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Serving Your Customer

Several weeks ago, I made an excursion to Paso Robles in Central California. For the uninitiated, Paso is the next Napa, on the cusp of world vino domination. At least I think so. What’s important to know is that the Paso Robles wine region has a sustainability certification program called SIP, Sustainability in Practice. This program goes beyond farming practices. It includes small, unimportant issues like fair labor practices and health benefits for workers. Obama, you listening?

One of the founders of the SIP program is Neil Roberts, the owner and winemaker of Clavo Cellars. I met Neil at a Paso Wine event in Los Angeles in March. I loved his wines, even more so because they are sustainably produced. Most importantly, Neil was gracious, fun and totally on board with EcoRico’s mission. So I called to let him know I’d be in Paso in April. And he hooked me up, among other things calling other winemakers to make sure they treated me well when I sampled their libations.

In the business world, Neil’s got something that inspires loyalty e.g. repeat business, namely CUSTOMER SERVICE. A great product + even better customer service = Giselle tells the world about your product. In my world, it takes less energy to be kind than it does to be an ass. So pay it forward, my friends. Go to and get some vino. For reds, I love Collusion. Even bought two bottles of it. Not only does Neil have yummy wines now, he’s got some amazing wines coming in the next few years. I know. I tasted them in the barrel. There we are in the picture post-barrel tasting his wines!

Which brings me to Part Deux of my post – what happens when Giselle experiences bad customer service. A good product + horrific customer service = Giselle tells the world about your bad customer service. Which is exactly what happened to me when I went to what I initially thought was a super cool eatery in NYC two weeks before my trip to Paso.

I hesitate mentioning the locale. But I had such a piss-poor experience that I can’t keep quiet about it, if only so the place can live up to its potential. Eataly is 50,000 square feet dedicated to the foods of Italy. It has everything, including an indoor piazza where you can sit at a bar and order fish from one, panini from another, cheese from another… I walked around mesmerized, mouth watering at the culinary prospects to be scarfed and imbibed. So, with great expectation, I sat down at 4 pm to have a fabulous cheese plate with a glass of vino to kill some time.

The waiter brought me two tastes of $50 bottles of wine to see what I preferred. I chose my $14 glass of Montalcino red. The cheese “chef” brought me my $20 one inch tastes of 5 Italian cheeses with a dollop of fig spread. And then the fun began…

I had the audacity to ask for a taste of amaretto honey. The other Italian cheese plate included the honey along with the fig spread and a mustard. I thought it would be a good accompaniment. I just wanted a taste. The “chef” said “No”, turned and walked back behind the counter not five feet from me. O-kaaaay.

I then did what any Puerto Rican with a cooking show and blog does. I asked the waiter if he would be so kind as to bring me a taste of honey. After all, I WOULD WRITE ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE. He went to the cheese “cutter” (that’s what he is, after all), who again said “No”. So the friendly waiter went to the piazza “manager” and asked her if I could have a taste of honey. She looked over at me. I smiled.

She marched to the counter, removed the spoon of honey, let it drip out COMPLETELY, grabbed a dessert plate, literally tapped the spoon in the center of the plate and placed half a sliver of an almond on top of the tap of honey. The waiter, appalled, refused to bring it to me. The “manager” insisted he do it.

He set the plate in front of me. The woman sitting next to me gasped. The waiter apologized. My Latin blood boiled. Literally. I felt my bilirubina surge. That’s “bile” for you non-Spanish speakers.

I looked over at the “manager”. She smugly looked away. I strolled over to her and asked if she understood what she had just done. She feigned ignorance. I asked if she normally treated her customers with such disdain. And, oh look, there’s a cameraman documenting the entire exchange. I looked at the cameraman and mentioned he might want to keep rolling.

I asked Sourpuss if she understood how rude her action was. She said “You asked for a taste. That’s a taste.” I was dumbstruck. The “manager” looked at the cameraman and told him to leave. At that moment I realized she could care less if I were satisfied. She could care less if she helped me or not. She could care less about anything frankly. At least that’s how I interpreted the contempt on her face.

Only one thing came to mind. So I said it. “I have a cooking show and blog. And I promise you that I will write about how reprehensibly you’ve treated me.”

I watched the blood drain from her face.

(I won’t lie. I got a slight tingle of pleasure.)

Without a word, she huffed her way to the counter, drizzled a teaspoon of honey on a plate and placed 2 slivers of almonds on top. She pushed it at me. This “manager” has class. I took the plate and sat down. To say I was irate would be an understatement. The nice waiter then suggests I contact the more senior manager on the floor. Good idea. Perhaps this person will understand Sourpuss’s rudeness. The waiter looks around. No senior manager.

I once again did what any self-respecting Puerto Rican would do. I whipped out my iPhone, called Eataly and said I was a customer in the piazza with a complaint. I waited 15 minutes. The manager finally appeared. She told me that they had a lot of rules and that some didn’t make sense. I told her that was a ridiculous excuse for treating customers rudely, especially over a teaspoon of honey. The jar of honey cost $5. I looked. She said: Nothing. I know cause I asked the woman sitting next to me, who stayed to watch the drama play out.

To her credit, the uber-manager did promise to have a meeting with the other managers to discuss how to handle a situation like mine. Wonder if that ever happened.

And here’s the kicker. They didn’t even comp the wine. No attempt whatsoever was made to mollify an irate customer treated with utter disrespect from the management on down. I spent $42 for a horrible experience in a lovely setting.

So Victoria the sourpuss “Manager” at Eataly in NYC, PLEASE FIND A JOB OUTSIDE THE FOOD INDUSTRY. Your people skills give me indigestion.

Which brings me back to Neil Roberts of Clavo Cellars, who, because of his generosity of spirit, now has a fan telling the world how great his wines are.

Moral of the story: Great customer service costs nothing. It makes your product better and inspires loyalty. Bad customer service will kill your business. The next time I’m in Eataly, if ever, I hope they’ve improved their “rules”. Cause without customer loyalty, those 50,000 square feet will soon be empty.

While we wait for the place to live up to its sheen, may I suggest you enjoy some Clavo Collusion with a very affordable and delicious plate of Blue Stilton, Manchego and St. Andre cheeses.

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