of tourists who don't know any better. Tourists beware!
Harry could do any of the following to begin the journey of improving his customer satisfaction:

  • put customer feedback cards on every table
  • train the busboys and busgirls to help make salads when the kitchen gets backed up
  • hire managers who have more empathy with customers
  • redesign the measure that's forcing the hostess not to seat people at empty tables until the kitchen is ready
If you own or work for a business where you believe you can be doing a better job and would like help improving your processes, contact Dr. Lorraine today. Better now than later.

Harry's of St. Augustine on Urbanspoon

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