Monday, December 09, 2013

Stop the madness: If airlines owned and operated a trendy restaurant

In looking at my most popular posts, the venerable "If Airlines Sold Paint" always ranks in the top 5 posts.  It was written by Alan Hess, who is now the President at Hess Travel in Salt Lake City.  

I decided to write a new one with a new twist.   

Making a dinner reservation with a trendy restaurant  ...

Customer: Hi, I'd like to make a reservation for dinner for next Friday.

Restaurant: What time would you like to have dinner?

Customer: We would like to arrive at 7pm.  It is our anniversary.

Restaurant: Great. How many in your party?

Customer:  4
Restaurant: You are confirmed.   And by the way, if you will take just a moment to “check in” on Foursquare and leave a tip or like us on Facebook, you will get a coupon for a free bottle of wine that you can use next Friday to help celebrate.   And I'm going to put in a request for our corner table that has a great view.  Just get here a little early and ask for our General Manager Monica.
Customer: Wow! Thanks. That is great. I’m going to tell everyone I know about you! My boss is planning our department Christmas party and I will make sure that he calls you!

Restaurant Agent:  Tell him to ask for Monica and she'll be glad to help arrange it.

Making a dinner reservation with a trendy restaurant owned by an airline ...

Restaurant Agent:  Airline Trendy Dining, how may I help you?

Customer: Hi, I'd like to make a reservation for dinner for next Friday to celebrate our wedding anniversary. 

Restaurant Agent:  Congratulations, Sir but I will have to see whether we have availability.  What time are you looking for your reservation and in which city?

Customer: Tampa.  We would like to arrive at 7pm.

Restaurant Agent:  Great.  We have tables available.   How many in your party?  

Customer: 4

Restaurant Agent:  Are you wanting to sit together?

Customer: Well of course!  What kind of question is that?  You just said that you had tables and we are celebrating a special event.

Restaurant Agent:  Sir, Friday is a very popular night to eat out and if you want to sit together you will have to pay in advance.

Customer: Pay what in advance?

Restaurant Agent:  Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. Will you be wanting plates or are you planning on bringing your own?

Customer: Bringing my own?  For my anniversary?  Are you crazy?

Restaurant Agent:  Sir, you can save $10 per person by bringing your own plates.

Customer: Wow, with four people, that could add up.  Maybe I will.  No, that is crazy. 

Restaurant Agent:  Sir, I’m just trying to help you understand all the ways that you can save.  If you were willing to change your reservation to 11pm and have your appetizers and your soup course in Orlando, then wait two hours there, we can give you another $20 per person off.

Customer: You've got to be kidding!  I'm trying to plan a party!

Restaurant Agent:  Sir, we don't kid around here. We just merged with one of the largest restaurant companies in the US and we are now the number one trendy dining option, with locations just about anywhere you would want to eat.  Stopping over at one or more of our other locations in one of our hub cities can save you money.

Customer: No, we just want a 7pm reservation for 4 people in Tampa and we want you to provide the plates.

Restaurant Agent:  And will you be wanting to bypass the line outside? 

Customer:  What line? 

Restaurant Agent:  Well, we are very particular about who we allow to dine in our restaurant, so everyone has to go through a security check before coming in, but we can put you in our Frequent Diner Speed Pass lane.  We have a red carpet and will make a special announcement so everyone knows how important you are.  That will cost just $20 per person extra.

Customer:  Wait, I’ve never dined with you before, so how can I be a Frequent Diner?

Restaurant Agent:   Easy, you just pay us. Will you wanting to be doing that for this reservation?

Customer:  OK, can we now confirm the reservation?

Restaurant Agent:  Yes, would you also like a block of frequent dining points for use against future reservations?

Customer:  Can I use them anytime?

Restaurant Agent:  Anytime but weekends or holidays.

Customer:  No thank you.  Can we just reserve the table please?

Restaurant Agent:  I have a nice table in the corner, but that location and the view will cost you $10 extra.

Customer:  Per person?  Let’s see that is $10 for the plates and $20 for the Speed Pass and now $10 for the corner table?  So $40 per person?

Restaurant Agent:  Yes, of course. [bell heard ringing in the background] Oh, and by the way, since we have been on the phone, the price just went up to $12 per person for the Speed Pass Lane, so that will be $42 per person.

Customer: You mean the price went up while we were talking?

Restaurant Agent:  Yes sir. You see, we change prices and rules thousands of times a day, and since you haven't actually given me your credit card yet, we just decided to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I would suggest you get on with your reservation before the bell rings again. Do you want the Speed Pass Lane?

