The Ten Dollar Guarantee I Won’t Return To This Restaurant

Within 5 minutes of sitting at our table, our first waiter spilled a full glass of white wine onto the lap of the man next to me. The waiter apologized to Stan, bringing towels.

But never a new glass of wine for Stan’s partner.

"Overflow." by Ben Seidelman, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
“Overflow.” by Ben Seidelman, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

And it gets worse. But let me back up for a moment.

We met up with a handful of friends to celebrate Car’s hard work and accomplishments. She had just finished her doctorate degree.

“You’re a doctor now!” we all beamed. Car looked relieved to be done. Dinner and drinks were in order!

We piled into vehicles and headed back to Car’s hometown to hit up the hot new spot. It looked fancy enough. Without a reservation, a table for 10 would have been hard to score, but not impossible.

The foodie-focused menu boasted about the locally-sourced ingredients and spirits.

For a college town, this restaurant looked very promising. They had me hooked. I was excited.

But then the wine spilled and that was a minor fiasco. My enthusiasm died a bit, but accidents happen.

We soon had a new waiter. Calvin’s pizza broke in the oven, we were told by Waiter #2, would he like a complementary drink while you wait? The rest of us with empty glasses were ignored. Calvin waited all of 1 minute for his new pizza to arrive, while enjoying his free cocktail.

No such luck for Stan, who was still wet and his date was still thirsty.

The check came with a notebook filled with influentially good experiences. Photo by Jeffrey Thomas, CC-By, 2017
The check came with a notebook filled with influentially good experiences. Photo by Jeffrey Thomas, CC-By, 2017

Social Proof Working For the Restaurant

After the meal, the checks arrived, delivered by Waiter #3. With every check was a small notebook to write positively about the experience and read others’ positive comments.

Our small notebook had a dozen entries. Used as Social Proof, the notebooks help to influence people by bringing up the good aspects of the evening. By priming guests with the good experiences of previous customers, current guests were more likely to tip higher.

Well played! I took a photo for this story. But then…

Social Proof Working Against the Restaurant

Sure, the notebooks helped to prime guests for a good experience.

Except Stan. He didn’t have a good experience. In fact, his bill still had the spilled wine on it — and a full price meal!

I couldn’t abide (yeah I’d had a whiskey). I immediately spoke with the floor manager.

Her customer was wet and chilled during our dinner, his partner never received a new glass of wine, and the restaurant had the cojones to charge him for the wine and his meal?

I suggested they comp his $20 dinner. Easy, inexpensive fix to an unfortunate situation. The floor manager assured me that she’d take care of it. I headed out to find the car, thinking that was the end.

The disappointing result for Stan was that the floor manager took half off his meal. Half off his $20 dinner. Half.

They still charged Stan for his miserable experience.

The Power of Social Proof

The restaurant failed with their persuasion. The notebooks were nice, and likely effective for the restaurant and wait staff.

But their inability to see the impact of a bad experience is concerning. By charging Stan an unnecessary $10, they assured themselves that this story would be told by everyone at the table, to friends, and to friends of friends.

For Ten Measly Dollars, I am now telling you this story.

This is the real power of social proof. Small samples of other peoples’ opinions sway our decisions. Before ever getting the chance to see those notebooks to sway positively, friends would hear our story and likely never walk in that door.

People trust those they like, and if those friends are telling stories one way or another, that opinion holds power.