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Restaurant Service: Partial Customer Satisfaction

By Shep Hyken

A week ago I went to a pizza restaurant where you pick your own toppings. There wasn't a menu of different pizzas, just a list of the many ingredients to "make your own."

The Chinese restaurant I frequent is always happy to leave out the mushrooms and put in broccoli for my favorite chicken dish.

The sandwich place I go to for lunch is happy to put tomatoes on my Philly Cheese Steak sandwich.

Outback Steakhouse says it best over the years with their slogan, "No rules - Just right!"

So why did the upscale restaurant I took my family to the other night refuse to substitute slaw for potato salad? Sounds petty? Perhaps, but read on.

First some background. We've gone to this restaurant many times before. My daughter always asks for potato salad instead of slaw, and it has never been a problem. If you order them as a side dish, they cost the same. Depending on the sandwich, you get the slaw or the potato salad. It is really random. Yet this time when she asked for the change, the server said, "No substitutions." She then pointed out that the menu had changed and it clearly stated that on the menu. Okay, I'll live with it.

The manager eventually came over to defend their new policy. My comment was that they are in an upscale neighborhood and that many of their customers probably asked for something special. The manager said, "Exactly why we no longer allow substitutions."

Well, I was surprised. Today more than ever, people want it their way. They like the customized experience. They feel special, taken care of and happy that they get what they want, the way they want it. And, sometimes they will pay well for it.

In the past, it has usually been the attitude of an untrained employee that creates the problem. In this case it was bumbling management.

Now I'm struggling. I like the food. I even like the atmosphere. But, their policy is the problem. I'm not saying I won't go to this restaurant again. But, I'm wondering how many times in the future I will go somewhere else because of their anti-customer policy.

This is what happens. While people may go back to a place that hits most of the criteria, they won't go back as often as they could.

You've surely heard of "Total Customer Satisfaction." Well welcome to "Partial Customer Satisfaction," where a business gets a percentage of the business they could. They lose loyalty, profits and never reach their potential - and eventually might even go out of business.

Shep Hyken, CSP is a professional speaker and author who helps companies develop loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more information on Shep’s speaking programs, books, and other learning products, please contact (314) 692-2200. Email: Web: For information on customer service training, go to

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