March 22, 2014

Bad Experiences

Fact: No one goes into a Vietnamese restaurant expecting top-notch service, unless they are completely clueless. But still, we expect some standard of service, don't we?

I used to work in the food and beverage department of a four-star hotel in San Diego, for just under two years. That was one of the most fun times of my life, and you may be assured that a high level of customer service was expected. If things went wrong, it was easy to take a percentage off the check, or comp items or even the whole bill. The important thing was always to give our guests reason to come back.

I loved working at the Rancho Bernardo Inn.

Conversely, after graduation I worked in an English-type bar & restaurant that had extremely strict rules. Not only did I have to wear a uniform with a short plaid skirt, suspenders and knee socks, but we had to pay for our mistakes. You really had to make sure your orders were right, because once made, you couldn't take them back. I had to buy a few beers for that reason (oh, Corona Light...), but the bigger deal was the food. I would try to always repeat orders back, but I did run into a few problems.

Once this girl didn't like the sauce on her wings and wanted to get a different sauce on the side. I would have liked to give it to her for free, but even things like this had to go through the manager. The manager said that the sauce was a popular sauce and there was nothing wrong with it, so the girl should have to pay for a side of sauce. It was only 50 cents or a dollar at the most, but the girl didn't want to pay on principle. It was an ugly situation that could have easily been resolved, but the strict policy forced me to drag it out until finally the manager gave in and said to give her some sauce for free. (And I'm still trying to forget that I accidentally double-charged that girl for her food...after that was resolved, I'm guessing she never came back.)

Looking at my two experiences, establishments handle their business in very different ways. One is very concerned about the customer, and the other is less so. Certainly, Vietnamese restaurants tend to side with the latter, but what about serious mistakes?

The worst service experience I had in a Vietnamese restaurant was with my family at some place in Arcadia, CA. There were seven of us, and five received their food first. The other two, myself included, waited patiently until we realized everyone else was halfway through their food. We had to ask about ours, and the servers returned from the kitchen telling us that the ticket was lost. By the time we got our food, everyone else had already finished.

Now, I think that's one of the worst mistakes you can make. It's a situation that could have been avoided- why didn't the servers check on the status of the two orders after the first five were delivered? That seems obvious. To deliver our food that late, I expected them to make it up to us somehow. But the staff just gave us a weak apology and seemed to think that sufficient.

With my pro-customer service mindset, I painted the situation for the staff and told them that I thought our two entrees should be on the house, or that we should get free beverages, or something. However, the staff told me that if we didn’t want to pay for the food, we could have just cancelled the order. Despite my rational (bordering on aggravated…) appeal, they refused to give us anything.

I was so disappointed and angry. That’s just not a great way to treat your customers. I was fuming to my family that we weren’t going to tip, and we wouldn’t be returning again. Missing orders are a serious issue, and customers will never have a good dining experience if they’re eating after every other member of their party.

Although I made my stance clear to my family, a few months later my parents told me that they returned to that restaurant. I was nearly outraged. “Why?” I demanded. “They were horrible!”

“Well, we tried to go, but they were closed down.”

Sweet justice. I should have written a scathing review of the place, whose name I can’t even remember now, but I didn’t take any action at the time. However, I have never had a similar situation in another Vietnamese restaurant. I don’t know how other Vietnamese restaurants would have handled this kind of situation. As far as I can remember, when I’ve had problems or needed something else, the issue was dealt with swiftly. This is only time I left a restaurant feeling such dissatisfaction.

So what do you think?
Were my expectations of this place too high, or was their service really that poor?
What horrible customer service experiences have you encountered in Vietnamese or Asian restaurants?


  1. Like Denny's, I don't expect great customer service from too many Vietnamese food places. However, if I have a food allergy, or get the wrong damn order, I'm not paying. And it will be removed from my ticket.
    I would have had them cancel my order as:
    a). no way were they going to give me my meal comped (independently owned restaurants just don't do that)
    b). They won't be getting that tip.
    c). Most of the the Asian restaurants I've been to usually charge gratuity fot six or more people are and there wouldn't be 6 orders to charge for (are you sure you didn't tip?) and they wouldn't be charging me for that either.