A table for two

November 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Adelle's is a popular restaurant near me. Hidden out of the way near the train station, it serves highend American cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere. With much room for outdoor seating and jazz some evenings, Adelle's seems to have no trouble packing in diners from all over.

When Mrs. Johnson and I recently decided, on the spur of the moment, to go out to eat without the kids, I telephoned Adelle's. Its nearby location, excellent cuisine and laidback ambiance made it an ideal choice. Or so I thought at the time.

“Hi, I'd like to make a reservation for two.”

“For what night, sir?” The sounds of merry conversation and clinking glasses could be heard in the background.

“Why, tonight. In about 20 minutes.”

“Oh, I couldn't possibly fit you in at all tonight,” the voice on the telephone stated glibly.

“I'm sorry to have troubled you. Good bye,” I said, with perhaps a touch of petulance in my inflection.

My telephone rang.

“Hello, you just phoned Adelle's two minutes ago about a reservation tonight. I think perhaps I spoke too hastily. I'm sure we can accommodate you if you would still like to join us for dinner. What time did you say you had in mind?”


Several things happened there.

Reconsider me

When I was a very young salesman, I landed the printing of the owner's manual for a commodities trading software program. This was in the days when software still had manuals and cost a good buck. After I brought the job back to the plant, the client contacted me.

“Let's go with color on the cover,” he said confidently, even though he had decided earlier to economize on the cover.

“In commodities trading, one decision can make or lose millions of dollars,” he explained to me. “Contrary to popular wisdom, my first hunch isn't always right. When I have second thoughts, I've learned to pay attention. If my second thoughts are better than my first, I don't hesitate to act on them.”

That was a great business lesson for me to learn. With millions of dollars on the line, it becomes easier to swallow one's pride. And “ready, fire, aim” doesn't always seem like such a good idea once there are bodies on the ground.

Understand what is right

It is of interest to note that our maitre'd probably was right when he told me his restaurant was fully booked for the night. Technically right, anyway, in the sense that he had enough reservations on the books already to fill the restaurant on that particular evening.

He could have stopped there, but he made a decision to abandon being right and opt for superb customer service.

American statesman Henry Clay famously declared, “I would rather be right than president.” Sure enough, he never succeeded in becoming president.

Good manners, good business

A less known quote from Henry Clay is, “Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.”

Alcoholics and gambling addicts' recovery programs include a step that calls upon them “to take personal inventory and when … wrong, promptly admit it.” It is a happy coincidence that good manners and good morals also make good business.

Harness technology

A customer-driven staff still requires proper tools to get the job done. In another age, our second-guessing maitre'd would have been left standing with a dead phone in his hand, regretting his hasty actions, but without recourse.

That was then, but now caller ID has come to the rescue. He didn't know me from Adam, but by simply pressing “redial” he rebuilt the goodwill he had temporarily lost.

From bad to fantastic

If I had been granted my reservation without incident, I would have been pleased. Instead, I was annoyed with Adelle's for a few seconds, and ecstatic about them for the rest of the night.

I've been back several times this past summer. My wife and I ate there for our wedding anniversary. In fact, I'm recommending them to all of you. But be sure to allow plenty of time to make a reservation.