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Is the guest always right?

The customer is always right. The guest is always right. Right? 

Recently I came across a customer in our hotel restaurant who I thought was dead wrong. And it made me question the “customer-is-always-right” philosophy that many have (including me, until this recent incident). 

Benjamin Denihan Sr., the namesake of The Benjamin, was known for his relentless pursuit of guest satisfaction. He was also known and respected for the way he treated people, especially his employees. He gave as much respect as he received.

It was when one of my managers went over to a customer in the restaurant to apologize for a slight delay in the arrival of his coffee and was told to get out of his face that the “customer is always right” stopped. Fast. (You can fill in at least four expletives that he used as adjectives — yes, the worst ones — to this story.)

I went over to the man and asked him to leave the restaurant; I would take care of his check. When he questioned why, I told him I would not allow anyone to speak to one of my worst enemies — not to mention one of my team members — like that. He went on to say he was a guest of the hotel (So?) and he was thinking of bringing a group here in June, to which I replied, “Quite frankly, I wish you wouldn’t.” He left in a huff. I never asked him his name (Foolish maybe?). If he were a “big wig,” would it have clouded my decision on this one? I thought about how regardless of who you are, you don’t deserve to treat people like that. I was happy I didn’t ask him his name; it didn’t matter if he was the most powerful CEO. I can tolerate a lot from guests and associates, but blatant disrespect, insults and calling someone a piece of (fill in the blank again) cannot happen; I don’t care who it is. Fortunately this was an unprecedented incident. We’re lucky to have a wonderful, respectful pool of guests. I guess this was a case of that 1% who can shake things up.

We might have lost a customer, but what we gained is more important. My team got to see that they deserve to, and will, be treated with the same respect they show our guests. If not, please leave. This particular manager who was the target of the customer’s outburst is one of the kindest, selfless human beings I know. In her free time she mentors inner-city young ladies ages 12 and under to live life the right way and is the most positive role model I know.

We do have a relentless pursuit of guest satisfaction, and we pride ourselves on going out of our way to exceed the expectations of our customers, but my job is to also exceed the expectations of my team; they deserve nothing less. Equally as important is a pursuit of mutual respect. I think Mr. Denihan Sr. would agree.

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