I took The Blast Factory team to dinner last night at Cento. We were there for a sort of make shift Christmas party. I was just in the process of thanking Harrison, Michael, Kara and Renee for supporting me and my artistic blasting endeavors when the waiter accidentally poured a glass of red wine down my back.
The waiter was horrified.
I was soaked. Wine ran through my new sweater, into my white shirt and down into my pants and pooled in the chair.
The waiter started to clean up the mess and got me a cloth to clean up. He apologized.
Renee helped me recover and clean up.
I went to the bathroom to wash up and dry out.
After a bit the general manager came over and apologized, gave me his card, and told me to send any dry cleaning bills to him.
Our service was a bit spotty the rest of the way. And, there was not another word about it as the evening progressed. I think the waiter was scared to come over.
As we paid our bill. Nothing was said.
The host asked if everything was okay. Kara and Renee told the story. Showing some empathy the host took my name and number and said they would call me.
On the surface, the response was fine. Inside though I felt indifferent. I was uncomfortable during the entire dinner. Maybe a new chair would have helped. It seemed as though the response was professional without any caring. I would have expected the waiter or the GM to come over at the end of dinner and say "sorry" again. Or, maybe they could have offered a cognac or a dessert as recompense.
Perhaps the GM could have asked my name?
Perhaps the GM could have invited me to return again? Maybe he could get us the best table and take good care of us?
It felt indifferent. And stained.
I was reminded of a customer complaint I had to deal with in my first year as CEO. The red die from one of our products ran onto and damaged an antique silk couch owned by a woman from San Francisco. She sent me a photo. The spots were small but noticeable.
We talked. She was pissed and sad. I told her to get the sofa recovered and that I would pay for it.
Our lousy $35 dollar sleep shirt cost us $7,500. Our company was financially weak at the time but I had to do it. It was the right thing to do.
When it was done, the woman called and thanked me. She said she had never experienced service like what I had done. She placed a huge order. She told her friends to order. They did. They ordered again each year. Those friends told other friends, "This is a place to do business." For many years.
I did not know the time, but I found out later she was a business professor at Stanford. She used this experience as a lecture and told her students to order. They did. And their parents did.
I received a Christmas card from the woman every year. In it, she would list the names of her friends and what they had ordered. She would add more to the list each year.
After a number of years, I looked up order amounts from some of the the names she had sent me. It was our most profitable area ever. Tens of thousands of dollars above what was normal.
More importantly, we were friends.
So, I thought about that story this morning. The response from the people at Cento was fine. But they could have had the chance to make a bigger impact. They could have gained a customer and their family and friends for life.
I would have said, "Mr. Vega, if you cannot get your shirt and sweater perfect, I'll buy you new ones. In fact, we can meet at Jazzman tomorrow morning. And man, I am so sorry this happened to you. And please, what else can I do.?"
I did some quick math and figured if we went to Cento three times a year, and my kids went a couple, and and our friends joined us a few times...over the next 10 years we might have spent $23,000. My guess is that will not happen now.
Wow. A $23,000 glass of wine!
I have friends, Henry, Mel, Christopher, Patrick, Laura that run cool, successful restaurants (Tornado, Tempest, Forequarter, The Weary, Waypoint, Julep) here in Madison. I'll have to ask them how they handle an issue like this. And, I really miss the fine people and our friends from Cafe Continental.
I believe each of them would have handled it better. I believe each of them would handle it with grace, a bit of humor and some soul.
I know there are much more important things if life. Like climate change, fresh water, gun control and helping the homeless. But, the folks at Cento had a chance to have some heart. They had a chance to be heroes. They had a chance to make a friend and a customer for life. They did things professionally. They failed.
Seriously, all it would have taken was one last "I'm sorry" from the waiter or the GM.
UPDATE 1: Sunday. So far no one from Cento has called me. Inspired by a recent buyer of my art, I will contact them. I am going to ask the GM to give $50 to Gift Of Hope For Homelessness. Renee was super kind to hand wash my clothes. So in her name I just did the same.
UPDATE 2 : Monday. A couple of days have passed now. The GM has not contacted me. They have not responded to my request for a donation rather than paying my dry cleaning bills. I'll email him again today.
UPDATE 3: Jordan Bright the GM of Cento called me back this afternoon. His response could not have been more positive to me. They take my concerns seriously, hope to learn and improve from it, they have high expectations for themselves. Best of all he is smart, he cares and has a sense of humor, too.
I hope to start refilling the $23,000 glass of wine, soon.
Stick Vega is the American Gunpowder Artist, former CEO, and author of LESS KILLING. Stick currently lives and creates explosive pop art at The Blast Factory in Madison, Wisconsin. Not limited to one medium, he works in gunpowder drawings and paintings, photography, digital art and writing. Follow Stick on Facebook and/or Twitter.