Fast Food vs. Fine Dining in Customer Service

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This post is part of The Supportive, Mathew Patterson’s column for customer service professionals. Learn what The Supportive is, or browse through all of the posts from this series.

Have you read “Bros., Lecce: We Eat at The Worst Michelin Starred Restaurant, Ever”? Geraldine DeRuiter’s review of the Italian restaurant in question certainly delivers on the promise in the title: You won’t find yourself short on evidence after reading.

DeRuiter and her dining companions, on the other hand, did not receive the Michelin-level dining experience they anticipated. In her own words:

“I mean—dinner played a role, the same way Godot played a role in Beckett’s eponymous play. The entire evening was about it, and guess what? IT NEVER SHOWED. So no, we can’t call it dinner theater. Instead, we will say it was just theater.”

In response to her review, Bros.’ chef, Floriano Pellegrino, issued a surprisingly equine-based “declaration” in which he argued that his intent was never to serve delicious food, but to “strive every day for avant-garde.”

It seems they ultimately agree on what the restaurant actually delivered: an experience more akin to a food-based art piece than a fine dining experience (though, to be clear, ignoring food allergies as they did is unacceptable in any food service scenario).

The root of the problem is a mismatch of expectations between the customer and restaurant. As DeRuiter put it, “I was anticipating something a little unusual and fun. I was not expecting a four-hour hunger-induced fever dream.”

If a hungry DeRuiter had known of the chef’s mouth-casting art experimentation bent, she would have made a different dining choice that night. But she had no way to know, because Bros. isn’t presented as an edgy restaurant in their Michelin guide entry or available customer reviews. And “Michelin-starred restaurant” holds a generally agreed meaning that includes being fed.

In the restaurant world, accurate expectations are critical. Fast food restaurants share a similar design language, as do more upmarket establishments. The logos, the color choices, the decor, and the location all send signals to prospective customers about the cost, quality, and type of food and service available inside.

It’s not just restaurants, either. Customers arrive at every business with certain expectations of the service they will receive. Any given customer’s expectations are a hotpot of ingredients, including their past experiences, the price they paid, what competitors offer, what a sales person tells them, customer reviews, website design, and a walk-in pantry load of other elements.

It’s those expectations, which a business can only partly control, that mean the customer experience you want to create isn’t necessarily going to be the experience they have.

The good thing about online businesses is that you don’t have to only offer a single customer service experience. You can offer a self-service drive-thru on your website, a fast-casual chat support option, and a white-linen account management table service all at once.

The same customer may want a quick bite of help one day, then come back for a sit down account review the next. The best thing you can do is to be clear upfront about what you are promising, then consistently deliver on that promise.

Get your marketing and sales teams aligned with customer service so everybody shares a consistent description of your business. Review your contact points to set accurate expectations on service options and times.

And perhaps practice your horse drawing, because that seems to be important somehow.

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Mathew Patterson
Mathew Patterson

After running a support team for years, Mat joined the marketing team at Help Scout, where we make excellent customer service achievable for companies of all sizes. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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