Last summer, I told a story of how corporate regultion can fail a restaurant at the local level by not empowering its managers and employees to solve problems too small for "corporate" to be aware of. Today I am able to tell a flipside of that story.
The Boston area has been hit with a water contamination problem, which is difficult to understand without an explanation of how Boston's water starts pristine 50 miles away then flows downhill as if the Romans built it through antique, undersized, crumbly pipes. Read that here. This weekend, a 10' pipe west of the city "failed," necessitating the release of reservoired (but non-potable) water. That part you can read here.
What I want to talk about is how (2) businesses responded to this crisis and why local leadership is important in any enterprise.
was crushed. Corporate headquarters "...ordered franchise owners to close if they cannot boil water for ice, coffee or tea," according to the Boston Herald. And indeed, on the next business day -- a gorgeous Boston Sunday full of tourists and Walk for Hunger participants -- most of the city's 7000 storefronts were shut down. I made that figure up. But it can't be far off the mark. Since I am making up figures, let's esimate how many larged-iced would have been sold today. Pfft - a WICKIT lwot.
Now come with me to Stephie's on Tremont, little sister to the original Stephanie's on Newbury. Posted on every table and on the hostess station -- in a leather table tent as if it were the wine list -- was this simple explanation. I am paraphrasing, because I did not want to steal what they had spent such a sudden and classy amount of effort on (buff paper and a Chancery font.)
It opened with the statement that the MWRA had issued the water boiling order, then explained the situation in the kitchen:
- We are not using tap water in the kitchen today
- If you order water, we will be serving bottled water; you may also purchase Aqua Panna from the menu
- We regret that we are unable to serve coffee, tea, or espresso today, and recommend other items from our menu or bar
- All food has been prepared with boiled water
- Our ice comes from a distributor which is outside the MWRA area
A restaurant is not a coffee shop, to be sure. Without coffee and tea, Dunkin Donuts does have its hands tied. But what about a similar sign on its window -- less fancy, more simple: "Due to water restrictions, we are unable to serve our signature coffee. Purchase other items today and your next coffee is on us." And you give some little coupon for $1.50 of the next purchase. Not only does it keep your customer for today, it brings them back tomorrow, and reminds them how cheap is the cost of their inconvenience. Instead, DD, you sent them to Starbucks, where both bottled coffee milks (iced form) and instant (hot form) can be had. With wi-fi and better chairs. And I'm not even a coffee store manager.