Posted by: Chris | September 30, 2007

Bad Service? Make it Hurt.

My family and I recently ate at a local On the Border restaurant. Now, we’ve all had bad service before, so I’m not going to take you through a lengthy description of the pure disinterested negligence we experienced. Suffice it to say, my wife and I have both done our share of waiting tables, and despite our concern for the plight of waitstaff everywhere, we left a tip that was slightly less than 15%-the first time since we both quit waiting tables at Carrabba’s a few years ago. After we left, we discussed the experience and agreed that the waitress was probably completely fine with the mediocre tip. She didn’t get stiffed, and she was able to catch up with her buddies in the kitchen. She had actually been rewarded for her bad service. This seems to me to be a more and more common mindset for many Front Line Service Employees (FLSE) these days. “Why not provide mediocre service if I’m going to be rewarded either way?”

When I used to teach high school English, a group of my colleagues and I began to notice this same mindset in student writing. Students would churn out the required 500 words, riddled with simple errors from beginning to end, and because the assignment was complete and the errors were minor, the students would walk away with a B, or at worst, a high C. And they were content with this-as long as it wasn’t a D or F (which would translate into consequences at home). In light of this frustration, my friend and veteran English teacher, LeaAnn, shared with us a conversation between herself and her daughter who was a senior at the high school where we taught. Her daughter told her, “Mom, they aren’t going to change as long as they’re still getting B’s. They won’t change until you make it hurt.”

 It seems that these days, it has become unfashionable for management to “make it hurt.” I see a trend among management of FLSE’s to embrace a buddy-oriented professional relationship. Very feel-good. “Keep them happy and entertained, and they’ll work for you.” I should mention here that I have no problem with positive, friendly relationships between managers and FLSE’s (just as I have no problem with positive, friendly relationships between teachers and students.) However, when the time comes for work to be done (that is, when people are coming to your establishment, of their own volition, when they had a wide variety of competing establishments to frequent, and these people want to give you money),and FLSE’s, the faces of your company’s brand, are content with mediocrity, for the sake of your brand, you’ve got to make it hurt.

Obviously, this rule cannot be implemented in a vacuum. A company needs a thorough training program, a method of “continued education,” a review process, clearly conveyed expectations (and the results of failing to meet these expectations), and approachable, diplomatic, hard working management (something clearly missing from our On the Border experience described above), among other things.

I hope to flesh this out more in coming posts, and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this unpopular topic. Agree? Disagree? Let me hear about it.



  1. I had a high school teacher who did not want us to use be-verbs (is, am, are, were) in our writing…and if our paperes contained even one be-verb we received a 0% on the paper.

    Since she clearly stated the policy, she would not accept complaints.

  2. That would definitely hurt! Thinking how that would translate into the service industry…sounds like a lot of turnover to me. But I’ll bet there is some middle ground. Thanks for the comment, RC.

  3. Maybe at a resteraunt the person who gets the worst tips has to add cleaning the restrooms to their list of task!

    Make it a game of sort 🙂

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