Monday, November 3, 2008

Cafe Ramble

Ahhhh…the time change! I can’t say I’m going to love that it will be getting dark at 5:00, but I think I hate getting up in the dark more than just about anything. I want it to be day when I roll out of bed, thank you very much. At least light enough to see my hand in front of my face, anyway. Of course, I went to bed at 9:00 last night, and by 5:30 I was done sleeping. My body is still on daylight savings time, evidently. So I have a couple of minutes to fire off a little post.

I’d like to say that things are perfect at the café, but the place is like a game of “Whack-a-mole.” I whack one issue back into its hole, and another one pokes its head up somewhere else and sticks its tongue out at me. While my employee issues seem to have smoothed out for the time being, now I’m having fits with my vendors. I had to switch grocery companies in August, and that was a nightmare. We’re finally getting to where I’ve found my footing with that situation, and my wine supplier bugs out on me.

I have to wonder whatever happened to the concept of customer service, particularly when it comes to restaurant suppliers. As a small restaurant in a small town, I have come to expect terrible service, or no service at all, from any vendor with whom I try to do business. You would think we were located somewhere in the godforsaken wilderness, rather than on the northern fringe of the largest population area in the state. The vendors who do condescend to deliver to this area act like they are doing us the biggest favor in the world to even consider taking us on as customers.

But maybe that’s the problem. There are plenty of customers to be had in the Portland metro area proper. Vendors don’t need to come “all the way out here” to get business. Why waste the fuel? So while Portland restaurateurs can choose from a half dozen specialty bakeries that will bring marvelous artisan breads right to their back doors every morning, I am stuck with Giant National Bakery’s five varieties of “marshmallow” bread. And have a hard time even getting that.

And then there’s the concept of fresh produce. When I sit down at a higher-end restaurant in Portland and read how “fresh local produce” is featured on today’s menu, I have to laugh (with a wistful tear in my eye.) I have not yet figured out where that commodity is to be had, and I’m pretty sure that if I did find out who provided it, they would not bring it to me. Personally, I’m beginning to think that the produce used even in the upscale restaurants in Portland is no more local or fresh than the stuff I can get my hands on; or if it is fresh and local, it’s a large part of why meals at such places are $30 a plate.

My latest run-in was with my wine vendor. I have been doing business with a little wine supplier out of Northwest Portland. I inherited the account from the previous owner of the restaurant; this particular supplier has provided wines for Old Town Café since the grand opening 3 ½ years ago. The service has always been a little…shall we say, lax, but the salesman was personable enough, and the company didn’t hold me to a minimum purchase. This was important, because we’ve only recently built our dinner business to a point where we sell more than one or two bottles of wine a month.

So my routine has been that I call my sales rep when I need wine, leave my order on his machine, and he shows up with it in a couple of days. Last week, however, when my wine did NOT show up when it was supposed to, I had to open an investigation. Several calls into layers of automated phone system hell finally put me in touch with a live human voice, which told me my wine vendor had been sold, and New Wine Company had taken over all accounts.

I had never heard of New Wine Company. And my wine rep had not so much as whispered that a sale was in the works. And New Wine Company had evidently not heard of me, because old wine rep was doing an intentionally poor job of communicating with everyone involved. Long story short, it took more than two weeks (rather than the expected two days) for me to get wine in the place; and, in fact, last Monday I had to make the thirty-mile drive out to one of the closer wineries in the area to get my own damn wine. (Which wasn’t really a hardship. It was a beautiful drive, the weather was gorgeous, and I got the wine cheaper than I would have from the dealer anyway.)

Now that I am a full-blown business owner, I find I am swiftly being healed of my chronic phone-o-phobia, and I have no qualms about demanding what I want. If I need something, I’ll get on the phone and track it down. And if I get frustrated with poor customer service, I am not shy about letting whoever is on the other end of the phone have it with both barrels. I had to growl and bare my teeth all the way through the process of switching our phone service to digital voice. I’ve “squeaky wheeled” my way through this process of changing grocery vendors. And I blasted Mr. New Wine Company rep when he finally did get in touch with me last Friday. I’m afraid I’m getting somewhat of a reputation as a…demanding customer. I want what I want, and I’m not going to settle for less. I’m sorry I can’t be Ms. Sweetness and Light, but I’ve never been a schemer or a cajoler. I fully expect to be able to ask plainly for decent customer service, and get it. That is what I offer MY customers…I’d be out of business if I didn’t. And I expect no less from the people who call me “customer.”

Did I say this was going to ba a "little" post? Well, the sun is up now…and it’s time to get to it. Another day, another story…


  1. That must be very frustrating for you. Maybe in the spring you can connect with a CSA farm for produce?

  2. I like the whack a mole description. It's a little less bloody than whacking one head off the hydra and getting two. God save us from endless multiplication.

    Did you end up going with Sysco? IF you did, how are they treating you? Good I hope.

  3. I glad you learned to demand and follow through- you are right, in this business goodness and light will get you bankrupt. I know you still do it with a smile and twinkle so you can keep them on their toes! Good luck and hope you can find some decent vendors. Dannelle