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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

When Perception Becomes Reality

I'm up in Denver this week at our national conference. It's kind of a drag that it's in Denver, just an hour north of home, but it's still okay. Yesterday I sat in on a session presented by Chris Tripoli, restaurant consultant from Houston, Texas.

When he said "Your guest's perception becomes your reality." I was instantly reminded of my days in college when I was waiting tables at Grisanti's. I had this guy sit alone at my table and order the french onion soup. He had this eerie quality about him that all these years later has stayed with me.

When I brought him his soup, I carefully handed it to him and gave my normal disclaimer, "careful this is very hot." As I left, he quickly called me back to the table and said the soup wasn't hot. I apologized, took the soup back to the kitchen and exchanged it for a bowl that came right off the line. It was so hot that I had to use a towel to carry it out to him. I set it on the table and waited for him to eat it. He spooned up a mouthful and as I watched the steam roll off the spoon, he stuffed the entire spoon in his mouth and shook his head saying, it's still cold.

"WHAT THE...!" Is all I could think. "Okay." is all I could say. I carried the scalding bowl back to kitchen and told the expediter the problems I was having. I took another bowl, stuck it in the industrial microwave and ran it until the cheese began to bubble, carried it out and returned a few minutes later saying, "I think I have Satan in my section." He still wanted it hotter.

Again I stuck a new bowl to the microwave and ran it until I thought it was going to explode. Finally Mr. Satan agreed that the bowl of molten lava wasn't quite hot enough for him, but it would be fine. He was tired of waiting. I went back to the kitchen and ran my hands under cold water to soothe the burns I received through the towels I used to carry the bowls out.

His perception that the soup wasn't hot enough became my reality. Regardless that I knew the soup was at least twice as hot as we normally serve it, his perception was that it was cold. So, my reality was the soup was cold.

My thoughts that this guy was Satan became the reality that this guy was my guest and he would get what he wanted. I had to have a dual conversation to satisfy him. One conversation was my perception, the other conversation was my new reality. One of the keys to exceptional customer service is the ability to carry on this dual conversation internally while externally only displaying kind words meeting your guests reality.