Last week I was in Baltimore at the Career Thought Leaders Conference. The food at the conference was great and the adventure continued with more restaurants to explore at night as well as during the extra day I planned in to explore Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with my friend, Linda, who came with me from Wausau. We had some great meals but the one at the Cheesecake Factory sticks in my mind.
The story behind The Cheesecake Factory choice: Linda really wanted to go to The Cheesecake Factory at some point because she had been to several in Florida and Wisconsin and really loved the cheesecake. We had been to several Baltimore Inner Harbor restaurants and had scouted several others in our long walks around the Inner Harbor.
We had planned that the Rusty Scupper was Thursday night’s destination but we had already walked four miles on Thursday and that choice would have meant another 1 1/2 miles or so. About the time we were deciding, I got a client call from an executive-level business analyst I am currently working with who once lived in Baltimore. He had coached me on the Inner Harbor’s features before we left and so while I was coaching him on follow-up interview strategies, I asked for his recommendations.
He said, “Without a doubt, The Cheescake Factory.” It surprised me a bit since it is a chain and I could run into them elsewhere. I asked why… He said the cheesecake was out of this world and the choices were abundant but when I asked what he recommended, he said to be sure to order the Lettuce Wraps.
When we got there, we were seated in a booth and soon our waiter, Joseph, appeared. Joseph was a tall, friendly young black man with a vibrant personality. What impressed me most was that though he obviously had great sales skills, he didn’t try to oversell us. The menu at The Cheesecake Factory is presented in a 6 1/2 by 9 inch binder. It has so many pages, that just reading through it was like starting a mini-novel.
I asked Joseph about the Lettuce Wraps that my client had recommended. I couldn’t find them on the menu. It turned out that they were in an appetizer section but Joseph quickly cautioned us that we wanted to share this appetizer. Sure enough, when it arrived, there was a section with 9 or 10 large lettuce leaves looking somewhat like romaine but could have been large buttercrunch. Surrounding the lettuce which was in the center of a large rectangular platter, was four cups of red cabbage filled with shredded carrots, bean sprouts, bean thread noodles (I think), and sliced cucumber as well as three tasty sauces and sliced grilled chicken.
Joseph reminded us that portions are very large and we might like to share a plate. He suggested the Factory combination platters and we reviewed several options before deciding on the Steak Diane and Chicken Madeira, complete with a ribbon of garlic mashed potatoes, which was delicious and more than filling for two.
We happened to mention that we were concerned about the possibility of snow for Friday, the day we were due to fly back to Wisconsin. We asked how he felt about the 2 and 1/2 feet of snow that fell in Baltimore earlier this year. He shared a story about how the shoveling out three cars really caused him issues. He was congenial and entertaining and never pushy or rude.
He even told us about other dining options that we could have selected in the area, continually emphasizing not only how great The Cheesecake Factory was but also how many great dinning options there were in the Baltimore area.
In the end, we ended up being so full that we opted out of cheesecake even to take back to the hotel. As we were leaving, we stopped at the display case to see what we were missing. As we looked at them, Joseph showed up behind us, laughing and saying, “See what you are missing?” as he pointed out the very yummy-looking Reese Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cheesecake.
What made the experience over-the-top?
1. Joseph listened to find out what we were looking for. 2. He readily answered my request for a specific recommended product that I couldn’t find on my own. 3. He recognized that we might benefit from sharing an entree and didn’t try to oversell us. 4. He shared personal stories in a conversational way without spending too much time at our table or missing the needs of other customers. 5. He made us feel special and individualized the service to meet our needs. 6. He shared other area information, recognizing that we would benefit from knowing more about Baltimore.
Throughout the meal, we were pleased with the over-the-top customer service that gave us exactly what we wanted and no more. I would expect that Joseph will always be in demand in any role that called for customer service strengths.
Customer service is one of the most universal areas of expertise that crosses all platforms and people like Joseph who have mastered the skill make any business product or service shine. Have you had a positive customer service experience? Do you agree that it is a critical skill for almost all professions and industries?