Effective Customer Service Program
What's For Lunch?

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As an entrepreneur, I'm always intrigued by small businesses, home-based or not, that exceed the expectations of their customers in a big way. Let me tell you about one of them.

Recently I spent some time with my daughter in her college town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We were spending the day getting her apartment ready for her return to school in the fall. When it was time for lunch, she wanted to take me to a restaurant in the small town of Northport, just to the north of Tuscaloosa.

Northport is one of those typical southern small towns whose downtown area has been converted into a delightfully quaint shopping area. Central to it is a restaurant called City Cafe.

What an experience.

We arrived at the location at 11:30 a.m. Typically I like going to restaurants for lunch at that time so that one can "beat the rush." I commented on this to my daughter before we arrived; she just laughed. When we walked in, I understood why. I faced a room with a lunch counter to the left (full), booths to the right (full), and a line that stretched all the way to the back wall and then circled around. Like visitors to Disney World, we automatically took our place at the end of the line. Then I began to look toward the front of the line and realized that it continued on into another room (which I couldn't see). So I asked my daughter, "where is the FRONT of this line?"

Her response - "you'll see."

Sheesh!

So I began to look around at the diners surrounding me. Their plates were piled high with what can only be described as "down home Southern cooking." And the diners themselves? A quick glance around the room told me that this establishment attracted customers from every walk of life. At this moment, however, they all had one thing in common - the serious business of eating.

Meanwhile, the aroma was making my mouth water. So I turned my attention back to the ultimate end of the line. When would I have my turn?

About 15 minutes later we made our way to the next room. It was there I discovered that the front of the line ended at the doorway between this room and yet ANOTHER room. Both of these rooms had two rows of booths on either side. I didn't count them, but my estimate is about six on each side of the room, making about 24 booths in total. They could sit as many as four to a booth.

I looked around for a hostess; there was none. Then I began to understand the system; you waited in line with your party, and when someone got up from one of these booths, you just went and sat down. Period.

The waitress appeared at our table almost instantaneously, cleared off the previous diners' plates, wiped the table, and took our drink orders. Actually, what she said was, "Tea?" And you're an idiot if you order anything else. It's important to note here that if you order tea anywhere in the Deep South, it is understood that it comes iced and sweetened. If you want it any other way, you'd better tell them that.

Time to check out the menu. It was at this time I realized that City Cafe operates five days a week only - Monday through Friday. The lunch menu consisted of your choice of entree and/or vegetables which you chose from the list for that particular day of the week. The price of the meal was determined by the number of vegetables and entrees you chose.

This was Tuesday; my choices included fried green tomatoes. Who was I to pass this up? Beef tips with rice and steamed squash rounded out my meal, but I could just as easily have chosen from a dozen other tempting selections. It was tough to pass up the fried okra and steamed cabbage (my daughter chose the cabbage along with chicken-fried steak), but I was pleased with my meal. Dinner rolls and cornbread were, of course, provided as well.

And the tea? Try drinking it to the bottom of the glass - won't happen at City Cafe. It's another person's job to make sure of that. Just part of the customer service program.

The price for both our meals? I spent $10.75 - but $3.00 of that was a tip. No kidding. She and I had dined at a well-known restaurant chain the night before and the tip for that meal was the same as the price of the City Cafe meal itself.

Guess which one I enjoyed the most?

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