My friend and co-writer Hagen Engler once told me this story about his crazy but memorable restaurant visit that proves good service overcomes even the most challenging of situations in business.
“I once visited a tiny resort town outside Inhambane, Mozambique during the mid-nineties. At that stage the country’s civil war hadn’t been over for very long and it was only slowly getting into the swing of things, business-wise.
Near the resort we were staying at, there was a tiny restaurant on the beach. My girlfriend and I decided to check it out, so we went down to make a booking for that night. The woman at the desk didn’t seem to understand what we meant about booking, but I put that down to the language barrier. My Portuguese is terrible.
We arrived that night to find the place largely empty, so we seated ourselves at a pleasant table overlooking the ocean, and waited to be served. Nothing happened for ten minutes.
Eventually, I gallantly went to investigate. I found a smiling gentleman in the kitchen area, and asked if we could see some menus. He smiled broadly and nodded. ‘Menus?’ I asked, and he smiled even more. It seemed he couldn’t understand me.
I then cast an eye around the place, spotting some salt and pepper shakers on a sideboard. Sure enough, in the drawers beneath it, I found some menus, printed in Portuguese. I took a couple and then indicated to the gent that these were what I meant by ‘menus’, and I would be taking a couple.
This seemed to be the first time he’d heard the word, and he thanked me sincerely, with more great smiles. ‘Menu!’ he beamed, waving the document at me. ‘Menu!’
This pretty much set the tone for the evening. We had almost no language in common. He didn’t seem very experienced at waitering, and we had no experience of how restaurants were supposed to work in Mozambique. Our waiter could recognise the brand names of beers, but with meals we had to communicate with sign language. Have you ever tried to act out the word ‘prawns’?
At one point we went into the kitchen to look into the pots and point out what we felt like eating. It was hilarious! Luckily our waiter also saw the funny side, and he seemed to pick things up quite quickly.
This was service on the Fawlty Towers, TV-comedy level, and every bit as funny. But you know what? I think I had one of my best nights out! The staff was super-friendly and they all had a great sense of humour about how chaotic things were.
I later found out that that was the restaurant’s very first week of being open, but we went back a few nights later, and they had improved 100%.
Even though this was a contender for the craziest restaurant in the world, we enjoyed it and paid with no qualms. What made it work was the fun people, the great food, and the great prices.”
Service Tip: What the above story demonstrates is that almost any barriers are surmountable. Even language, utter inexperience and lack of training. But what is not negotiable is quality products, value, and sincere human connections. The Crazy Café overcame all of its shortcomings by just providing great food and good prices with friendly staff. Believe it or not, we can all learn a lot from the Worst Restaurant in the World!