"Kicked Out of a Bar Because I Didn't Want My Burger Split. Really?"
Here is a BAD customer service story that is just too good not to share. This happened a few days ago to Art Sobczak of businessbyphone.com
I wouldn't fault you if you don't believe what you're about to read. It is such an outrageous and bizarre example of customer treatment--I can't even call it "service"--that I might not have believed it myself. Except I experienced it last Saturday.
First, some background.
Zipps is a local, popular chain of sports bars in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. I have visited several of their locations regularly over the past few years, including their original place, Goldie's. Their food is a notch above typical sports bar fare, they have lots of TV's, and a fun atmosphere. My friends and I watch plenty of sports, we enjoy the beverages sports fan typically consume, and have spent a nice amount with them on food and drinks over the years.
Last Saturday afternoon a friend and I stopped at the Zipps on Via de Ventura road in Scottsdale. We ordered a couple of drinks and chicken wings. We played some shuffleboard, then decided to get a burger. Just one, since neither of us wanted a whole one. I told the bartender/waitress that we were just going to split a burger. She said,
"OK, there will be a split charge, and you get another side. "
I told her that we didn't want another side. In fact we didn't even care for a single side, and that they didn't need to split the burger.
Now, call me crazy, but it seems that a reasonable service person would have said, "No problem." Done deal. End of story. Thanks for the order.
I've eaten at some of the nicest, most expensive restaurants in the country. Some have split charges, some don't. When they do charge, typically they nicely divide and plate one dinner into two, often giving larger portions than if you had just ordered one dinner. I don't have a problem with that. That's a value-add, and if they want to charge for it, and the customer is agreeable to buying it, so be it. And if Zipps wants to charge for cutting a burger in half, and adding fries or slaw, that's fair. But if a customer doesn't want to buy that option, they shouldn't have to, right?
I just wanted the single burger, no sides. She insisted that she had to assess the split charge. It was "policy," and she had to follow the rules. I replied again that I just wanted one burger, one plate, not cut, no sides. She was adamant: she had to charge me since we were splitting it.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Trying to reason with her, I again said, "OK then, no other person will touch my burger. I,personally will just order one hamburger. I will not share it."
She told me she couldn't do that.
Again, flabbergasted, but in control and not acting rude or raising my voice in any way, I said, almost in a begging tone, "You won't sell me a single hamburger?"
"You already said you are splitting it."
Are you following the absurdity of all this so far? I am trying TO ORDER A HAMBURGER FROM A PLACE THAT SELLS HAMBURGERS and not be charged extra for something I do not want!
I then attempted to put things in perspective for her: I asked what happens when someone orders a takeout burger... does she demand to know how many people will be eating it when they get home, and then assess an extra charge? I wondered aloud if she was going to charge extra because TWO of us ate the chicken wings. What if an entire table gets one order of onion rings? Apparently that logic was a bit too much for her to process. She reluctantly put the order in for the burger.
Laughing off the entire experience, we then passed more time at the shuffleboard table. Minutes later, a guy who identified himself as the manager came up to us and said, "Excuse me, I understand you have an issue with our split charge policy."
A bit shocked that it actually escalated to this level, I smiled and said, "Well, fundamentally I do have a problem with a split charge if I do not want the burger split regardless of what I decide to do with it after I get it, and don't want the extra sides."
"That's policy. That's what she's instructed to do."
"I think it's stupid, and the fact that the bartender would take it so far is horrible customer service, and that you now are even talking to me about it raises it to an entirely new level of outrageousness."
He proceeded to defend their policy, mentioned something about their food costs (like that is something I really care about?), and was essentially treating me like I was a difficult, unreasonable customer. Please understand, in my business I deal with more bad service than the typical consumer because of the number of flights I take, and hotels, car rental companies, and restaurants I have done business with over the past 28 years. My "policy" is to always give the service provider the benefit of the doubt, and let most things slide. However, in this case, I was now pushed to a place that I rarely enter:
"Look, this is ridiculous. I'm going to talk to your CEO and discuss your policy and the treatment we're getting."
He handed me his card and said the corporate address was on there.
No, I told him I needed the name of the CEO.
I persisted. "What? You don't know it, or you won't give it to me?"
"I won't do that."
This was getting more bizarre.
"You're telling me that you won't give me the name of your CEO? I can find it in a few minutes on my iPhone if I need to. How will he or she react when I say you would not give a customer his or her name?"
He finally relented, gave me the name, and walked away.