Customer: We may have two other people join us.  Can I make the reservation for 6 and then just pay for 4 when we get there if the other couple doesn’t make it?

Restaurant Agent:  Oh, no sir, you can't do that. If you arrange for a table for 6 you have to pay up front and then if they don’t show, you will be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the food that was reserved for you and we would have to start all over again and see if we have a table.

Customer: What?   You just said that you had the table.

Restaurant Agent:  Sir, that table is only available for those that are a part of our Frequent Diner program who are willing to pay the location upgrade fee and pay over a week in advance.  That's right. We can reserve the table for six, but if two don’t show up, you still have to pay.  Oh and if you only eat appetizers and the soup course, you will be in violation of our full four course meal tariffs.

Customer: But what does it matter to you whether I eat all four courses? I already paid you $40 per person for the reservation! And I heard that the site has a hovercraft that delivers a check if someone reserves a table a lower price later!

Restaurant Agent:  Sir, there's no point in getting upset; that's just the way it is and we are currently suing that online reservations company, so you might want to think twice about using them. But getting back to our pricing, we make plans based upon the idea that you will eat a full dinner, and when you don't, it just causes us all sorts of problems. And if your friends don’t show up, then it impacts our food and plate inventory projections.

Customer: This is crazy!  We would have already reserved the table for dinner, paid you the reservation fee and we promise to tip the wait staff really well. Listen, just reserve for 6 at 7pm next Friday.  We’ll try to find another couple if Jack and Louisa can’t make it.

Restaurant Agent:  Uh, sir, you can’t do that.  If you prepay for the corner table, you need to give me everyone’s names and if you have to change, you would have to cancel the entire reservation and start over.  And of course there would be a cancellation fee.

Customer: Well, that does it! I am going somewhere else to make my reservation!

Restaurant Agent:  That won't do you any good, sir. As you can see on the KANOO restaurant reservation metasearch site online, we all have the same rules. And you may be able to reserve a table from someone else, but you won't be able to arrange the plates or bypassing the security line from anyone but us.

Customer: Unbelievable! OK, I will take the table for 6 at 7pm with plates and Speed Pass.

Restaurant Agent:  And would you like silverware with that reservation?

Customer: Let me guess, for just $10 per person.

Clerk: Close sir, it is $12 per person.

Customer: We’ll bring it with us.

Restaurant Agent:  Suit yourself.  And by the way, what will you be wanting to order for your main course?

Customer:  You know, this is just taking too much time.  I just want a reservation, not to pre-order my meal.  Our professional meeting planner for our company can just arrange this through her system. 

Clerk: Don’t bother sir, we no longer pay them a commission to sell on our behalf and besides, the meeting planners use a system that doesn’t connect with our restaurant and of course you must know, they only sell our basic dinner reservations and our corner tables are not available through them.  

Plus, the global restaurant reservation system that they connect to charges us a fee of $2.00 per course for each person just for it to be available through their system, so we really prefer that you make your reservation here.  You understand, we have to watch our costs. 

Customer:  And I suppose something terrible will happen if I buy from the online guy?

Restaurant Agent:  [sternly] Yes sir, it will.

Customer:  [huffs loudly and hangs up, deciding to just have the dinner party at home]

Restaurant Agent: [to the dead phone line]  Thank you for calling Airline Trendy Dining.  [to his colleague]  Can you believe that?  We are the trendiest restaurant in town and we give our customers so much choice to customize their experience with us and extras they can't get anywhere else and they just hung up on me.

Colleague:  You are just too sensitive. Surely they'll call back.  We're the trendiest restaurant in town and they will realize that dealing with us directly is the best thing for them since we have their best interests at heart.


While this sounds like a crazy dialogue because I've included every possible nuance of the insanity of our airline and distribution pricing environment, this is the real world.  

Pricing has become way too complex and the only thing that saves the airlines from a complete loss of their customer is that every other airline operates in the same manner.   There are some that have rejected charging for bags and some that have even experimented with fare simplification, but it is still a painful process to plan a trip by air and especially if something goes wrong and you have to change or cancel.  

I can only plead with our industry to stop the madness and get back to thinking about simplifying the customer experience.

Thank you Alan Hess for your inspiration and for your original satire on If Airlines Sold Paint.  I've shared it often with the investment community to help them understand our crazy industry.

Chicke Fitzgerald - iconoclast and status quo buster

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