Saturday, February 13, 2010

Last Minute Lunch Order: A Customer Service Quiz

A department of roughly 50 people was going through week-long training, due to end on Friday. The training was being held in two sessions—morning and afternoon—so that only half the desks would be empty at any given time. The morning session ran from 7:30 to 11:30 and the afternoon from 12:30 to 4:30. On Thursday afternoon, the heads of the department decided to buy lunch for everyone on Friday. Their question to the administrative assistant was:
Can you—at 2 PM Thursday—find someone to provide lunch for 50, delivered at 11:30 AM Friday?

The AA started making calls to caterers the department had dealt with before. The first said, "No way." The second conversation went like this:
AA: You might not be able to do this.
Caterer: Try me.
AA: Can you get us lunch for 50, delivered tomorrow at 11:30?
Caterer: No problem! I can give you the same things you ordered last time. Would that be OK?

The AA also made quick arrangements with the facility to have a buffet table and a cart for beverages brought in, and someone to escort the caterer to the location.

Wow. Big points on the board. The caterer said "Try me," indicating a willingness to work with the customer. The caterer said, "No problem," indicating a can-do attitude. The caterer also said, "...the same thing you had last time," highlighting an existing relationship to the customer, and good records.

Flash forward to Friday at 11:30. The facilities people came in with the table and cart. No caterer, no lunch. 11:40. 11:45. The management says, "We'll wait another 10 minutes and then break and go ahead with the afternoon session." At 11:50, the caterer arrives with the food. But there seems to be a problem. There are no plates, no utensils, no napkins. The AA is off and running, and arrives a few minutes later, breathless, with the missing components. (Note: The caterer said "...the same thing you had last time," and last time included plates and utensils.)

  1. What was the first link in the chain of events that could be changed to improve the outcome?
  2. How did the caterer set the expectations of the customer?
  3. What questions could the AA have asked that would have improved the outcome?
Leave a comment with your answers. I'd love to hear from you.

Give it some thought.


  1. when the caterer said, same as last time the AA should have said can you go over that with me quickly. Otherwise they might have had prime rib last time... lol And the caterer after saying like last time and read the menu and asked if they needed utinsels..

  2. Thanks, Marshia - that's certainly one way to improve the situation. To assume that everything would be included without asking or going over a list was not a good idea.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts!