For our family, new malls mean more restaurant choices rather than more shopping places. Since we always find something to celebrate in our everyday lives, we treat ourselves to food and these discoveries are adventures as well as bonding moments.  We like to discuss particular tastes and hone our vocabulary to define flavors before ordering, as part of the fun is getting the taste exactly how we described it.  (We always ask the waiter where their coffee beans are from and someone will be ready to use the terms "nutty", "fruity", or "chocolatey" once the kind of beans is described or source mentioned.)  Technology is never banned in our dinner table mostly because we share stuff on IG or FB (Instagram and Facebook, just in case you don't know) where we continue conversations as well as critiques.  Those who are part of our social media feed would know how much we love food, how much we like to travel together and how much we love our dogs.
 
These family moments have made things both exciting and predictable -  exciting because we always try something new, and predictable because we can already guess what the other would say about the quality of food or the quality of service of a new place.  We can be sticklers for service and value for money food and would analyze our food experience on a spectrum from "blehhh" to "happiness", and that means "never again"  or "see you soon." 
 
I tend to look at the split between quality of service and food as 50-50 for most encounters.  And while good value food with average service is something we will consider going back to, it does seem that one bad service experience could make us quite unforgiving – even if the food might be good or even great.
 
I remember an incident  a few years ago in a well-known fine-dining restaurant in the Pasig area where our order was very much delayed.  When we followed up several times and at one time, the waitress looked over the counter and told us, "plating na po".  It took another five minutes and when we followed up again, the head waiter who took our orders came to us and pulled out his pad of orders and said, "hindi nyo ho in-order" ("That dish was not part of the order".).   When we asked for the manager, the accounting supervisor came out, and just called the head waiter who just repeated what he said with the same shaking of the pad in front of us.  There was no effort to empathize and to soothe our frayed nerves and of course we never went back – either to that branch or the one in the Fort.  Their food, by the way, is usually very good. 
 
Recently, there were two new restaurants on soft opening at one of the newest malls to open in Pasig – a new one which we have gone back to in a matter of a month and the other which we have tried at another branch and is actually known for quality fine food.    While both restaurants provided good food, we felt that the second restaurant with more senior wait staff lacked warmth and connection as they seemed just functional.  Despite their number, service was slow as the kitchen was unable to deliver the orders at a reasonable time.  For fine dining, food was not served at the same time and when an insect flew into an ordered cocktail, they replaced the drink with less than half the quantity of the original order. It was a disappointment because we had experienced better service at their other branch and while we understood that sign "soft opening", I now wonder if that is something intended to condition customers to have lesser expectations or something for the restaurant to have an excuse to fall back on.  Perhaps the sign should be "It's Showtime, Folks!" and maybe the service will be better.
 
The other restaurant had the advantage of novelty (being new) and intimacy (smaller and cozier), not to mention the presence of the owners of the place who were going around getting feedback from customers.  Since we found the food good and the service warm, we went back after a few weeks and we felt that the experience even climbed a notch higher – the food serving seemed more generous, and the other items we didn't order before were as delicious as their flagship dish.  The chef dropped by our table again and we talked about "yaya meals" just because.
 
I had written before about the importance of not just creating customer experience but converting the service encounter into more powerful memories.  Combining a palate-bursting experience is as important as the warmth of service that cares – soft opening or not.


 
Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc.  She will be conducting the 20thDelivering Outstanding Service program on July 21-22, 2016 in Makati.  For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.netor call (02) 584-5858 or (02) 412-0034.