Worst Spills, Best Recoveries


William Smith, now general manager of Jackson 20 and The Grille at Morrison House in Alexandria, Virginia, recalls some disastrous incidents from his 17-year-career—but none as traumatic as when an obese customer broke through his barstool, falling to the floor.

Fortunately, the man was not hurt, but Smith, after apologizing profusely for “a faulty stool,” moved him into a booth. He then completed the routine paperwork, and later had the restaurant’s engineers take all the stools apart and re-glue them.

The lesson was duly noted, and in future restaurants where he worked, he made sure all new bar stools he ordered were solidly reinforced.

A more common mishap is when servers spill a dark beverage on customers’ clothes. “It’s happened multiple times throughout my career,” Smith says. “Inevitably, the wine is red and spills on a woman wearing light-colored clothing.”

Typically the restaurant offers to pay for dry cleaning. However, Smith has also become a huge fan of an off-the-shelf solution: “Now, I always keep a spray bottle of OxiClean on the property—and the stain is usually gone in 30 seconds,” he claims.

For Matt Rafferty, currently general manager of Square 1682 in Philadelphia, his unforgettable spills moment occurred a few years ago during a super-busy Valentine’s Day dinner at a another fine-dining restaurant in Philadelphia where he was manager.

At the time, the restaurant was under­going an upper-management transition that contributed to the restaurant being vastly overbooked for the special occasion, which is typically one of the busiest nights of the year at any fine-dining restaurant.

“We had to rent two-tops and scatter them throughout the restaurant,” he says. At some of the tables, the tight spacing required servers to reach over customers to place food and drinks on the tables.

“We had three or four spills on that one night—and being Valentine’s Day made it even worse,” Rafferty recalls.

“That’s where the magic of human nature comes in,” he says, noting they saved many customer relationships that night because the staff acted promptly to fix the problems.

“Comping the meal is the easy part; taking on the issue as a personal challenge is tougher,” Rafferty advises. “But people are looking for a great experience, so taking care of the problem on the ground floor is the best solution.”


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