Makeovers and Meatballs: A Cautionary Tale | The Zebra Blog

Makeovers and Meatballs: A Cautionary Tale

Recently, I was visiting my parents at their vacation home. We had said many times that the place needed an interior makeover. We decided that now was the time.

First stop: furniture. I packed up my Mom, Dad, and kids in the car to go to Ashley Furniture.

I truly couldn’t believe the way I was treated. I had my guard up, waiting for an aggressive salesperson to pounce on me—as is often the case at furniture stores.

Just the opposite happened. Melissa, one of the kindest salespeople I’ve ever met, greeted us in a friendly and non-pushy manner.

That was just the beginning. After a couple of hours wandering around the store, we made some great decisions. Melissa wasn’t the only gem at Ashley. T.J., the sales manager, also treated us like royalty.

On a 1-10 scale, I have to give Ashley Furniture a 20. The experience was that good.

I wish I could say the same for the restaurant next door to Ashley Furniture.

We were tired and hungry. On top of that, we wanted to celebrate. The Olive Garden was right there so we just walked over.

We were seated with a very nice waitress and I was instantly thrilled to see that they had a gluten-free section on their menu. This fit in nicely with my restricted diet.

So, I ordered the gluten-free pasta, but I asked for one little change. I wanted meat sauce instead of the marinara sauce listed on the menu. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?

This was the beginning of one of the worst customer experiences I’ve ever had.

The waitress returns to the table and says, “My manager won’t let me give you meat sauce with the gluten-free pasta.”

“Why not?”, I said.

“I don’t know”, she said. “He just won’t do it.”

“Well, tell your manager that I’ll pay extra. I just want a little meat sauce on my gluten-free pasta.”

She leaves and returns again a few minutes later.

“He won’t do it”, she said. “I don’t know why. I’m sorry.”

The manager himself walked up to the table. He was young and full of self-righteousness.

Without saying “I’m sorry”, he said, “I can’t give you meat sauce over your gluten-free pasta.”

“Okay”, I said. “So why don’t you just give me a side of meat sauce? I’ll pay for it.”

I saw him flush to a bright red from his neck up to his hairline. He clearly didn’t like this solution.

“Do you know that gluten-free pasta costs us more money to serve?”, he said with such disdain that my father’s jaw dropped.

My father is a chef and restaurant owner. He knows what it takes to please customers. He was clearly flabbergasted at the attitude of this young adult who had clearly decided that he wasn’t going to work with me on this matter.

At this moment, I decided I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want my father to get mad so I decided to do whatever it takes to de-escalate the situation.

So, I ordered a side of meatballs from the regular menu instead of the gluten-free pasta. (The menu clearly said “meatballs” in its plural form, by the way. Read on.) I did this just to get things rolling so we could eat and get out of there. I also didn’t want to spoil our celebratory dinner.

But what happened next was unbelievable.

When the meal arrived, I was horrified to see that I am served one meatball on a plate. And not a very big one at that. I don’t know about you, but I was expecting AT LEAST two.

My father, the chef, asked me, “What did you order? One meatball?”

“No, Dad, I ordered a side order of meatballs. Plural.”

The waitress looked at the meatball and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why they did that.”

“Well, could you go tell them that I wanted a side order of meatballs—plural—not a meatball.”

She leaves and returns, “The cook won’t give you any more than this. He said this is all you get.”

The very fact that the restaurant has the audacity to serve this culinary catastrophe is appalling.

At this point, my mother—who is the nicest, sweetest, and most calm person in the world—said:

“Are you kidding me? Is this manager just trying to make us mad?”

I picked up the plate with the meatball, handed it back to the waitress, and said, “You can take this back to your manager and tell HIM to eat it.”

“You know, I am really embarrassed”, the waitress said. “I feel so bad. This is terrible. I don’t know why they just couldn’t give you meat sauce on your gluten-free pasta in the first place. And now this. You know what? I’m going to go get the assistant manager to talk to you.”

Over walks the assistant manager—a very nice woman—who said, “I cannot believe this. Had I known that you were gluten-intolerant, I would have cooked some vegetables for you myself.”

The manager sees us talking and comes over to the table. I refuse to speak to him. I learned a long time ago that if people don’t “have it” when it comes to customer service, then you are not going to help them “get it” from a short speech.

“You should be ashamed of yourself!”, came a voice I knew all too well. Uh-oh. Here goes my dad the chef. I had tried to avoid getting him mad, but that train had left the station.

“You should be ashamed to have served one tiny meatball on a plate” said my father. “You should be ashamed of not trying to help the situation. I ran a restaurant for many years and I can tell you that you should not be in the restaurant business!”

Unbelievably, the little manager just kept on making excuses—the rules say gluten-free pasta doesn’t ever get meat sauce blah blah blah. The gluten-free pasta costs us this amount more money blah blah blah.

But finally, he relented and said, “Okay, this was a learning experience for me. I didn’t handle this well. You know what? I’ll just pay for your bill.”

This set my father over the edge. “We are not here for a free meal!”, he said. “This isn’t about getting a free meal. This is about how rude you were to my daughter!”

The lesson of this long story: There are some people who “have it” and there are others who just don’t.

Ashley Furniture “has it”. They know how to treat people well.

The Olive Garden’s manager “doesn’t have it”. It’s going to cost The Olive Garden company every potential customer I’ve told. (Up to about 50 now not including this Zebra Report.) That’s a lot of potential business that the Olive Garden has lost forever.

As a real estate agent, do you “have it” or not? If you don’t, then it’s time to learn how to “get it”. Don’t be the source of such bad feelings for your clients.

Learn from Ashley Furniture. Treat people like gold—and they will return the favor.

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One Response to “Makeovers and Meatballs: A Cautionary Tale”

  1. […] end of poor service a number of times over the years.  You may fondly remember my rant about meatballs at Olive Garden, or my rave about the staff at Bothell’s Hilton Garden […]

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