A tale of two restaurants: Morton’s and Olive Garden

Over the holiday break, my wife and I have been eating a lot of restaurant meals. Let me tell you about two memorable experiences when we went to Morton’s and the Olive Garden. Both are chain restaurants at different ends of the market, and in both we had very different experiences, but not the way you might expect.

Morton’s is a top-end steakhouse. Everything is ala carte, and you end up paying a lot of money for your meal, your wine, and the white tablecloth and near constant hovering of the wait staff. You get a very good cut of meat or seafood, and a very relaxing meal with excellent service. Or so I had thought, until we went last week. When we sat down at our booth, we noticed that the seat had salt spilled all over the place, and my wife mentioned that to our server. Odd, but not a big deal. As we progressed through our meal, though, we found the cause: our saltshaker had a plastic plug on the bottom that was loose, and it was gradually emptying itself all over our table. We called over the floor manager and he was very apologetic, but that was about it. At one point, he tried to clean off the salt all over our table with a crumber and his palms.

Now, for some reason I didn’t ask him for any financial compensation, mainly because it was so unusual a situation. And I kept thinking that at some point the manager would do something more than apologize, because every time that I have been to a Morton’s I have an excellent experience. But no, he shook my hand and wished me a happy new year and we were on our way.

A few days later we found ourselves in an Olive Garden, which is another chain with a very different vibe. We had a great meal and wonderful service, and the woman serving us was a long-time waitress who was proud of her service and was a delight. For some reason, she had to leave her shift and her manager came over to apologize. It took a bit longer to get our food, but not to the point where it seemed a problem. At the end of our meal, the manager came back and told us that desert was on the house because of the delay, even before we had said anything. That was impressive. He told us that it wasn’t up to their standards of service, and he felt bad about having to switch servers before our meal was concluded.

Now that was being proactive, and while neither of us has eaten recently in an Olive Garden, the next time we are driving around an area where these sorts of chains pop up, you can bet that we will think about going to an Olive Garden again and not a Friday’s or a Macaroni Grill. The Olive Garden manager understood what it took to build brand loyalty, and how to treat his customers. He didn’t wait for us to complain. The Morton’s manager fell down, to the point that the next time I want to eat at a high-end steakhouse, I will probably go to one of their competitors like Ruth’s Chris or McCormick & Schmick’s.

I sent messages via both restaurants’ websites and Twitter accounts (they both have fairly decent ones on both services). The Olive Garden comment form triggered an autoresponder that said it would take a week for someone to get back to me. Morton’s had no immediate response via their website but sent me contact info via Twitter to follow up.

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10 thoughts on “A tale of two restaurants: Morton’s and Olive Garden

  1. Sorry that it seems you have no alternatives to chains. I am very happy to live in a place that has only individual restaurants, aside from something like McDonald’s out on the edge of town and I’d count that. But it’s nice to hear that the Olive Garden had a manager who realized the importance of good customer service.

  2. Never in a million years would The Olive Garden think it would be competing with Morton’s… but in our always on, ever connected world… they really do. The same way… Nordstorms doesn’t really compete with Justice for Girls, but in some aspects they really do compete. Or the iPhone with a notebook computer or Friskies with Eukanuba. They ALL compete. As you said, you may revisit the newly polished brand (Olive Garden) based on your experience at another date…in the future. So the impact of brand’s service experience is not immediate. This wealth of knowledge is making marketeers go crazy. : )

  3. keep us posted on when + if you hear back! i’m curious on social media response time. next time make it Prime 1000 instead of Mortons (better product, service, atmosphere, etc)!

  4. Believe it or not, I had a similar bad experience at Morton’s. I too used their website, an “Assistant Manager” called me back in two weeks and promised to investigate. I will celebrate the anniversary of this promise in a few weeks with no response ever made. Give the average cost of over $140 per person I expected better and will not give them another chance due to their poor service.

  5. Hi David,
    Thanks for sharing! As an entrepreneur, I am trying to educate my kids on right kind of service attitude when we go out for meals. If I see something that is odd, I will explain it to them and let them also figure out what went wrong. This is specifically important as my son started in his first job as sandwich artist at Subway a few months ago. The reason why I am responding to this is a similar story that I had with my wife on New Year’s Eve.
    We have had a tradition to go to a local wine bar in Grapevine, Texas to celebrate the turn of the year. We did that this year as well. It was all well first, but what we noticed after a while that the bar was understaffed and we had to wait on everything extremely long time and the entire atmosphere was changed. What we had thought to do there was to enjoy the evening, but instead the waiter brought the check immediately after our dessert without asking if we wanted anything else. I just can’t understand why a privately held restaurant even wants to do that… Don’t they want my money?
    Nothing really bad happened, but what we (my wife and I) talked about after the meal was that “it is sad to see the place go down in quality”. When I read your blog entry, I realized that I do not think I will take my clients/friends to this place anytime soon. I do not want to have these types of surprises and as there are many options available, why should I?
    Happy New Year 2013 from Trophy Club, Texas!

  6. Pingback: What is your brand reputation worth? | Brandtelling

  7. But there is something about Olive Garden to note and that is the amount of salt they put in their dishes. I ate there once, complained to the manager, and he said there was nothing he could do because they have fixed recipes.

  8. I went to Mortons a long time ago and never went back… Similar to you we had poor service and the be honest the food wasn’t really that great…. Olive Garden on the other hand would be blasphemy if I went there.. Not a place most of my heritage would want to be seen in.. ;-)… That being said if you’re ever in NYC, MIMI’s on 52nd and 2nd is the a GREAT place for Italian food and not very expensive… Tell Dominick “joe” sent you..

  9. I’m temped to say this was just the luck of the draw and you had a manager at Mortons with not good training or who FORGOT. But Clearly Olive Garden managers are WELL trained and I suspect NONE of their managers would have “forgot” customer service!

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