Managing Expectations: The Importance of the Weakest Link

May 9th, 2012

Managing expectations is critical in every organization. But it is especially important in the service-oriented businesses where one’s last experience can ruin years of a strong reputation. I was just reminded of how important that is during dinner out last night. Sometimes it is not the big things that can ruin an experience, but a careless decision that puts your entire team at a loss.

I met with some co-workers and a client at one of Nashville’s most celebrated restaurants. My out-of-town guest is a foodie. He has eaten his way through Europe as well as some of the best restaurants in the US. I was hoping to make a good impression of Nashville and what we had to offer. He and I were immediately drawn to one of the chef’s signature dishes: the miso crusted sea bass.

We were promptly told that even though the menu said sea bass, the actual fish was grouper. For environmental reasons, the restaurant decided to no longer serve the endangered fish. I guess that for the same environmental decisions, they decided not to reprint the one-page menu either. “Our new menu is coming soon,” our server told us. However, it has been months since the sea bass had made its exit from the kitchen.

Grouper is not a bad fish. But it’s not the same quality as the sea bass, not even by a mile. My client politely asked, “so are you charging less for the grouper?” No, they were not. The poor server trying to save face quickly offered hope, “it tastes just as great the way we prepare it.”

At that moment the dynamics of the dinner changed. The expectations placed on the kitchen staff to deliver a superior quality product (sea bass) but with inferior ingredients (grouper) was unreasonable. And they failed.

The three of us who ordered the dish expected the expensive taste and texture of the high-cost item we had ordered. We got the best of what the inferior option could be, but, unfortunately, it was not good enough. Under those expectations, it could never be.

I am certain that there are more than the three of us who were disappointed with the execution of the dish. Over the course of several weeks, others, too, had the same expectation. They looked forward to a $30 worth of taste; instead they got something that should have cost around $20. I am not sure how much it would have cost the restaurant to replace the printed menu, but I know it would be a lot less than the brand-erosion such sloppy management decision has cost them.

Managing expectations is a difficult but critical part in every organization. Millions of dollars in building, state-of-the art kitchen, modern decor, a great staff, and even competent cooks could not overcome something that could have been avoided by spending a few dollars on a new menu insert. Interesting how often you are only as strong as your weakest link. How well is your organization managing expectations? What kind of experience are you creating?

Maurilio Amorim is CEO of The A Group, a media and technology firm in Brentwood, TN.

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