The Six Thousand Dollar Egg


By Todd Duncan

This past Saturday, my wife and I headed out like we do most weekends and that is to one of many of our favorite Orange County bars and restaurants.  We chose R&D Kitchen in Fashion Island Mall.  We love R&D; their food and their ambience are spectacularly perfect and for over two years, and one hundred visits, the experience has always been exceptional….until this one.

They have an incredible cheeseburger.  One of the best we have ever had.  The bartender listed the daily specials, which included a waffle with a fried-egg on top.  We contemplated our choices, ordered a drink and settled if for the afternoon watching college basketball on the bar TV.  A competing local hangout, we recalled, allowed you to have a fried egg on your burger so we thought we’d try it here.

We were there for about thirty minutes and I asked the bartender to place an order for a burger and asked how much more an egg would be for on top of the burger.  She said, “Two bucks, but I’m not sure the kitchen can do it.”  Now I’m not a high-maintenance customer, but I’m thinking really, a fried egg?  How difficult could that be?  She went and checked and said, “The kitchen can’t add the egg. They are too busy.”  I found this interesting as it takes about 2 minutes to fry an egg, and honestly, the restaurant was half-empty, it was still only around 11:45 in the morning.  Strike 1!

I decided to get another drink, wait a few minutes and order the same thing with another bartender whom I knew better and thought we’d get some pull.  He said, “Let me see if the kitchen could do it.”  Same answer, “They are too busy and aren’t prepared to do anything that isn’t on the menu.”  Strike 2!

I then asked the second bartender if I could speak to the manager.  Her name is Natalie.  The minute she arrived at the bar you could tell she was ready for a battle.  No smile.  No positive gestures.  Just a simple, “How can I help you?”

I explained my situation very clearly to her that I simply wanted a side-order egg to put on top of my burger.  She said, “We can’t do that.”  And I asked, “Why?”  Her response was, “We only order a certain number of eggs per day and we have to save them for our special waffle.  If we don’t have the egg we can’t sell one of our most popular dishes.”  So I said, “So you can’t do it?”  “Nope” she said.  It was time to test this restaurant and their culture around customer service.  Off I went…

“So let me make sure we are tracking here.  I spend at least $6,000 a year at your restaurant and I have one simple request for two-dollar egg for my burger and you are telling me you can’t make that happen because you only order enough eggs for your waffle dish?”  She said, “Yes”.  I pressed on, “So a one time visitor who orders a waffle for 15-dollars is more important to you than a $6,000 customer who comes in at least 4-6 times a month for whom you can’t figure out how to get him his egg?”  Her response was, “We have to be able to serve the dishes we advertise, and the special ones we usually run out of.  If we run out of eggs, we can’t serve the waffle.”  Same question.  My thought was wouldn’t you rather be one egg short and throw a waffle away versus holding to your stupid policy and “throwing a loyal customer” away?

It was very clear to me at this point that this manager, and perhaps this whole restaurant, and maybe even their parent company, Hillstone Restaurant Group, have no clue of the value of a customer and what they should empower their employees to do in a simple situation like this.  But wait, it gets even better.

I say to the manager, “You know what I would do if I were you?  I’d send a bus boy 200 feet to Whole Foods to buy a half a dozen eggs.  That might cost you a couple of bucks.  He could be there and back in less than five minutes and for a minimal cost to R&D, you’d have my egg and I’d be a happy customer.” “In the time we’ve spent arguing about the egg, they could have been there and back.” 

She said, “I can’t do that.”  Strike 3 – Game Over-I thought.  You are not going to believe what happens next. 

She said, “I’m happy to take care of your bill for your inconvenience.”  I said with everything that I could muster, “That’s stupid.”  She looked at me dazed and confused.  I said, “You would rather spend your companies money and pay for my $75.00 tab for food and drinks than figure out how to get me a two-dollar egg?” 

I looked her squarely in the eyes and said, “this egg just cost you and R&D $6,000.  I’m never coming back.”

By the way, we left immediately and went next door to Whole Foods, a gourmet grocery store.  Our motive was to check on the price of their eggs.  We found them for as little as thirty-three cents a piece.  Then, to our surprise, we found a bar in the store.  It’s called Back Bay Tavern.  We shared our horrible negative experience at R&D with Sandy, their bartender.  She was shocked.  At the Tavern, we had a great experience.  Sandy told us their company creed is,  “We don’t say no here.”  In fact in less than one hour, they:

  • Customized two drink orders
  • Made a pizza that wasn’t even on their menu for us
  • Sent their wine guy into the store to get us the perfect wine for that pizza that was not on their menu

Every employee at this place needed not to place a phone call or get an OK from any other person to do for the customer what he or she requested.  This is where I can spend my money and get treated the right way.

I think it’s absurd that any business owner can think for a moment that the very people that frequent their place of business don’t have other options.  There are over 100 restaurants in Newport Beach, California we can choose from.  Why in heaven’s name would a business like Hillstone Restaurant Group, who owns 4 restaurants in my zip code; R&D, Gulfstream, Banderas and Houston’s, ever allow for such a stupid service breakdown?

This is what is wrong with business today.  They don’t understand the changing dynamics of how consumers are spending their money.  There is a new day, and it’s here.  It’s not coming.  Today, the only way a business can survive is by following the new rules of customer loyalty.

Get clear on this – we’ve been going to R&D for two years and those two-years were canceled out after one exceptionally bad experience.  Ready for a blinding flash of the obvious – an unsolved service breakdown will lose the customer and they will share their story with everyone.

Leadership Questions To Contemplate:

1. Are your employees and teammates trained and empowered to make intelligent choices about taking care of customers during a breakdown?

2. Isn’t it wiser to throw away a fifteen-dollar waffle, give the customer a two-dollar egg and not buy his seventy-five dollar tab?  All of this should make sense fiscally for a business.

By the way, R&D stands for Research and Development.  This was powerful research!

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