Is the Customer Always Right?

Shari Lynn Rothstein-Kramer

I grew up hearing, “The customer is always right.” Be it clothing stores, grocery stores, at a pharmacy, or in restaurants, it didn’t matter – no matter what the situation, the server/clerk had to eat it and the customer was correct.

I always believed this, too. When money was involved and there was a discrepancy, server’s had to acquiesce. It was the proper way to handles issues, keep guests happy – and even more important – coming back. I still believe that this is a good way to think, after all, without customers there would be no more stores, but after a recent experience with my own family, I had to stop and ask myself, “When is enough enough (or too much!).” Here’s what happened:

I went to a movie at the Aventura mall with my husband, who is 41 years old; my in-laws, who are in their early ‘70s, and my uncle and his wife, who are in their mid ‘70s). After a 5 p.m. movie, we headed to Cheesecake Factory for a “quick” bite. Hah. Anyone who has ever been to a Cheesecake Factory anywhere in the world knows darn well that there is NO such thing as a “quick” anything there – beginning with getting a seat. It is always packed. They hand out the little buzzer and ask you to hang around.

So you wait, and you wait, and you hope that you will buzz before you have to eat your next meal…but you know this going in – so that is not a problem. After about 20 minutes (which was about 10 minutes less than our projected time), we buzzed. We went to the hostess stand and went to claim our table. “Joe (our chosen restaurant check in name), party of 6,” we said, all smiles.

“Please stand over there and wait for us to call you for your table,” said one of the hostesses. “It’ll be just a minute.” And that’s when it happened. After a few more minutes of wait time, she walked back over and said, “How many in your party?”

“Party of 6,” we answered.

“Oh, this beeper was for another Joe party – party of 4. Sorry, your table will not be ready for another little while. We’ll call you soon.

Well, the way my uncle reacted to this, one would have thought that the hostess kidnapped my uncle’s first-born child! “That’s a LIE! We’ve been WAITING. How DARE you do this! We want to sit NOW! How are you going to rectify this…”

Ahhh … the old “how are you going to rectify this” line. Translation: I am looking for something free and you just opened the door for me.

My husband and I looked at each other. We were mortified. My mother in law tried to blow it off. The hostess was stunned – and turned off – but was still professional about it. “I will seat you as soon as possible, sir.”

And she did. Perhaps five minutes later, they pulled out a big, roomy, round table that was in an ideal place. As we sat, he was still carrying on, muttering and commenting on the wait and error.

Flash forward 15 minutes. We have all ordered dinner. My husband and I ordered artichokes to start, which we had no problem sharing with our family, who was obviously famished and wasting away (yes, sarcasm). Soon thereafter, the meals arrived. Two Chinese Chicken Salads…Salisbury Steak…Hamburger… Fish ‘n Chips… and uh-oh…there’s something missing. It’s the Meatloaf. Who had the … uh-oh. My Uncle. This is strike two. “I’m very sorry. It will be out in a minute, sir. It was overcooked and we wanted it just right. We’ll bring it out in no time.”

Five minutes went by and no meatloaf. We asked the waitress and she went to investigate. Another five minutes and still nothing. And from that point on, there was no living with him.”My meal is ruined. Everyone is finished. I can’t believe this. I deserve … something.”

When the waitress came over with his food, he was livid. She was apologetic. He wasn’t hearing it. He was digging in (and he said that the meatloaf was great!) – but that wasn’t enough.

“Get me the manager,” he yelled.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

And he kept eating. Mind you, the rest of us were still eating, too. There was really no crime committed.

“They need to make this right,” he said, eating more. “You are all finished…” (Well, actually, no one was finished but…) And then the manager appeared. “Hi sir,” he said. “How can I help you?” My uncle launched into the story and kept hinting for a free dessert. “The meatloaf came late. After everyone else was finished. My meal is ruined. Everyone is finished. I can’t believe this. I deserve … something to make it right.”

With all the grace in the world, the manager apologized profusely and my uncle kept complaining until the manager agreed to bestow upon him a free piece of cheesecake. I was mortified, after all this was where I live. So as the manager walked away, I looked at him in disgust., My husband said, “Can you say, ‘schnurer.’”

If there is really a problem I get it. Say something. But if you are looking for a problem in order to get something for free, it is not okay. And while they handled it with class – I almost felt like I wish the manager would have told him to stick it!

And then I thought to myself, “Wow. How often things like this must happen. How upsetting.”

My uncle was wrong. 200 percent wrong. So, contrary to the age-old saying, this customer was not right.

Shari Lynn Rothstein has been writing about food, wine, lifestyles and fashion for more than 20 years, in New York and Florida. She resides in Aventura. Shari can be reached at for comments, questions thoughts.

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