It's always the small stuff

One of the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous is “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. Don’t ask me how I know this. But in my job it is nothing but small stuff. “The Devil is in the details” and everywhere I look in any restaurant he is poking me in the ass with his pitchfork.

When it comes right down to it, it’s all small stuff. Don’t sweat the small stuff? What do I sweat, the big stuff? Plane crashes, house-fires, a walk-in party of 12, or the possibility of rain when you have a party of 24 outside on the patio? Everyone handles the big stuff. You have to. They are called crises. You are forced to handle them.

Small stuff, though, is what can really make the difference between “meh” and “wow”. It never fails to amaze me when small details that could be addressed so easily with a little effort get ignored in so many restaurants. Like a little salt and pepper on my roast beef sandwich at the deli; or removing the seeds from the lemon wedge in my ice tea (can we have simple syrup instead of granulated sugar, too, please?); or maybe taking a look at that tomato slice you are serving me with my burger in mid-January to see that it is mealy, pale, and has absolutely no flavor. Stale, unsalted chips at a Mexican restaurant anyone?

We had dinner at RN74 in SF a couple of weeks back. At the end of the meal they brought us some of those little white candies that so many restaurants provide with the check (my wife calls them “soft and melties”). Usually they are out of a box from Cisco or S.E. Rykoff and have a little quote on the package like “Eat Out More Often!” These, however, were made in-house, flavored with lemongrass and kaffir lime, and put in little cellophane bags tied up with red ribbons and one of their luggage tags (the theme of the décor at RN74 is French Train Station Industrial Chic). They were amazingly good. A final, lasting impression by paying attention to a tiny detail. I mean, here I am, weeks later, and I still remember them.

First and last impressions are so extremely vital in generating guest loyalty; and it is always something in that “small stuff” category that can make them the positives that guests will remember and want to repeat. And yet, so many places that provide excellent food, wine and service will seat you at a table that has lost a foot on the bottom and tips like a teeter-totter; or serve you a weak, tepid, double espresso at the end of the meal because no one is keeping an eye on the service staff’s technique at the espresso machine. You can do absolutely everything right all evening, but if a guest has to wait for their check, or for their credit card to be run, suddenly it’s the worst meal of their life. “Small stuff” indeed.

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