The Murphy Table

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A Murphy Bed

A Murphy bed is probably something most of us are unfamiliar with by name.  It is the name for a bed that folds down from the wall for sleeping and can be folded up into the wall after the occupant awakes.  It was designed originally by the Murphy Bed Company.  In 1989 an appellate court found that the name could no longer be considered a trademark because most consumers referred to this style of bed, made by any manufacturer, as a Murphy bed.  Thank you to Wikipedia for the assist in introducing this post.

A Murphy table is not one that folds up into the wall, although you often wish it would.  A Murphy table instead refers to Murphy ’s Law.  This law states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.  Unfortunately, this law all too often can apply to the tables we serve.  It seems like when one mistake occurs at a certain table, many mistakes follow.  Everyone has had these tables.  It is incredibly embarrassing and often despite your best efforts the comedy of errors continues.  The worst part is that Murphy tables are often the kindest most understanding guests in the restaurant.  They don’t bring it on themselves and they are generally  understanding.

I had a Murphy table last evening.  Two very nice gentlemen came in to dine.  They each ordered my recommendations.  We were off to a great start.  The chef sent their food out without one of the additional sauces.  The guest was very kind.  I removed the plate and returned in under two minutes.  When I went to do my checkback, the guest said his steak was over cooked.  I caught a glimpse of it and he was absolutely correct.  This is the first time I have ever had to return a steak at this restaurant that was overcooked.  The chef agreed that is was overdone.  The guest asked to have it replaced with the meal his friend was having.  The chef fired the new steak and sent it out minutes later.  When I checked back the guest said the mashed potatoes were cold.  I was out minutes later with fresh mashed potatoes.  The manager was aware of the problem and even brought them each out a small glass of wine.  One of the glasses had a shade of lipstick on the rim that did not belong to either of the gentlemen at the table.  By the end of this table, I was honestly pretty embarrassed to be working that evening.  None of these three mistakes had ever occurred to me at this restaurant.  We typically execute all of these steps with near perfection.  The first time any of these mistakes occurred to me were with this one unfortunate table.  That is a Murphy table.

The thing about a Murphy table is that it seems like there is nothing you can do to stop the chain of events.  Every member of our staff was aware of the difficulties these gentlemen were having.  Everyone wanted to fix the problem, yet the mistakes kept occurring.  I work at a very nice restaurant.  I am proud of where I work.  I know that my co-workers care about my guest’s dining experience.  None of that was properly conveyed to this Murphy table.

Fortunately, I have a Murphy apology.  I do not have to use it often.  If the point ever came where it was used regularly, I would begin looking for a new restaurant.  This is an apology that can only be used sparingly and must be delivered sincerely.  If this apology becomes necessary, there is no more smiling at this table.  I walked over to deliver the check with my head hung and delivered this apology:

“Gentlemen, I have apologized several times during this meal for our errors and I wanted to let you know again that I am deeply sorry.  You came in expecting much better than this and we failed tonight.  I don’t embarrass easily, but I am embarrassed by the meal you received tonight.  I can only ask you to trust me on the fact that we would not be open, have the reputation we have, and frankly I would not still be working here if this was something that occurred even sporadically.  I can tell you with full confidence that if you would be willing to come and give us another try, I know for certain that you will not face these issues again.”

There was no excuse provided.  No one was thrown under the bus.  I took full responsibility on behalf of the restaurant.  I stood up for the restaurant and asked them to give us another try.  I guaranteed that the next visit would be better with my personal word.  I expect to see those guests back in one day.  When they return they will have a perfect dining experience.  That is the standard my restaurant meets over 99% of the time.  When they do return, I am confident that there service and meal will meet that standard. 

That is the thing about a Murphy table.  When you can’t seem to do anything right, there is no need to make excuses.  You can’t explain away a string of mistakes.  You can only accept responsibility.  The best shot you have of getting them back is to show that you are better than they had the opportunity to see that evening.  This means taking responsibility for every mistake and letting them know that you do not take any of them lightly.  By doing so you show integrity and potentially earn through that the credibility to assure them that your restaurant is better.  It is the only way to get a second chance when you have demonstrated very little to deserve it.

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One Response to The Murphy Table

  1. Becky May 27, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Ah, yes, the Murphy Table. I’ve had my share of those in my millions of years of service. I’ve also been one a few times.

    One of the Murphy-type incidents I have had mysteriously happen more than once is the 86 nightmare: Patron orders food and drink. I return to regretfully inform her that we’re out of the wine she’s ordered. She’s somewhat disappointed and orders another wine. While I’m ordering that, the kitchen informs me they’re out of the side dish she ordered with her entree. I go back to the table, apologizing again, feeling sheepish and she orders a new side. Heading back to the bar, the bartender says, “You’re not gonna believe this, but…” yes, we’re out of the second wine choice. I make a note of ALL the wines on the new 86 list and silently curse the shift before mine for not having this prepared for us.

    By this time, the appetizers are up and all is going smoothly. Patron has her third wine choice, but now I’m informed by the kitchen that there is one dinner special left. Of course! The two women at this table both ordered it and now one won’t be enjoying it!

    I give up on trying to make things any better and comp their entire meal. They are understanding and sympathize with my plight, but I somehow make them laugh about it and we joke now and again about how if they stayed a while and ordered some more items, we’d just run out of them too, and how they’ve somehow become the jinx of the night.

    I’ve never had someone be completely disgusted by this kind of thing, but fortunately it doesn’t happen often.

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