Cutting Corners

I visited a small local restaurant/deli over the weekend while on a long bike ride for some much needed refreshment and refueling. I had been there last summer and overall had a very good impression of it. Nice location, friendly service, and overall a what seemed to be a good product that people liked. They even had a nice social media presence with live music events. However it looks like something somewhere went wrong. The last few times I went by it was empty, and now instead of a few people working  like last year there was one girl running the whole place. The hours were cut back to weekends only, and the menu cut down as well to mostly deli items. Still, it seemed like all the ingredients were there (no pun intended).

I ordered a turkey sandwich, a lemonade, and some ice cream. Service was friendly and quick, but the sandwich was a bit of a let down. The ice cream was good, of course (it was Hershey’s hand-dipped).

Then I visited the restroom and noticed something unusual about the hand soap. Clearly, all the real soap had been used up, and someone filled it with water to stretch the bottle. A bottle of soap costs about $1-$2 (less if you’re buying in bulk). So, instead of spending $2 to make sure customers (and employees!) can properly wash their hands, settle for soapy water instead? (By the way, I wonder if that would pass health codes anyway). Personally, I tend to think that an restaurant’s bathroom can to some extent be an indicator of the care and cleanliness that goes into preparing my food. So when I saw that, it didn’t sit well with me. I was reminded of the show “Kitchen Nighmares” with Chef Gordon Ramsey who appropriately always puts having a clean kitchen as a top priority.

Now, I can fully understand certain things like the limited menu and restricted hours. They’re probably hurting like most small businesses, and those types of creative changes can help keep the doors open. I was disappointed by the limited menu, but having fewer options is fine as long as the options are of good quality. However, when you don’t want to spend $2 on such a minor thing as hand soap, it makes me question everything else about what you are offering. It undermines your entire product. If you’re cutting corners there, where else? Do I even want to know?

Granted, we all have to cut corners from time to time, and if we only shipped perfect products we would never ship anything. I know first hand from my work in IT that a lot of times you can save time and money by choosing a simpler solution without affecting the quality of what’s being delivered. Often, depending on the project, extra effort on that last 20% of perfection does not provide enough return on investment to matter anyway. Such judgement calls need to be made, but the key is you have to know where you can cut corners without affecting your product or the customer. I’m afraid saving $2 on hand soap is not the place.

Be Our Guest: Perfecting the art of customer service  by the Disney institute includes an interesting quote by Imagineer John Hench who explains how “… for all of its success, the Disney theme show is quite a fragile thing. It just takes one contradiction, one out-of-place stimulus to negate a particular moment’s experience … tack up a felt-tip brown-paper-bag sign that says “Keep Out” … place a touch of artificial turf here … add a surly employee there … it really doesn’t take much to upset it all” (p 109).

Attention to detail can be taken to extremes but is nonetheless important and very noticeable. When you’re investing so much into a product, it is foolish to undermine all that time, money, and effort by skipping on a detail that might really matter to someone.

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