Leadership Lessons From A Paris Restaurant

One test of leadership is how leaders treat customers and clients when things go wrong. True leaders take ownership of the situation. When handled properly, leaders can even grow customer loyalty after a bad customer experience.

I recently had the pleasure of dining in one of the great Paris restaurants. This business is owned by a husband and wife team. He leads in the kitchen, and she leads the service and customer relations aspects of the business.

Part way through our outstanding dinner, we noticed some unusual activity at a nearby table. A lady from their group had gone to the restroom and hadn’t returned after about 15 minutes. One of the others went to check on her.

It soon became clear the lady was locked in the bathroom. The lock mechanism failed after she entered, jammed in the locked position, and trapped the customer.

An increasing number of staff from the kitchen and dining room went into the bathroom with an array of the best tools they could muster. The voices kept getting louder, as did the pounding sounds.

After almost a half hour, we heard happy voices from the restroom, and the previously trapped customer emerged to the applause of the entire restaurant.

The wife/owner, in charge of the dining room, stood beside the somewhat embarrassed, frustrated customer and proclaimed “And THAT’S how you get a free meal at this restaurant!”

This action accomplished a couple things.

  • The restaurant leadership, by offering compensation, clearly admitted that it was THEIR issue, and nothing was done wrong by the client. The size of the broken latch that was removed clearly shows they didn’t buy an inexpensive mechanism. But it was still their responsibility, and they accepted it publicly.
  • The wife/owner spent the rest of the evening with the foursome who had suffered the incident. Extra courses, additional wines, and frequent visits from the world famous chef continued through the evening. Note that a free dinner and wines for a foursome at this level of restaurant was a very expensive tab.

Because the situation was handled so well by the owner/wife, I’m guessing that the unfortunate person locked in the restroom left the restaurant with a better appreciation for the place than when she walked in.

Imagine the difference if the restaurant management had tried to hide the event, and not shown the proper concern for a client who had an unfortunate experience.

Treat your customers right, and they’ll stick with you. I’ll return to this restaurant on my next visit to Paris. I’ll even use the restroom!


Larry L. Fobes
Larry L. Fobes
LARRY is the founder of Learning From Leaders, LLC. He is a co-founder, with partners associated with Duke University, of Learning With Leaders, LLC. He created, hosted, and co-produced, with Detroit Public Television, the Emmy award-winning television series, “Leaders on Leadership”. His CEO interviews were broadcast in the US, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Canada. This series ran for 8 seasons, creating approximately 150, 30-minute episodes. He is a frequent speaker, moderator, and trainer on a wide range of business topics, often incorporating video from the television series into a highly interactive discussion format. He contributed to a multi-media leadership etextbook and course currently being used by Duke University and the University of South Carolina. His corporate experience includes 30 years with Ford Motor Company in product design, scientific research, finance, and global business strategy. Larry built and led a globally dispersed team supporting over 150 national markets on 5 continents for 8 Ford corporate brands. He was also the founding Director of the Wayne State University’s Institute for Organizational & Industrial Competitiveness. His university studies include the Global Executive MBA from Duke University and The Executive Program at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan.

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