Who should you write a letter to if you had a bad experience at a restaurant? To have the biggest impact and possibly result in an actual change in policy, you should send a letter to both the manager and the owner of the restaurant in question.
Why? Because they deal with different things and are motivated by different problems. A manager is interested in the efficiency and success of the service at the restaurant. Your letter to the manager should be very detail-oriented. The manager is interested in knowing where the problem occurred. What step in the service process failed the customer? They need to figure out who needs further training. Is it the chef? The waitstaff? A busboy? Was it misinformation on the menu? The manager is interested in the “micro” level of the problem.
The owner of a restaurant is more interested in protecting the integrity of the restaurant either by avoiding bad press or by promoting the mission statement of the restaurant (which many restaurants have, especially in LA).
If you look at the letter sample titled “Letter to the manager – Untrained Waitstaff”, you can see that I am very specific and discuss my step-by-step experience at the restaurant. If you look at the letter sample titled “Letter to the owner – Untrained Waitstaff”, you can see I discuss the integrity of the restaurant’s mission.
The duality of this approach is very effective. When the manager is contacted by the owner about a “very disturbing letter” he received, the manager will already be brought up to speed. Sending two, different and very specific, letters also shows that you are serious and committed to help fix this problem.
In the case of of “Untrained Waitstaff”, I was directly contacted by the manager by telephone. We discussed what went wrong and she apologized and told me she would make efforts to fix the problem. I received an email from the owner offering his apologies. Two months after the fact, the owner sent me another email detailing what actions he has taken since receiving my letter to improve his restaurant. Here are some of the things that were brought up in his email.
“1. We’ve made changes to our wording on the menu to be more clear what the gluten-free choices are (and are not).
2. The servers now have buttons on the computers to alert the kitchen, as well as the server needing to type in the necessary messages.
3. The kitchen printer will alert the cooks to the alert (previously, it was up to the server to type in the necessary adjustments)
4. The servers will then place bright red coasters on the table in front of the guest, which will alert any other person who might be bringing food to double check.
5. When the dish is ready, the kitchen will put in a frilly sandwich pick that will only be used when there is a food alert, and when the food runner sees the pick, will know to check it and deliver to the guest with the coaster.”
The point is that we can actually impact the restaurant industry. Five steps were taken by this particular restaurant to make sure that they did not hurt another customer. These five steps would NOT have been taken if I hadn’t sent in letters describing my experience. This should serve as a message to us all: promoting awareness of Celiac Disease is our burden. It cannot be done by the medical community and nonprofits alone and, believe it or not, we can make a difference.