Update 5/18/13: Our friend’s card that was charged let us know this morning the following: Greystone Steakhouse did not remove the charge as promised. In fact, they decided to consult with a lawyer. Now it’s between our friend’s bank and Greystone’s  lawyers. Everything posted, was double-checked and vetted through Mark, (the person whose card was charged.) But, I did receive updated information second-hand. Everything is written to the best of my knowledge. I was requested to update this post with the following on 4/30/13. I’m happy to post updates to either side when I hear them. The 4/30 update is as follows, (and no longer relevant.):

Success! According to our friend, (the cardholder,) the charges were, “completely taken care of, as of today.” The steakhouse specifically asked that I update this post to note that they decided to take care of any and all charges.  The largest, “win” however, was the amount of conversation, both online and off that this created.  It’s clear that people had very passionate positions. Greystone made a comment on the blog, (or, someone from the Greystone company with the email: info@greystone.com.) They stated that Ray apparently, “told them no” to free desserts and drinks all night and that the “general manager” came to our table. Well, that’s ONE way to daydream, isn’t it? In attempt to find out if it was a rogue poster, or the real company, I emailed the company Tuesday, but never heard back.

Original Post:

In the age of social media and review sites such as Yelp and Google Places, B2C businesses must be on their toes to institute commonsense crisis management. I experienced one of the greatest customer service fails, in the history of my lifetime, (thus far.)

Last week, we were dining at Greystone Steakhouse in San Diego’s Gaslamp district. Raved by our hotel, we booked a reservation for 22 and met coworkers and friends out for a meal. While the food was fine, our server lacked the experience and personality for a fine-eating establishment, (or so John said as I inhaled my dinner.)

After our meal, we waited for our bill, only to flag our server 20 minutes after we handed him our card. Apparently, the Micros Computer system was down and everything in the steakhouse, from bill paying, to ordering was put on-hold. Since a majority of our part came from a B2C store environment, they knew all too well, the frustration and inconvenience of our dependence on technology. Luckily, our party had exactly who they needed, in the form of a man named Ray. Ray had trained nationally on Micros and run several different restaurants at the four star level. Not thinking of anything else, Ray rolled up his sleeves and walked back to the kitchen with the waiter and assistant manager, in an attempt to get the system rebooted and functioning. Most our party was heading to another function and we wanted to make it on-time.

A half-hour later, Ray was still in the kitchen and we were still at the table. Wait staff came and took our dishes and cups, and we sat without water, coffee or anything else. We amused ourselves with our own customer service horror stories. Ten more minutes past, then twenty. Soon, our clock said that we had been in the restaurant almost 2 and a half hours, and one and a half of those hours, had been waiting to pay our bill.  We started to get antsy. We started discussing what to do. They had our credit cards and I wasn’t comfortable leaving without my own. We asked if there was a way we could run the bill on the paper credit card charge machine, the one that imprints your card and number on a carbon piece of paper. The steakhouse had the paper, but the machine was no where to be found.

So, we waited. I tweeted to the restaurant and several others RT’ed my tweet.  We were told we couldn’t leave,  because we had to pay our bill. But after two and a half hours, we were unable to pay our bill. We couldn’t pay in cash, nor could we pay with credit card. Finally, Ray came out of the kitchen with the server, (who haven’t seen for over an hour) and stated we were “free to go.” The steakhouse couldn’t get the computers fixed and after spending hours on the phone with Micros, it was clear it wasn’t going to be fixed that evening. We were understandably frustrated. Some had missed appointments, or engagements. We were tired and completely bored.

After a little over 3 hours, we sat down and decided that we couldn’t leave without doing SOMETHING. No one from the restaurant  or management group had come to apologize. No one had refilled any water, or given us any care. But knowing how large the bill was, we thought we should leave at least, a generous tip. So, we over-tipped. We’d all had been there, once before in our lives. Technology rarely fails, but when it does, it can cause a strong chain reaction.

After leaving Greystone, we walked around a bit. We had missed the first few hours of the next activity. Most of us were exhausted and we were all frustrated. Being held captive in a steakhouse, where no one cared enough to even apologize, was a bizarre situation. We tried to put the entire experience behind us, that was… until just a few days ago.

Almost a week after we had all returned from our trip, @Greystone_Steak tweeted me back. They gave us a person to contact and I did, but heard nothing. In the meantime, one member in our party was charged $950.00. Which, Greystone figured was “not the whole bill”  but “close.” After making us all wait over two hours and ruining the better part of our evening, they decided to charge a bogus amount to one person’s credit card. I was baffled and frankly, astonished. Certainly, someone had not thought that through. There was no signature to give for that amount. No one had signed anything, or given any authorization to pay a bill. And, we were told to leave and that the bill would be, “taken care of.”

This evening, I found myself on the phone with their head accountant. (Why they put their head accountant on the dilemma and not the owner or manager, is also baffling.) Ms. Martin decided to give me an earful of how wronged Greystone felt that their technology failed. How none of this all, “was any of their fault,” and ultimately, “the complete disrespect they felt that we had left. We had walked out on our bill.” I was told there was “absolutely no way we deserved a refund.” Wow.

Should we have waited four hours, or perhaps six? I reminded the accountant that we waited over two hours and tried to help, outside of eating for another hour. I was told, “This obviously is the fault of no one and you all will have to pay your bill. We cannot eat the cost of the meal you were served.” Ms. Martin also stated that we “must have felt some responsibility to pay our bill, as we left a “very large” tip.” I explained the tip was because the server had remarked that they can’t believe this was happening to all their tables. I was a server once and survived on meager ones and fives. We left close to 40%, just in tips. I wondered if they took that server’s tip and also charged the credit card. Nothing seemed “out there” anymore. The entire situation was awful. Now, we were being treated as thieves. There aren’t enough adjectives to even begin to describe it all.

The accountant went on to explain that since there was a “charge-back” it was, “her decision to fight it tooth and nail.”  I hung up after exchanging polite goodbyes and couldn’t help but feel that this was all poorly managed from the beginning. Great communication can fix (almost) any situation. There was so much I wanted to say, but instead I said I’d pass on any information to the cardholder and wished her a good night.

We live in an age where it easy to cry, “foul” on social media when service or a product isn’t as promised. It’s very also easy to over-react, and sometimes, ponder even how to react to even the basic customer service situation.  Being who I am, I played and re-played the events of that night over and over in my head. When we were told to, “go ahead and go,” we asked if we were going to be charged. We were told, “no.” We were then charged, (not even close to the amount) and degraded to the level of, “thieves,” and the type of people that “walk-out” on their bill. In thinking about it all, I can’t imagine ever blaming the customer, after they knowingly waited over two hours to make it all, “right.” I’m reminded of a quote my great mentor once spoke to me, “The more outlandish someone needs to fight for their position, the more you know they have to lose.”

If I was the cardholder, (instead of the vocal tweeter,) I’d probably be a lot more angry and justifiably so. I can’t help but feel also responsible as their card was chosen to cover everyone’s meals. It could have been my card, or that of anyone else in our party. If $950.00 is worth the bad aftertaste and P.R., more power to the restaurant. It’s certainly a statement to send to future diners.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think of the situation? What would you do?