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This Is the Story of a Successful Service Recovery

Last week I met with Terri Bartlett, the intrepid president of Marketing EDGE, for lunch at Forty Four, the restaurant at the Royalton Hotel in Manhattan. We had lots to talk about, and didn’t even notice how long we were waiting for our order to arrive.

I was seated on the banquette, facing the room, so I noticed right away when a fellow wearing a striped shirt and a jacket came walking purposefully toward us. I assumed he knew Terri, and was about to tell her that a friend of hers was approaching, when he reached our table and dropped into a half-crouch to speak to both of us eye-to-eye.

Mea Culpa

“I’m sorry your lunch is taking so long,” the man said. “It’s entirely my fault.” He explained that a small mix-up had occurred, so Terri’s fish was now being cooked and a fresh salad was being remade for me. He offered us some soup or bread while we were waiting. Plus, he said, if we had time to sit, he hoped we would accept a complimentary dessert.

His words were direct and specific; his delivery was earnest. When Terri accepted the offer of the bread, he seemed genuinely pleased, and reiterated the dessert offer.

After that, our meal arrived so quickly that it actually got there ahead of the bread. The food was tasty and attractively presented. I had just started parsing the technical aspects of the fellow’s apology and service actions for Terri when he came back to check on us. I asked him his role, and he pulled out his card and introduced himself as the hotel’s food and beverage director.

Just Desserts

When we were through with the main course, the waiter returned and asked us about dessert. We ordered hot beverages, nothing else, but they were delivered to the table accompanied by a plate of warm (and tasty!) chocolate chip cookies.

No surprise: We talked quite a bit about what a good restaurant it is (even though it’s a bit noisy and crowded during the lunch rush), and of course we planned to go back again.

Anatomy of a Service Recovery

Here are some of the technical aspects of service recovery as demonstrated beautifully by Travis Christ, food and beverage director for Morgans and Royalton Hotels in New York City:

  • Direct, Personal Approach: Nothing Travis did seemed pro forma or “just business.” It felt like he actually cared about us. His half crouch embodied an eye-to-eye, face-to-face sense of candor, and let him address us from slightly below our level, creating a dynamic of looking up at us rather than standing over us.
  • Upfront Responsibility: No one else was blamed or denigrated. Of course we knew that Travis himself hadn’t made a cooking or serving mistake, but there was no sense that he was “covering” for others in his operation, just that a mistake had been made and he was handling it.
  • No Excuses: We got just enough detail about what went wrong so we could understand, but not so much information that it seemed like a justification or defense.
  • Sincerely Still in Charge: Because Travis did not communicate any sense of being personally victimized or hurt by the failure, it was easy to trust the sincerity of both his apology and his offers.
  • Appropriate Choices: The “apology gifts” of bread and dessert were proportionate to the level of inconvenience we’d experienced and directly relevant to the circumstance, and created a measurable opportunity for tracking service failures.
  • Modesty: The situation never became about Travis and his heroics on our behalf. He was repairing and protecting the quality of our experience, not his own.

Does your own service leadership stand up (or crouch down) quite so well?

Onward and upward,


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