The Writings

Auto-Gratuity and Your Clients

As you may know, I've worked in the food service industry for ten years. Because of this, I always figured I'd pull a lot of examples from this and reference my experiences to further advance my career in photography. In today's post, I'm relating the service industry with how you run a business. It seems far-fetched, I know, but stick with me.

I recently went to TenPenh with some old high school friends of mine on a Sunday to catch up since our last dinner date (and, admittedly, to brag and show off my girlfriend). We arrived a little after seven, thanks to the wonderful and efficient DC metro service, and were sat by the hostess. Two of my friends arrived a couple of minutes later, ad because of our partial party, I understood why the server didn't initially greet us right away. However, once our entire party of six were settled, it still took a while for our server to tend to us, and even took 15 minutes to get us a bottle of wine. Almost an hour after our reservation time, he finally took our orders. He was barely at our table - the busboys checked on us more than he did - and what should have been about a two-hour dinner time was nearly doubled!

It's not to say we didn't enjoy ourselves - the food was fantastic and the company was even better. The problem came when our bill arrived: because we were a party of six, gratuity was automatically tacked on to the check. Therefore, our server, despite hardly giving us the service I'm accustomed to getting at this establishment (hence my recommendation for us to dine there), was still getting a tip equivalent to the notion that he HAD! I'll inevitably return - I'm not the type to hold a grudge, especially when all my previous encounters there have been fabulous. However, it got me thinking: was his poor service the result of knowing he was automatically getting gratuity?

I'd like to not assume the worst, despite my cynical nature, but it couldn't be helped. We observed his attentiveness to other deuces and four-tops in his relatively small/normal-sized section. His engaging and polite conversation with them, as if they were the only people in the restaurant. You know, normal service. How is it that he provided the service that I always received and admired about this place was being exuded onto other guests and not us? We're cool people, I thought!

Think about a place you regularly go to. Why do you go back? Is it the friendly, personal service? Do they treat you more like a friend than a number? One of my favorite places, which I regularly tweet/gush about, is a café called Boccato. Aside from having awesome coffee that kicks Starbucks' butt, the people are extremely friendly and treat you like a friend instead of a $4 latte. Time after time, as I've observed from sitting on my perch at their counter, whether it's a regular or a new guest, they make them feel welcomed in a cool, laid back environment that let's you relax and enjoy. Because of this, I will ALWAYS go back, which is why I'm the mayor on Foursquare ;). All kidding aside, when I take this idea into consideration, I personally make sure I do the same with my clients. I want to be professional, sure, but I'm certain that because I treat my clients like people and show respect while also treating them like a friend, this has helped me get return business. So often I've heard from them how a previous photographer was rude and inconsiderate, and how thankful they are that I'm not like typical, arrogant photographers/artists. This sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but it's to prove a point: I've essentially taken clients away from other photographers, simply because I approach business and customer service in this manner.

Take a look at your customers and source(s) of income: do you take advantage of what seems to be guaranteed money or return customers? It's nice to know that certain clients and companies will always seek you business and favor yours over the competition. However, do you show your appreciation for their business? Or just put them on the back burner because you assume they're going to come back? I know that I'll be back to TenPenh again - it's going to take more than a single lame experience to stop me from good food - but if this continues, and they don't appreciate my business* and that I bring in friends to share the experience, it's very likely I won't be back again (which is a shame - their Thai food is bangin'!).

Take a look at your customer service and how you take care of those people who always come back to you. Make sure they know you appreciate them and stick your neck out for them every once in a while. You definitely don't have to give away the house (you're a business, after all), but a little TLC never hurt anybody.

Until next time,

- Patrick

* As I was typing this out, I received a tweet from TenPenh, thanking me for my business and showing interest in my concerns. Just by doing that, which didn't cost them anything but a few minutes (let's face it: Twitter is free - if your business isn't Tweeting, you're getting left in the dust!), I felt appreciated and can lay my concerns to rest. Simple, friendly gestures to show you care are all it takes sometimes!