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Customer Dis-service


I recently had one of the strangest customer service episodes I’ve ever experienced. It took place at Café Bon Appetit in downtown Chicago. A group of twenty of us were eating lunch there. It is one of those places that has many food stations to choose from, then you pay for your food and find a table. There is no table service. It’s a huge restaurant. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the restaurant can seat 300 people. That is one of the reasons we go there in a big group — there are always plenty of seats.

One of the diners, who is on some sort of vegan, non-gluten health kick, had brought her own lunch. The rest of us had bought our lunch there. We found a table in the nearly completely empty back seating area. About halfway through lunch, the restaurant manager appeared. I assumed it was to thank us for coming and to ask how the food was. It turned out his mission was quite different. It had come to his attention, he notified us, that one of the diners had brought in outside food. That was expressly prohibited, he said.

I want to pause here to offer you the opportunity to guess the reason why outside food was not allowed in Café Bon Appetit…

The reason why outside food was not allowed, he continued, was because of the litigation risk: They can’t risk the possibility that someone brings leftovers from home, gets sick eating those leftovers and then sues the restaurant. If I had been thinking more quickly (and if my Minnesotan upbringing hadn’t conditioned me to say only nice things to people who work in restaurants), I would have asked whether there had ever been a restaurant anywhere in the world in the history of mankind that had been sued on such grounds. If there ever was, I can’t imagine the restaurant lost the case. I can think of some reasons why he might not want outside food in the restaurant (like seats were limited, but they weren’t limited), but that may be the single worst one imaginable.

Can anyone think of a worse reason than the one he gave?