As you might imagine, my friend and I are now having one of those "That really didn't just happen?" discussions. A guy sitting at the bar within earshot of the interaction with the manager said, "Wow, that was weird. What was that about?" I explained what happened with the burger. He couldn't believe it either. Again, I was calm and quiet, actually laughing at the inanity of the entire situation.
The manager reappeared and interrupted. "Sir, if you talk badly about us to other customers I am going to have to ask you to leave."
Now I REALLY couldn't comprehend what was happening.
It was becoming a bit more difficult to maintain composure, but thankfully I did. "What?! You are now threatening to kick me out of here, FOR TALKING TO A GUY AT THE BAR?"
"I can't have you badmouthing us to customers."
I replied, "He asked me a question, I answered, we talked. Can you please tell me what I said to badmouth you?"
He had nothing.
"Is repeating your own 'policy' badmouthing you?"
He walked away.
At this point, the hamburger--that's hamburGER. One. Singular. Not halved--arrived at our spot at the bar. We sat down. I began eating it. Alone. A knife was conspicuously absent.
Given the surreal situation up to this point, I am now thinking that I had some great material for an article and blog post. I wanted more background. I was curious about the bartender's thought process and what really motivated her to make this an issue to begin with.
"Excuse me, just wondering, I have to ask you... why did you go to the manager with this little split charge thing?"
She responded, "It's policy. I could lose my job."
"Seriously? You're trained to agitate customers with something as small as this?"
Brace yourself for this one. You might even want to grab a chair. She said, a bit indignantly,
"Yeah, we're on to the little games customers play. We know how they try to get around things."
For one of the few times in my life, I was actually speechless. That couldn't possibly be part of their culture, could it? This chain won Sports Bar of the Year in 2011 from the local paper. I mean, really, what would training look like for that?
"Ok, class, now for the lesson on how you need to keep an eye on those diabolical, sneaky customers. They will try to rip you off at every opportunity."
A woman sitting just to the right of me at the bar witnessed this brief interaction. She leaned over and whispered, "You know, that's pretty typical here. They are so cheap. I refused to come here for two years. I sent my salad back one time and they made me feel like a fool."
I asked why she was there now. "I really like the food." She spoke in a low voice, as if she was afraid SHE would be kicked out. Reminded me of the Soup Nazi episode from Seinfeld. She obviously had experience with the way they treat customers who talk amongst themselves.
Did I mention you might not believe what I'm writing? But wait. There's more.
The manager interrupted my brief conversation with my barstool neighbor.
"I'm sorry sir..." Ahh, finally he had come to his senses and wanted to apologize.
"... I am going to ask you to pay your bill and leave."
I kid you not. "You're not serious, right?"
"I am asking you to pay your tab and leave."
"I already told you I can't have you talking badly about us to our customers."
Apparently it is OK for THEM to abuse and insult a customer. But the thought or perception that said customer could actually tell another customer/victim about it before THEY get to them, themselves, well, that crosses the line.
I knew he could not have possibly heard my conversation with this woman. Plus, I was LISTENING to her. I said, "Can you please tell me exactly what I said that you interpreted as talking badly about you?"
He was now visibly shaken by the entire interaction. "I am not going to go there with you. I am asking you to leave."
Please note that I am still reasonably calm, and definitely not speaking more loudly than I normally would to someone on the other side of a bar. (Not that I didn't feel like screaming out what an idiot I thought he was.) "Let me be sure I'm correct here. This all started with me wanting a single hamburger, and not being forced to pay extra for something I do not want. Then you confronted me about it, unnecessarily in my opinion. In front of another customer, I might add. Then you threatened to, and now actually are kicking me out for talking to two customers who initiated conversation with me. But, you can't tell me anything I said that violates your rules. Do I have that right?"
He said, "We reserve the right to refuse service for whatever reason we choose."
Got it. Now THERE's a customer-oriented policy. I should remind you, this is a bar. It is usually common for people to talk there. In most places, to each other. You should be able to do so without the fear of being asked to leave, right?
Still trying to give this guy a shot to redeem himself, I said, "Seriously, you are kicking me out?"
"I am asking you to pay your bill and leave."
He obviously was skilled at memorizing phrases and repeating them. As for thinking for himself, well, that's another story. (An Enterprise Rental Car commercial running right now focuses on how ANY of their employees can make a decision to make something right for a customer. Hey Zipps corporate folks: give it a look. Good stuff.)
"But you still can't tell me why I'm being kicked out, right?"
Manager: "You're making a scene."
