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A tale of two restaurants: Morton’s and Olive Garden

Over the holiday break, my wife and I have been eating a lot of restaurant meals. Let me tell you about two memorable experiences when we went to Morton’s and the Olive Garden. Both are chain restaurants at different ends of the market, and in both we had very different experiences, but not the way you might expect.

Morton’s is a top-end steakhouse. Everything is ala carte, and you end up paying a lot of money for your meal, your wine, and the white tablecloth and near constant hovering of the wait staff. You get a very good cut of meat or seafood, and a very relaxing meal with excellent service. Or so I had thought, until we went last week. When we sat down at our booth, we noticed that the seat had salt spilled all over the place, and my wife mentioned that to our server. Odd, but not a big deal. As we progressed through our meal, though, we found the cause: our saltshaker had a plastic plug on the bottom that was loose, and it was gradually emptying itself all over our table. We called over the floor manager and he was very apologetic, but that was about it. At one point, he tried to clean off the salt all over our table with a crumber and his palms.

Now, for some reason I didn’t ask him for any financial compensation, mainly because it was so unusual a situation. And I kept thinking that at some point the manager would do something more than apologize, because every time that I have been to a Morton’s I have an excellent experience. But no, he shook my hand and wished me a happy new year and we were on our way.

A few days later we found ourselves in an Olive Garden, which is another chain with a very different vibe. We had a great meal and wonderful service, and the woman serving us was a long-time waitress who was proud of her service and was a delight. For some reason, she had to leave her shift and her manager came over to apologize. It took a bit longer to get our food, but not to the point where it seemed a problem. At the end of our meal, the manager came back and told us that desert was on the house because of the delay, even before we had said anything. That was impressive. He told us that it wasn’t up to their standards of service, and he felt bad about having to switch servers before our meal was concluded.

Now that was being proactive, and while neither of us has eaten recently in an Olive Garden, the next time we are driving around an area where these sorts of chains pop up, you can bet that we will think about going to an Olive Garden again and not a Friday’s or a Macaroni Grill. The Olive Garden manager understood what it took to build brand loyalty, and how to treat his customers. He didn’t wait for us to complain. The Morton’s manager fell down, to the point that the next time I want to eat at a high-end steakhouse, I will probably go to one of their competitors like Ruth’s Chris or McCormick & Schmick’s.

I sent messages via both restaurants’ websites and Twitter accounts (they both have fairly decent ones on both services). The Olive Garden comment form triggered an autoresponder that said it would take a week for someone to get back to me. Morton’s had no immediate response via their website but sent me contact info via Twitter to follow up.

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More Stories By David Strom

David Strom is an international authority on network and Internet technologies. He has written extensively on the topic for 20 years for a wide variety of print publications and websites, such as The New York Times, TechTarget.com, PC Week/eWeek, Internet.com, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, Communications Week, Windows Sources, c|net and news.com, Web Review, Tom's Hardware, EETimes, and many others.