Chefs and Restaurants
A Simple Error Turned a Customer Complaint into a Rare Moment of Joy
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You have to look hard for good news these days, so when I saw this thread on Twitter about quarantine dining, delivery and a grumpy customer interaction that does not end the way you’d expect, I knew I had to share it
Some background: Canlis, one of Seattle’s best-known fine dining restaurants, pivoted to serve takeout and delivery in mid-March when the state shut down restaurant dining rooms. They started with bagels, burgers and comforting family meals, available via drive-through service or delivery.
The menu leans a little more upscale on Fridays, and it was when a staff member emailed the people who had ordered last Friday’s Dungeness crab boil that the story starts.
“I think that night we had 400 people on the thread,” says Canlis co-owner Brian Canlis. “We always explain how it works to people in advance, since our staff does the delivery. We tell them what time to expect their food, and that they should have their oven on so they can heat everything up. That night, one of our employees made the delightful-but-terrible mistake to not put everyone on BCC.”
As will happen with a large group email, someone on the thread decided to hit “reply all.” And of course, it was an unhappy customer, who complained about paying for a meal that still required him to turn his oven. He wanted his food to show up at the perfect temperature, ready to eat.
The thread could have gone in a lot of directions, none of them good. But another customer replied back to the group, and switched the tone, saying he was excited for his dinner, and volunteering to go to the original poster’s house to heat up his oven for him.
Then another customer replied, also sharing her excitement about the crab boil en route to her house. And another. And another.
“It just started to grow,” Canlis recounts. “Someone else replied and said they were grabbing popcorn, going to watch what happened. And then someone else replied to the group, and said to the person complaining that if you have the money for a dinner like this, why don’t you donate [the cost of $125] to Feeding America?”
More emails began to pour in as the idea caught on. One by one, people responded with screen shots of their donations to Feeding America. Some said that they were emailing their company HR departments to see if they would match the donations. A few local celebrities chimed in with their donation receipts, adding to the buzz and goodwill.
A woman named Carmen replied to tell the group that “this may be the month of confinement, but I love every one of you.” A man named Tim responded: “This is a roller coaster. I love all of humanity.”
“It turned into this emotional thread,” Canlis says. “It became a lovefest; all these people were like a family. It was just one of those things where you see the goodness and kindness of people. That people want to root for joy.”
Not long after it started, the original poster who had complained in the first place replied to the group. “He said, 'I love you guys, I’m donating, too.' He donated $250, thanking everyone for giving him a new perspective. He then sent another email to the group: 'I challenge everyone on here who is on here and enjoyed their crab dinner as much as I did to do the same.'” Canlis says.
Before the night was over, the Canlis family had emailed everyone to thank them for all the goodwill, and added a $500 donation to the pot, which topped $10,000.
There is just so much absolute crap in the world, and you are far more likely to hear about death, sickness and people forced to make their own safety masks out of coffee filters than anything positive these days. Having a moment of good in the middle of everything meant a lot to the Canlis staff.
“To have a mistake turn into this extraordinary moment was the highlight of the week for us,” Canlis says. “We’re serving Monday through Friday, so by Friday night, we are just spent. But we all gathered around the computer—as safely as we could—reading out the emails, and everyone was laughing. It became this moment that restored our spirit, and reminded us that people’s hearts are good; they are worth believing in. We were so proud of our guests; the comments were so intelligent and funny and insightful. It made my week.”
The story reminded me how important hospitality is, and that it can work both ways. We got into the industry to serve people, to make their meals and worlds a little better. This simple moment reversed that notion for the team at Canlis in the best way. Here’s a Twitter thread with some of the emails if you want to read them yourself.
“Normally, it’s our role to restore our guests,” Canlis says. “Late on Friday night, it was me and my staff who make the mistake and needed the restoration. But this time, all these people turned the tables on us, and restored us. We’ll never forget it, and we’ll always love those guests for it.”