Unbelievable. I take a cleansing breath, and speak at a slow pace, since anything faster he might not be able to comprehend: "I'm calmly asking you questions that you won't answer about why you are actually expelling a good customer. That's a scene?"
Silly me, I should have known the answer. "I am asking you to pay your bill and leave."
Since I was already being banished from the premises, being the horrible nuisance that I apparently was, I asked, "If I refused to leave, would you call the police."
"If that's what I needed to do."
The thought actually crossed my mind for a fleeting moment: how much fun I could have with that juicy one. Getting arrested over not wanting my hamburger cut in half. We could video it. That's viral YouTube stuff. Then I thought better. I didn't have the energy or the inclination to be on the news for something so stupid. Worse, it could backfire. I could just see the legendary Sheriff Joe himself showing up and dragging me off, in shackles, to Tent City. I'd be thrown in with the other lowlifes... maybe people who got caught using too many sugar packets. You never know.
Finally, I gave up and let him run my credit card. Common sense, good judgment, and reasonableness would get me nowhere with someone who wasn't also using those principles.
And it's notable that during this entire time I did not use the "Do you know who I am?"-card. Not that he would actually care that an accounting of this story might have the potential to be read by hundreds of thousands of people--actually more as it gets passed on and reprinted. And that many of those could be customers. Or former customers. Or that his actions would be used as an example of what not to do in customer service training programs all over the world. Nope, I didn't want to overload him with that information. He was already shaking, and way in over his head. Instead, I simply said to him, "My name and company name are on that credit card if you care to check me out."
While signing the bill (which to their credit, surprisingly, did not include a split charge), with him staring very uncomfortably at me, as if I might try something dangerously crazy like, oh, darting over to a table and taking a bite of someone else's burger, I said, "I'm not penalizing your bartender for this, by the way." I left a 20% tip, as I typically do.
If you saw the movie, "Pretty Woman," perhaps you remember the scene where Julia Roberts' character, Vivian, who was initially treated badly by the snobby boutique saleswoman, then returned after she spent thousands of dollars elsewhere. I said something similar as I handed him the signed receipt: "Big mistake. Big. Huge!!"
-Someone at Neighborhood Restaurants LLC, the owners of Zipps, HAS to be smart enough to grasp the concept of the "Lifetime Value of a Customer." Meaning that if a customer spends, oh, let's say $50 on a visit, and maybe pops in once a month (probably more often for good customers), that customer is worth at least $600 yearly. Multiply that by three, five, ten or more years to get the Lifetime Value. When you lose a customer, because of something stupid...ouch! I don't know about you, but as a business owner I'd rather have that money than not.
-You've heard the saying about when a customer receives bad service, they tell something like 10-20 other people, right? I've already told a couple of my good friends who also go to Zipps. Correction--used to go. There are lots of other places that will be happy to have our money.
-Oh, another small repercussion that usually doesn't happen when a customer is wronged, but, it's always a possibility, since you never know who you're dealing with: I'm also telling at least 70,000 on my email newsletter subscriber list, Tweeting it, Facebooking it, and putting it on my blog. Probably putting it on Yelp and Google reviews too. And I hope you share it with lots of people. Please pass it along. It's an entertaining story. It's better than anything I could create on my own.
-I thought about sending this to Zipps' corporate and the CEO first to get their reaction. Naahh. Anyone that has such an asinine policy in place, and actually drills it into their workers' minds to the point that they enforce it so zealously deserves to have it publicized. It'll get to them eventually. I'll be surprised if they actually care.
- at the Goldie's website, the sister bar to Zipps, under the "Philosophy" tab, the last line says, "In the end, our philosophy is a simple one- Give the people what they want!" Add your own punchline here.
-I'm not looking for any compensation from Zipps for my bad experience, nor will I accept any. (Well, food and beer for five years would be nice...NO, I can't be bought!) If they want to make things right, I'd like to see them do what any reasonable establishment does: apply the split charge ONLY WHEN THE CUSTOMER WANTS THE SPLIT! Train everyone on it. And add a policy allowing employees to make an independent decision.
-I added this point after I had written the bulk of this article, and shared the story with a few people right before you saw it: One friend said that he and his buddies experienced exactly the same thing at another Zipps location. A restaurant owner/friend said one of his customers, a CEO of a multi-million dollar company, was also kicked out of a Zipps for a similar reason. At least they seem to be consistent in the enforcement of their policies.
By the way, are you wondering about the split charge causing this entire circus?