Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good News Travels Quickly

Yes, those are two dead cockroaches floating in a cup of hot chocolate, and I apologize in advance for upsetting anyone's stomachs.

Over the last seven hours or so, I've witnessed the immense power of social media firsthand - it's staggering.

So on Sunday night, a bunch of young people went to this semi-popular tea/coffee lounge in uptown Toronto known for their overpriced drinks and deplorable customer service, when one of them was greeted with the lovely sight above after taking several sips of the drink. When they notified a waitress, she offered to take the tax off the bill. Yep, they still expected them to pay. But it gets better.

Naturally, the customers weren't satisfied, so they asked to speak to the manager. After lots of hemming and hawing, the waitress says that the manager's not there, and that they could waive the drinks bill, but they have to pay the food bill, because the kitchen and bar are completely separate, so their food was fine.

The customers then proceeded to parade around the store, showing other customers the offending drink, taking videos of other customers saying the date and time to be witnesses to the event. I think that taking evidence was smart, but making a scene was not.

The waitresses, upset, of course, tried to detain them and wouldn't let them leave until they'd delete their pictures and videos. Eventually, the police was called to sort out the mess, but even then, they insisted that the manager wasn't there.

One of the customers left her contact information for the manager, and after some back and forth, they got in contact. The manager claimed that she wouldn't discuss this matter any further with the customer because she's a 22 year old student and therefore immature. She also said that she would only speak to someone who speaks Mandarin or Cantonese. So the customer got her Chinese-speaking friend to call the manager, who hung up on him and later broke a promise to call back.

So the miffed clients took to their computers, began a Facebook group about the event, started a thread on RedFlagDeals.com, this forum about bargains that's really popular for Torontonians, and have threatened to take the issue to the media. They've also notified the Health Department, who said that they will conduct an investigation within 48 hours.

And news of this event has spread like wildfire! In about two days, the Facebook group has collected over 2100 members and counting. I've never seen a Facebook group grow this quickly before. I'm all the way here across the pond and I found out randomly over Facebook. As soon as I read all the materials through, I messaged my brother, who told me that he'd just gotten an e-mail at the same moment about the same thing, and he sent me the forum link. You can bet your Christmas presents that at least 80% of the people living in that part of town (and their friends and families!) now know about this scandal.

This is the power of instantaneous information.

The corporation that owns this restaurant threatened to take legal action against the creator of the Facebook group if they don't take down the group within 48 hours, which has galvanized a bunch of strangers into action, including law students, and other people who have consulted their lawyers and lawyer friends over whether or not a defamation suit can actually be built, which it cannot.

But the fascinating Facebook group has also shed light on why the customer service is always so deplorable there - according to several former employees, the management is complete garbage and the servers get treated and paid very poorly. In addition to the bill, 10% of it has to go to the company, and the servers keep whatever's left. So if a party leaves an 11% tip, the server only gets to keep the 1%. And if a party leaves less than 10%, the servers have to pay the company out of their own pocket. What kind of ridiculousness is that? So the servers who work there routinely lose money - after all, they're always pissed, so the service is always awful, so people probably usually pay 10% or less. Their managers also routinely pretend to be absent whenever sticky situations arise, apparently.

Now, I don't think the corporation will take a fatal hit for this, because they own a bunch of other establishments that are also reasonably popular. And even after this, there are people who say that they would still go to the other location of this restaurant. But really, they must not have benefitted from Andy Lau's public service announcement several years back - This kind of service just won't cut it anymore. If they had just apologized profusely and waived the entire bill, they wouldn't have all this negative publicity and potentially lose a profitable asset such as this restaurant. And their questionable practices would never have gotten this much attention.

But the Facebook group creator's claim that they don't intend to tarnish the restaurant's reputation? I call bullsh!t. Classic butt-saving disclaimer, although I'm not blaming them at all.

By the way, today is a very special day, scandals aside, because it's my honey's birthday! Happy Birthday, Handsome! I miss you! XOXOXO

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