Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Of Spoons and Muggs

When I was first in sales selling dishwashers and dishwashing chemicals to restaurants in Toronto's downtown core, I was given some great advice by my boss in the now defunct chemical company I worked for.   It amounted to this:  "Take care of your best clients, first."

I had inadvertently neglected a call from a late-70s style big food big restaurant concept in it's final days.  No one knew it at the time, but waiters with attitude were about to become yesterday's news in the big restaurant segment.  Seems the hoi-polloi would grow weary of the hype and hip and faux-happiness that came with deepfried cheesesticks and boil-in-the-bag marinara sauce.  Big concept joints in the tourist district would soon stack their last patio chair, spear their last pickle and place it in their last Bloody Caesar, hand out their last oversized menu, and embroider their last server apron.  

Freezer to fryer, though not dead, was on the decline.

But that was still a few years away, and this joint was one of our best accounts.  I hadn't responded immediately because I was in a Diner on Queen Street, under the dishwasher trying to figure out why the damned thing wouldn't turn on.  Lunch dishes were stacking up.

The big restaurant GM was livid by the time I responded, although I had gotten there as soon as I could.  He had waited several hours for me to come and see why the coffee mugs just weren't as clean as they could be, while I had chosen not to leave the small diner without a functioning dishmachine.

As the Boss said in our post-mortem - "We can't afford to lose this client!   The next time they call for any reason, I don't care what you're doing, drop it.  It takes 20 "spoons" (greasy spoons - a nickname for a small restaurant)..."it takes 20 spoons to replace one big account like this one."

True enough.  But the big guys are mostly gone, and Chef Susur Lee from Peter Pan on Queen Street has gone on to open a few "spoons" since.  Maybe not twenty, but a few.

The lesson - the boss is always right, except when hindsight is on your side.
Lesson two - he was right, we do need to take care of our most important clients.  Sometimes they're just not our biggest.

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