The Washington Post

Ask Tom: Restaurant response times

After I told a follower of my online chat that one week was a fair amount of time in which to expect a reply from a restaurant after an e-mail complaint, I heard from an industry insider in Scottsdale, Ariz., who advocates a much shorter grace period.

Bobby Fitzgerald, who got his start in Washington at the Dancing Crab in 1984 and went on to open two restaurant concepts in five cities, wrote that he hoped I would raise the bar for restaurant operators: “My direct e-mail is on every menu for our 25,000 customers a week to use. I respond as fast as possible, often leaving the dinner table from my family to provide an immediate response. The e-mail on our Web site comes to me only.”

Why the urgency? “With e-mail and social media today, restaurateurs need to treat this contact as if it is a ‘table call’ and respond immediately,” Fitzgerald says. The businessman estimates that at least 2 percent of the meals served weekly at his White Chocolate Grill and Cinzetti’s restaurants could involve “bad experiences.” “Anything less [than prompt action] is disrespectful to the guest who took the time to allow you to correct a situation rather than just never stepping foot in the door again.”

The payoff, writes Fitzgerald: “I can tell you for a fact that this approach has had guests change online reviews from negative to positive, and won many lifetime guests from our mistakes.”

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

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