bye bye, Babbo!

Happy Valentine's Day! (well, that's how it was supposed to go, right?)

Last week, we ordered take-out at Babbo. Our Valentine's Day plan was to pick up dinner and bring it home for a family "dinner and a movie" night. Unfortunately, well, you know what they say about the best laid plans...

Instead of flawless execution, I witnessed some of the worst customer service you could imagine. It wasn't just "we aren't going to help you"; it was more like "we have too many customers and would be happier if you weren't here." Not only was the restaurant too busy, but their reaction to being overwhelmed was anti-service. Suffice it to say 

we won't be going back to Babbo anytime soon.


Babbo is a local Italian restaurant - the food is good and it's near our house, so it's one of the restaurants that comes up when we have our family's "where should we eat" discussion. Last week, however, things didn't go so smoothly..

Here's the play-by-play of what happened:

  • We ordered by phone, and we told our food would be ready at 6:45. OK, perfect. We'll start the movie at 7, have a relaxing night, and the boys can still be in bed by 9. (After all, it's Valentine's Day, but it's still a school night.)
  • We arrived at the restaurant at 6:40, and see the place is packed. They are set up so that call-in orders go back to the bar to pay for their food, and then wait in that area until the food is ready. When we arrive, the line extends from the bar all the way through the restaurant to the front door.
  • We wait in line for a few minutes, standing next to tables where people are trying to have their romantic dinner. Most of the people in line are friendly and make small talk while we wait.
  • At 6:48 we pay for our food, and are told our food is almost ready. We move off to the side, trying to stay out of the way, but it's pretty crowded. There is a large group of people waiting, standing among the tables of people eating dinner.
  • At 7:00 I catch the cashier's eye and ask her to check on our food. She does, and tells me it's almost ready. Hmmm. The crowd continues to grow, becoming more of a mosh pit, and the jovial mood is being replaced by frustration as people begin to lose patience.
  • 7:10, and I ask one of my boys to go check on the food. He reports back and says they are only waiting for one more thing, and then we'll be ready. I wonder (out loud) about the rest of our food sitting there getting cold while we wait, and hear groans of agreement from those standing near us.
  • At 7:25 a server brings us our bag of food. I ask her if everything has been sitting there getting cold, or if they re-did any of the meals. She has a "deer in the headlights" look, and I didn't want to come down on a high school girl just doing her job, so I asked for the manager.
  • When the manager came over, I gave her the short story - 40 minutes late, food is probably cold.. She takes everything out of the bag and reports one dish is hot, one is warm, and two are cold, and then offers to reheat them (with voice, eyes, and body language that said "please say no.")
  • I laid into her for 30 seconds about how the way they were treating all these people was unacceptable, and then headed home. I could hear others begin raising their voices as we neared the exit.

Here are some things that did not happen, at all:

  • No Acknowledgement of any problems.
  • No Apologies to anyone standing around waiting for their late food, or to those trying to eat at a table surrounded by people standing, waiting, and complaining.
  • No Comfort given, whether by finding a more spacious waiting area, or by offering a drink while we waited.
  • No Discounts, coupons, or other offers to compensate, whether on this particular order or for the next time somebody visits.

Here is what would have made a difference:

  • Ideally, they would have expected a huge turnout. Tuesday is their "pasta special night", which is usually a busy day, and this Tuesday was Valentine's Day, which is a very busy day. They should have been fully staffed and had some ideas about where people could wait for tables and for take-out food. But, even if they got caught off guard, they could have handled the situation a lot better.
  • Acknowledge and Apologize - they should have been proactive in admitting their mistakes, apologizing to everyone - liberally and often, and asking for patience.
  • Offer a way out - they could have offered a refund and a deep discount coupon for a return visit to anyone who would prefer not to wait. This would have given the cooks less to cook, it would have cleared up waiting space for those who waited, and it would have shown everybody that waiting was their own choice - no one was being forced to wait.
  • Offer concessions for waiting - an offer of complimentary drinks (non-alcoholic) and/or some finger food appetizers would make the wait more pleasant, and would show they cared. How hard would it be to have a server carry over a tray of bruschetta?
  • Comps and Coupons - throw in a free dessert, or a coupon for a free entry on your next visit, and have people feel like at least the wait was worth something.
  • Table Diners - for those sitting at a table with people standing all around them, All of the Above! That would be a terrible eating experience - you could at least let them know it isn't supposed to be like that.

In the end

Maybe Babbo is too busy, and they don't need more customers. I doubt that, however, as the restaurant industry is notoriously competitive, and there are a half-dozen other Italian food restaurants within a short distance.

Maybe Babbo tastes so good that everyone will come back anyway. No, that isn't true either. Their food is good, but it isn't "oh my god I'm craving Babbo and we have to go there tonight" good. And it isn't inexpensive, either.

In the end, they lost my family's business that night for sure, and I imagine there are more than few other people who won't be in a rush to go back. It's too bad, too, because a little customer service effort could have changed the story in a big way - they could have had a large number of people talking about how great Babbo is. But they chose to go the other way, and so will I.

- Chris Butterworth