Olive Garden vs Rancherito'sThere is a right way and a wrong way to provide customer service. One is to behave like a prima donna and the other is to recognize that in America — for the time being at least — people can choose which businesses to spend their hard-earned money and which to avoid.

I've made my choice on two restaurants I recently patronized.

Rancherito's: Service with (Really Bad) Attitude

On Friday, August 9th — after spending the bulk of my 28th anniversary watching Jessica compete in DanceSport — I drove home famished. Wondering what I could grab quickly that wouldn't blow my fitness regimen, I decided to swing by the drive through at Rancherito's Mexican Food in Orem, Utah, near Chuck E. Cheese. (Obviously a location swarming in haute cuisine!)

When I arrived at the order window, there was no one in the restaurant except one cashier with one (maybe two?) cooks in back. There was one other car in the drive through at the window. The time on my truck console said 9:22.

I placed my order: one fish taco.

After a longer than usual wait, I was at the window and paid the cashier.

Then I waited.

And waited.

Three guys strolled across the parking lot and entered the restaurant on foot as a cook placed a small, white, rectangular box on the service counter. The young men walked to the counter and chatted up the cashier.

I waited some more.

Finally — at 9:37 — I tapped on the drive through window. The cashier cranked her neck 45 degrees, looked me in the eye, and flipped it back to the guys she was talking to and continued her conversation.

Before I continue, let me note a few things:

  1. I realize 15 minutes isn't eons. But in the land of fast food (where back in my day I had 90 seconds from the time the order was placed at the speaker to get the customer to drive over the censor showing he'd left the drive through before an alarm began sounding) it's practically an eternity.
  2. The cashier wasn't swamped, punching in a massive order in great earnest. She was chatting and not even touching her machine most of the time.
  3. While it's true that I wasn't nearly as cute as the three guys in the establishment, I was there first. That should count for something.

After about 20 more seconds, one of the guys she was talking to motioned toward the window. I could not hear what he said, but it appeared he gave her “permission” to attend to me.

She skulked over to the window and pushed open one side. “Yes?”

“Is my order ready? I've been here 15 minutes now.”

“15 minutes?” she questioned incredulously.

“Yes. I got here at exactly 9:22.” I looked back at the clock. “So now I've actually been here for 17 minutes. Is my order ready yet?”

Pause.

“Yes,” she said. “But actually I'm helping other people right now.”

“Well,” I asked, “could you just hand it to me?”

Pause.

“Fine!”

She walked to the counter, shoved the white box into the already prepped bag and thrust it out the window. I drove a block, pulled over, and ate my tepid taco.

I could have written to the manager — and I still might do so — but I'm certainly not going back to Rancherito. If the same cashier served me, I'm pretty sure she'd spit in my food.

[Addendum: I tried to send a link to this post using the Rancherito's contact form, but it did not seem to work.]

Olive Garden: Awful Situation Turns Golden

Fast forward to August 17. Sam's birthday! We went to an early movie and Sam chose Olive Garden as his restaurant of choice. Off we headed to the American Fork, Utah, establishment.

When we arrived we were told there was a 30 minute wait. On a Saturday night at a sit-down restaurant, that's not too bad, so we took the buzzer and sat outside.

We were finally called after about 40 minutes. The hostess who seated us apologized profusely for the extended wait.

A few minutes later the waitress took our order (we had made our selections while we waited, so were ready to order food and drinks simultaneously). When she returned with the drinks, she again apologized for the wait and told us that the restaurant had been hit by a three-hour long power outage earlier in the day. Not only had the ovens cooled, but there had been some computer glitch that had — if I understood correctly — sent a slew of older orders to the kitchen so the wrong meals were being prepared ahead of the current orders.

She again apologized for the long wait this was causing when she brought the salad and bread sticks.

As we ate the teaser course, one of the managers/cooks came to our table and apologized. She told us to choose a dessert when we had finished eating. They would be on the house.

We waited some more.

The head manager came to our table, apologized again, and told us the entire meal would be complimentary.

Our entrées finally arrived almost exactly 90 minutes after we checked in at the hostess table. While it was an annoying way to spend a chunk of my husband's birthday, the recognition by the staff — at every level — that we were valuable customers made all the difference in how we felt about the experience.

Will we return to Olive Garden in the future? Absolutely.

What good and bad experiences have you had with customer service in restaurants you've patronized? Would you return?