Nice concept, horrible execution.
We brought our 1-year-old to the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, Illinois to ride the train and do some shopping. We also wanted to check out the new dining option that had replaced the old food court. It was called Wilde & Greene.
My first impression was that the double wooden doors looked nice, but they were a bit impractical with a stroller because you couldn’t tell if someone was about to push them open into your face.
We entered the premises without incident, and then stood there at the entrance confused. It looked sort of like a restaurant, but there was no host. There was a podium with a stack of menus and specials, but no sign explaining the process or how things would work. We ended up asking one of the staff who was cleaning tables, and he briefly said that we could seat ourselves. At the end of our visit, we complained to the manager, Mark, about the whole experience, and he eventually explained the concept to us, but a host should greet people by the door and explain the concept first. Not only would we go in with different expectations, but we would not have so many moments of uncertainty about getting our food.
We figured out that there were food stations, and we spent some time browsing the different options. I had seen sushi listed on the menu, but it took me forever to find the sushi station because it was nowhere near the seafood and it blended in with the bar until you looked closely. The manager later explained that the concept was a “European market where you get lost in a maze”. Without knowing that ahead of time, the layout just looked confusing and badly organized. The company is successful in Canada, but this is their first venture in the U.S. Companies need to understand the culture when expanding to a new territory. McDonalds is different in other countries, and Coke tastes different when you travel overseas.
So anyway, I ordered the 12-piece sushi lunch special. Want to guess what comes in a 12-piece sushi special? The answer is a few paragraphs down.
The sushi chef told me it would be 10 minutes. He wrote a line on a ticket and handed it to me. I had to ask him what to do with this ticket. He said I could pay at the cashier and sit down anywhere and they would bring the food to me. So I went to the cashier and paid, and sat down and waited. I noticed other people around me waving their tickets in the air, and finally a guy came and picked up our tickets. He went to the sushi chef, but the food wasn’t ready so he disappeared. I’ve heard from friends that it’s often better to purposely not give your ticket to the “waiter” and just look for your food at the station, then go up yourself and hand them the ticket so you can get your food. Otherwise, you could be waiting a long time for the waiter to do it. Well, in my case, the waiter was doing his job, but the sushi chef took 40 minutes to make the food. The manager said they were busy, but the staff should not promise your food in 10 minutes if it’s really going to take 40 minutes. I would have ordered from a different station if I knew the true wait time.
The ticket system is confusing, and the waiters don’t always notice when you sit down. According to the manager, Foodlife actually copied the idea from this company and brought it to the U.S. first. They use the charge cards, which a lot of people hate. I can see management thinking of the tickets as a better solution, but your staff needs to execute the system properly for it to work.
My personal suggestion is to leverage technology. Be the innovator. With a single location in a well-defined space, I would design a reliable wi-fi system (which they had, but it didn’t seem to work well). Then allow people the option of using paper tickets, or their smartphone. Think of a new restaurant that shows your order on your iPhone or Android device, updates you on wait times, educates you on the concept, upsells the grocery specials, and saves paper at the same time! The technology is the easy part, it’s the vision and execution that’s missing. The concept is so important here, but it’s not communicated by any of the staff. The cashier should talk more when there’s only two people in line and I’m clearly trying to figure out what to do with the paper ticket.
So what’s in a 12-piece sushi lunch special? First of all, there wasn’t a single piece of raw fish. Not even the standard tuna, salmon, or yellowtail. Secondly, 8 of the 12 pieces were actually a single California roll cut into 8 pieces. Personally, I don’t think you can call it a 12-piece sushi special if it’s really a roll, 2 shrimp, and 2 unagi. The manager said the sushi was outsourced, but that’s not an acceptable excuse to the customer.
Then again, when I was ordering, I did notice that the actual tuna in the case looked off-color, so I might have been lucky not to eat anything raw. That goes to the next complaint, which was that the food just didn’t taste good at all. My wife got a panini sandwich, and it didn’t even come close to anything from Potbelly or Panera. Plus the waiter delivered it without chips, and no one told her she had to walk back to the station and get the bag of chips herself. If you’re going to promote yourself as organic and freshly made to order, the food has to taste good.
In the end, we talked to the manager and I’ve mentioned some of his comments already. He started off badly, making excuses like “we’re busy during lunch” (though the place was pretty empty) and “well you ate most of your food” (not the right thing to say to a mother with a crying baby who’s willing to eat anything to get out of there). However, the manager did eventually explain the original concept to us, and that was how he saved the company from a scathing review. If nothing else, I realized that a big part of the disappointment with Wilde & Greene was that they didn’t set expectations properly. If a host explained the European market where you get lost in a maze and you turn a corner to discover new cuisine, that would have avoided our annoyance with the layout. Even the Wilde & Greene website says “Site under construction” on their history page (after being open for a year now). If the sushi chef had told me 40 minutes instead of 10 minutes, I would have chosen something different. If the cashier had explained that someone would come to my table to get the paper ticket and pick up my food for me, I wouldn’t have been confused and looking around at other customers waving their tickets in the air. If I was amazed and delighted by a cool new technology that makes my order go smoothly and gives me something to browse while I’m waiting, I would have been writing a positive review and telling my friends on Facebook. When you set expectations, you can delight or you can disappoint. Either way, customer expectations are key to the success of your business.
Don’t agree with this review? There are clearly some happy customers, though Yelp shows 2 out of 5 stars and a lot of complaints that sound similar to mine. But a post on Patch has some positive comments. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide. I see it as a poor execution of a potentially good concept, but there are lessons here for hotels and travel companies as well. Delight your customers, train your staff well, innovate and iterate quickly. Don’t take a year to fix what’s broken, there’s always opportunity in doing things better now.