Is Your Customer Service Toast

3 Customer Service Lessons for Startups

Eating at restaurants is a common experience for busy startup people.  Over the past few months I have made some interesting observations about the customer service I have received at some of my favourite restaurants.

Restaurants and startups have a lot in common.  They are chaotic environments, things go wrong on a regular basis, they are struggling to find product market fit and they have a short time to impress their customer.

Here are 3 Lessons I have learned at Lunch:

  1. Don’t Serve your Customer Burned Food

I was at a Chinese restaurant and requested that my food be cooked with less oil.  When my green onion pancake was served to me it was quite obviously burned.  So, I sent it back to the kitchen.

The chef came to my table and told me that I had asked for it that way and it was not burned.  Only after I refused to accept it did he storm back into the kitchen and leave me waiting for 15 minutes while he re-made it, this time miraculously without burning it.


Don’t serve your Customer something that is clearly not up to the standard.  And if you accidentally do, don’t argue, just make it right.

  1. Be Consistent

I always order a Fattoush Salad for lunch at my favourite Lebanese restaurant.  (This is a restaurant with several locations, it is not a Mom and Pop joint.) Even though it is a regular menu item it often arrives with missing ingredients or has more of some and less of others.

When I quizzed my server he explained that the cooks make the food the way they like so it all depends on who makes your food that day.  The good news is that they are always happy to fix your order and they do it quickly.  But, why put your staff through this when you could get it right the first time?

In case you did not know, food cost is a huge issue for restaurants and often determines their success or failure.  For that reason, all good restaurants have very specific recipes and photos of how the dish should look when plated.  This insures they make a profit on their food because they are controlling their food costs.  It also means that the dish will always be made and plated the same way so customers will have a consistent experience.


Deliver your product or service in a consistent fashion.  Put written procedures in place to insure this and make sure everybody is familiar with them.

  1.  Be Honest

I recently hosted a business lunch at a nice Mediterranean restaurant. I like it because the service is attentive and the food is consistently good.  It is on my list of reliable places for a nice business lunch….. That was, until this visit.

Although the restaurant seemed to be abundantly staffed, the service was abysmal.  The servers ignored their tables and huddled together  talking to one another.  Thankfully, the food was great but I was disappointed with my experience.

Since I did not wish to distract from the lunch meeting, I waited until after my guest had left to approach the manager.  I told him how uncharacteristically bad the service had been and how it was a shame because the food was outstanding.

He explained that they were training new staff, he apologized for the problem and he offered me a gift certificate to use at another time.  I was impressed with how my feedback was received.


Tell your Customers the Truth.  If you are having a problem that will affect their experience let them know.  Keep your customers informed about the nature of the problem and when it will be fixed.  This  will manage the customers expectations and most of them will appreciate your honesty.

Why your Startup Needs to Make Customer Service a Priority

Excellent customer service goes a long way in building good will for your Startup.  Customers who are treated with respect, courtesy and enthusiasm will cut you a lot of slack.  They will be patient with you while you work out the kinks.  This is invaluable to your Startup.

Startups work under less than optimum conditions.  Teams are small, have fewer resources and deliver products or services that have not been tested at scale.  But if you deliver a good enough product or service that is useful to people and you provide excellent customer service, they will stick with you while you work out the bugs.

There are lots of examples of this.  One great one is Twitter and the Fail Whale.  The Fail Whale appeared frequently in the early Startup days of Twitter when it experienced service outages due to insufficient capacity to handle the traffic from its customers.  But people loved Twitter, embraced the whale and stuck around.

What Every Startup Needs to Ask

Are you giving your customers the “burned food” version of your product or service?  Are you being inconsistent and less than honest?

If your answer is “Yes” don’t be surprised if they don’t stick around.

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