As I've written before on this site, if a retailer wants my loyalty, they need to earn it. Two recent experiences at local restaurants presented a particular challenge. My visits could have resulted in the short-term loss of revenue for both, but the respective reactions of the restaurant staff means one has earned my business going forward and the other has lost it.
Let's start with the negative so we can end on a high note. Last month, our youngest child had her "stepping up" ceremony as recognition of having completed kindergarten. Her graduation, as she called it, was a big deal to her, but having landed on the same day as her big sister's birthday and near her brother's graduation from high school, she felt it was a little underplayed by the family.
Being a "tell it like she sees it" kid, she told us she would like a family dinner to celebrate her achievement and she would like to help bake a cake to commemorate the occasion. We thought her request reasonable, so we set aside a weekend day for the cake baking and decided it would be nice to have the family dinner out at a local restaurant.
When we arrived at a local brick oven pizza place, we were informed we would be charged $3 per person if we ate the cake in the restaurant. Even after explaining the nature of our celebration and how the cake came to be baked, we were told there were no exceptions and our choice was to pay $21 to eat our own cake.
Despite my urging otherwise, we sat down to eat since it was a busy weekend evening. When it came time for dessert, we did not ask for plates for our daughter's cake. We all got a good laugh when the waiter asked if we'd like to see the dessert menu. I won't speak for the other family members, but this restaurant, which I patronized four to six times a year before this incident, will not be getting any more of my business.
Now to the other story: About a week after the birthday cake incident, I was out running errands around town and ran into my wife and daughter who had just come from getting a drink following a dance class. It was getting near lunch and my wife suggested we get a bite to eat. Our daughter asked if we could visit a nearby café that specialized in crepes.
Here we were, with their two almost full drinks in hand, walking into another restaurant. Instead of giving us a hard time about the drinks, which were clearly labeled as being from another business, the owner said it was no problem. People in our town, she said, walk around and go in and out of shops and restaurants. It was normal to see patrons walk in with a drink from a deli or coffee shop. Should she get upset when they could be walking into other shops with her drinks to go? It made sense to me as does a return visit to Paris Café in Cranford, NJ.
How successful are most retailers and restaurants in developing emotional loyalty with their customers?