What did Alex get right and Morton’s get wrong?

Dave Allen asks the question, 'how important is honesty in brand building'?

On Tuesday we met Alex. A 25 year old waiter at Morton's in Houston. Alex was nice, in a band, studying music and sounded pretty talented. That night we had an 'interesting' customer experience and Alex was the architect.

Our team had arrived from Miami, London and Rhode Island and we were looking for a quiet, relaxed meal before 2 days of intense meetings and interviews. We ordered a shellfish platter to share, followed by a small steak. I like wine. This was a good moment for a nice Cabernet so I ordered a bottle of Cakebread.

We were just finishing the shellfish platter when I saw our waiter heading towards us with the steak. He saw we were still eating and turned around and went back into the kitchen. Alex arrived looking flustered. He said "The steaks are ready to be served" and started clearing the starter. I stopped him and said "before you serve the steaks it might be a good idea to serve the wine and let it breathe". Alex went away.

The manager arrived with the Cakebread, decanted it and then started swirling it around like a man possessed. By the time he had finished it looked like a pint of beer with a good frothy head. The starters were cleared by another waiter and the now 'dry' steaks came back.

We ate in silence. Then we chatted to Alex who couldn't stop apologising. We weren't in the mood for a fight so we explained to Alex how the 'customer experience' he had provided might be improved. That a great waiter tunes into his guests and stage-manages a meal to make it an event. He informed us "Morton's are great on training and they had told him all this and that everything we had experienced was his fault". He admitted "he had got it all wrong". We came to respect Alex for his honesty.

The management at Morton's witnessed this fiasco. They could see we weren't happy. They could have rectified the situation with a simple gesture. They chose not to do so. They didn't do what Alex did and admit that ultimately it was their fault.

Impressed by Alex, we asked ourselves 'how important is honesty in brand building'? We all agreed it is fundamental. It is the foundation of customer trust.

Building honesty and authenticity into any business over the long term is a challenge. It requires the company to do what they say they will do - every time, everyday. But companies are run by human beings and they will make mistakes. When they do let them admit it and then help them to fix it.

Wouldn't it be a better world if more companies could be like Alex?

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto