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Negotiating Lunch

Today is our 12th wedding anniversary.  We would never ask anyone to watch our 5 children because our youngest are 2½ and 9 months.  To us they are a joy, to someone else, a handful.  So we spend our anniversaries with the kids and let them enjoy the occasion.

Three days ago, we went out to de-stress to the Olive Garden for lunch and had a relaxing, refreshing time.  Yes, I had a glass of wine, but stay with me here. :)  So, today, being the creatures of habit that we are and understanding the value of predictability when going out with the kids, we headed back to the Olive Garden.

But today was different.  The employee OG Christmas party was that morning and the kitchen was slow.  So much for predictability.  As a result, 40 minutes after sitting down, we were still waiting on our meals and the kids attention spans were waning.  Happy freakin anniversary.

So, the lesson here is negotiating – here we go.  Our experience was not what we expected nor was it what we just enjoyed 3 days ago.  Yet the price we were going to be expected to pay was the same.  Hmmm…

In every business transaction, there are 3 negotiable factors: price, time and quality.  The most you can ever expect is to have 2 of these 3 – you cannot have all 3 and expect to stay in business.  For example: in the fast food industry, they give you low price and fast food.  What suffers? Quality – it’s just not the best food.?? When Jul gets her hair cut, hair colored and eyebrows waxed (ouch), she wants quality and it takes a lot of time to do those 3 tasks with quality.  What does she sacrifice?  Cost – to the tune of $220.  Ouch.

So today for lunch, what did we want of the 3 ‘negotiables’?  We were willing to pay more and wait awhile in exchange for quality food and service.  So when the meal was delayed and delayed again, I didn’t get too uptight, though I was mindful that there is a time limit with young kids.  However, when Julie’s pasta arrived cold and mine arrive with much less sauce and pasta than just 3 days prior (yes, I am boring and order the same thing), that’s when my ears started to boil.  The negotiation of a relaxed, quality lunch had broken down.  What to do?

I expressed my frustration to our server.  Now, I used waiting tables for a couple months each time when I was single and moved to Los Angeles and then to Nashville.  I know how challenging the balancing act can be at times.  So, I wasn’t going to vent to her and upset her day – I just expressed my frustration and gave her a chance to elevate our concern and rectify the situation.  When 5 minutes passed while waiting on a reheat and more sauce, it became apparent our server was not negotiating with us to meet our expectations.  She said to me, ‘I’m really sorry.  Can I get you some coffee or dessert?’  Ah, no.  Even if we liked coffee or wanted dessert, we no longer had time.

You see, almost everytime we go out, people stop by our table or stop us in line to comment on our family – both for the size and what they see as quality in the discipline and fun that we have.  One of the reasons that happens is simple: we manage our kids’ attention spans.  So, even while somebody had already had stopped by our table today and complimented the children, we knew it was only a matter of minutes before they were all hanging from the chandeliers and Mommy and Daddy’s neck veins were highly visible.  If you are a parent, you know it’s a fine line between harmony and chaos. :)  We do have less chaos in general, but just as much, we take advantage of the harmony times and today, we were running out.

So, we were no longer using time in the negotiating equation which left me no choice but to ask for the manager.  When he approached – 5 minutes later (oh yes, ears are matching Rudolph’s nose by now) – he immediately addressed thequality issues and offered us more food.  Again, even if we wanted to eat more (we had eaten the now cold lasagna and piping hot fettuccini alfredo), we have no more time.

What was left?  Cost.  The manager asked how he could make this better.  I explained our experience 3 days prior (establishing that we are loyal – boring, but loyal) and also that we did not receive our end of the bargain.  He said he understood and disappeared for a minute.  Now, having established that both Julie’s and my meal were flubbed, I fully expected those to be comped – erased- off our bill and I expected to pay for the kids pizza and all of our drinks.  When I opened the check, it had 1 item for $6 – the Belini drink Jul and I shared.  Wow – ok, now I felt the negotiation was not only even again, it was in our favor.  I couldn’t buy back the time spent for our anniversary lunch, but at least I wasn’t paying for it.

Again, I didn’t want to take this out on our server.  She work’s hard – it’s Christmas and may have children depending on her.  Before the manager left, I asked him what the original bill amount was to properly tip our server our typical 20%.  NOTE: whenever you are comped for a meal gone wrong, do the right thing and, unless the server was belligerent, tip based on the amount of what your bill was before the comp.

The manager apologized again and disappeared.  As we were gathering up, counting heads and starting away from the table, he returned.  Again, he apologized but this time he held out his hand with a gift card and expressed that he wanted to do even more to make up for our anniversary.  Wow.  My ears are back to normal color by now and I’m smiling again.  So when we settled in the car, Julie opened it up to see that it was for $25!  Wow.  The manager took the negotiating to a new level – he insured that we would come back and spend more money and continue with our boring routine – and we will.  We will go in for lunch one day later next week and I will ask for that manager and let him know that his efforts were rewarded with our loyalty.  And I imagine he will make sure we get our food hot and within a reasonable time.  As time and quality are what we care about, we will be happy.

It was a win for the Olive Garden – we will remain loyal and spend more money there.  It was a win for our server – she made it through a crisis unscathed, if not encouraged, that we still rewarded her for her hard work.  And, of course, it was a win for us, because we walked away with money towards our next meal which will likely be everything that we expect.  Win-win-win.  That’s when negotiating works the best.