Yelp Me!

Loooong ago, when I was but a silly teenager, my friends and I thought that Friendly's was the height of dining experiences. When we were poor, we would eat at home. When we had a few bucks, we would hit up Burger King. But when we wanted to go out for a special occasion, Friendly's was the place. Of course, as typical annoying 16 year olds, I'm sure that the waitress groaned when she saw us being seated in her section. Now that I have done my time in restaurants, I can certainly relate-teenagers are terrible customers. They are generally rude, they don't tip, and they suck down free refills like Coca-Cola is going out of business, and they will never again taste that sugary nectar. However, this is not always the case. Even at that hormonally challenged age, I had a lot of respect for those in customer service. I was always polite and tipped decently (15% at that time; it was long before 20% became the standard).

During one of our big nights out at Friendly's, my friends and I were chatting away while we shared a quesadilla. As we ate, I noticed some movement on the plate, and was treated to the sight of a large worm squirming its way over the melted cheddar. Yum!

We called a waitress over, and pointed out the extra side of insect. Her response? "Oh, that's just a worm. They come in the garnish sometimes."

"Do we have to pay extra for it?" I quipped, and was greeted by stony silence.

We asked her to give us another order, and she huffed away. I honestly think she expected us to just eat around the worm. And when the bill came, we paid it without even thinking about it. Hey, it was just a worm, right?

When I think back to that incident, I marvel at how much has changed over the years. If that happened today, the meal would be free...if the restaurant was lucky. If not, the paramedics would be there, along with a lawyer. Can you imagine finding a bug in your food, today, and having your server just shrug it off? It just wouldn't happen, because people in customer service live in constant fear now. Why? Because the consumer has all the power now, and God help you if they are not happy.

I'm not quite sure when things took such a dramatic shift, but I believe that it was sometime around the time when internet review sites began to pop up everywhere. Take Yelp, for example. I love Yelp. I use it all the time. My business is on Yelp, and I have gotten several clients who read the positive reviews. However, it can be a double-edged sword. Since so many people use Yelp now, businesses live in fear of crappy reviews...which they should, since people so often use Yelp to decide which businesses to frequent. This means that consumers can often get whatever they want, no matter how outlandish the request. Like spoiled children, they know that they can make the business pay if they don't get exactly what they want.

The other day I was at a restaurant when I saw a table of four adults running their server ragged. They asked for several things that weren't on the menu, and when the server said that they didn't have the ingredients to create their culinary inventions, the alpha male at the table snapped, "Well, you can at least check, can't you?" The server left the table, and I overheard him saying to the rest of the table, "I know that someone is getting a nice Yelp review later." Hearing that, my temper flared up and I was tempted to get up and pour his cheap red right over his cheap and poorly-fitting suit. Obviously I didn't, but I heartily wished that somewhere in the depths of the kitchen, someone was producing some sort of extra ingredient for his dish-one that he definitely didn't ask for.

My point here? It's nice that we consumers now have a tool to improve the quality of service we receive, but don't abuse it. These review sites are meant to be a helpful forum, not a device to threaten people until they bend to your will.