Tom’s Restaurant – How a small operation can have great service

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

The best restaurant experience I had on a recent trip to New York was at Tom’s Restaurant in Brooklyn. And it’s an experience that offers a great lesson for any business.
My sister and I arrived at Tom’s at 11 a.m. for brunch, only to see a line of customers. We had told my nephew to meet us at Tom’s, so we decided to wait rather than go to another, less crowded restaurant.
At 11:05 a.m. a waiter appeared with a tray of oranges. He joked with those of us in line, and offered us the fruit. It was 80-plus degrees and humid outside, so five minutes later our friend reappeared, smiling and laughing, and offering us glasses (yes, real glass!) of water.
A few minutes later, he came back to collect the orange peels and then 10 minutes later returned with a tray of cookies, offering coffee, as well.
Everyone was in good humor and the time, 35 minutes, actually passed quickly. When I thanked the owner, Gus, he laughed and said, "Why not? I’m going to take your money later!"
We were seated at 11:35 a.m., but my nephew had not arrived. There was no fuss about this and no pressure to order. When he finally arrived, we placed our orders, and were served a few minutes later.
I had crab cakes, eggs with onions and peppers, and grits, all for under $10. It goes without saying; the food was a great value. When we left at 12:30 p.m., the line had doubled in size, but those in line were happy to wait. I couldn’t help noticing that three nearby, similar type restaurants, had immediate seating available. Tom’s was the only one with a line of customers waiting for the coveted admission.
Tom’s is not a "big" restaurant, but Gus has managed to take a negative (limited seating capacity) and turn it into a positive (a pleasant wait). He not only "retains" his customers, he attracts them.
Contrast that approach to my experience the night before at Budget Rent-A-Car. I needed a car to drive to Darien, Ct., to meet a friend for dinner. I made the reservations several weeks prior and planned to pick up the rental car at 49th Street at 4 p.m. My plan was to beat some of the traffic leaving New York City at rush hour.
I arrived at Budget at 3 p.m., hoping to complete the paperwork and pick up my car a little early. Two other people arrived at 3:15 p.m. and another two at 3:30 p.m. To the dismay of the five of us, the customer service representative reported that there were no cars available at the location.
The obvious question at that point was, "When will the cars be here?" The answer was that several just left the LaGuardia Airport location and would arrive in 15 to 20 minutes. To make a longer story shorter, I did not receive my rental car until 4:50 p.m. Two of the original five customers had given up earlier and left to make other arrangements.
Yes, the service staff was friendly, and yes, we received $10 credits, but what we wanted were cars. Despite the traffic, it should not have taken two hours for the cars to travel from LaGuardia Airport to 49th Street.
By the way, the car eventually rented to me was not one from the airport location, as they had not arrived by the time I left, but rather one that came in from another location.
Is an unhappy customer a satisfied one? Or will he ever be your customer again? Not likely. No wonder Budget is in Chapter 11.
The lesson derived from my two anecdotes above is simple. Look for ways to turn your shortcomings into positives, and strive to give great service, beyond anyone’s expectations.

The commentaries of Milwaukee businessman Bob Chernow are publihsed periodically in Small Business Times.

Nov. 8, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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