Is the Customer Always Right?

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A friend of mine in the hospitality industry posted this question on Facebook the other day—“Is the Customer Always Right?” In a short time there were over 26 responses from others who work in hotels or restaurants. The responses were mixed, most expressed with a lot of emotion and frustration.

We all know the politically correct answer to that question. Posed by a company executive, our boss or a customer, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” That’s what the handbook or the training manual says. The customer is always right because they are always the customer and they deserve to have their needs, wishes and expectations met or exceeded. But there are times when they are downright wrong. That’s when it gets difficult to convince ourselves that they deserve anything.

When Burger King came out with their famous slogan, “Have It Your Way,” it changed the attitude and expectations of a nation of consumers. Why order from a menu or settle for a specific set of services? The movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” gave legitimacy to customizing your meal orders. Having sauces or dressings “on the side” was the new mantra in ordering off the menu. Customers no longer had to scrape gravy off their roast beef or Caesar dressing off the romaine. For wait staff, however, “On the side, please,” meant extra dishes, room on the serving tray and clean up for the same price. For the customer, it was a bonanza. On the side meant extra—extra dressing, marinara, olive oil for dipping---just about anything you wanted and the kitchen could provide for no extra charge.

I was at dinner with a friend recently who has been watching her weight and has created her own rigid food regime. We went to a restaurant and she didn’t even bother looking at the menu. “I’ll just tell the waiter what I want, and see if the kitchen can fix it for me.” This was “having it your own way” at a new level, but not unusual for the contemporary customer who feels they are entitled to whatever they want upon request. The waiter started with a menu item that had one of the major ingredients of her requested salad (lettuce) and then borrowed the rest from other menu items. With not so much as “we can’t do that, madam,” the waiter made sure that she did “have it her way.”

While all this is great for the customer, it is increasingly difficult to deliver excellent service when each guest can have their own standard. If you don’t offer it, they expect you to make adjustments so that these individual standards are met. This type of customized service requires a highly trained service team, great positive “can-do” attitudes and most importantly, a management team that both empowers and supports staff decisions at point of service. Customers are not willing to wait while a manager is summoned from some far-off place to give a yes or no. They expect the service person to be able to make the decision and carry it out. Training, coaching, team building and a manager who supports and encourages are all vital ingredients that make sure that your customers will always feel well served.

Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, is a freelance writer, blogger, and workplace consultant. Based in Savannah, GA, her work has appeared in "Training" magazine, "Training & Development" magazine, "Supervision," “BiS Magazine” and "The Savannah Morning News." You can read her blogs at, and on the web at


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