Monday, April 09, 2007

Birthday cakes at restaurant

Hey guys,

Just wanna elicit some thoughts ... I have been wondering how to resolve for a while and to find the "perfect" solution for both customers and my own sanity as a restaurant owner.

Here I am, a restaurant owner who has put up a sign that says "Outside food are not allowed" .. yet customers somehow just brings their own birthday cakes as if it falls into a totally separate category of foods and asks us to keep in the fridge and then serve them when they are ready.

Now here's the beef, my staff and I have reached the point where we think it is just pure ridiculous that we are gonan provide service and plates for these customers who will stain our wares and have us clean up after their party for free ... Now I am not sure you guys noticed, the little tiny slice of cake that you stain on the plates will casuse quite a bit of a cleaning chore and how environmentally unfriendly it is. I have started a rule that provides party napkins now instead of plates and recently, this table was so displeased with that and said very loudly "woah! so dao" (as in "atas" or so "hostile").

I really wanna just walk over and take all the napkins away and say "please eat your cakes outside, cos outside foods are not allowed". I am already making exceptions for customers to bring birthday cakes though I serious think that all customers are getting a little too insensitive and taking things for granted.

So guys share your thoughts. Here I am stuck between being a nice guy to allow this and at the same time being angry that people are taking it for granted. What would u do if you're in my position? How would you educate the customer without offending them?

UPDATE: 15 Oct 2008

I feel compelled to update this post since i realize pple keep coming back to this article and never really reading my updates/responses in the comments.

Well, the stand is I am allowing customers to do whatever they want with respect to birthday cakes - they can bring their cakes in, and eat it. We provide utensils and plates and we do the clean up ... no extra charge.

But I do not feel that all restaurants should do this, and I would support/understand those who would not allow such options. The only reason I can't do that anymore is for consistency - too many of my regular customers have been enjoying this service that I can't take it away.

Many people who responded reply in a very angry manner and feels strongly they deserve to be allowed to bring their own cakes to any restaurants and eat it.

All I can say is, please be considerate and understanding to those who do not provide such service, for not every company can afford to do that. And if you do this, please order some food as well and be a good customer too.


Anonymous said...

I can understand where you're coming from, but rather than burn bridges with your customers and even more potential ones (friends of friends), wouldn't it be nice to just take it in and go that extra mile?

The other way to do it perhaps follow the corkage charge system, but customers may still find it unfriendly.

As a customer, when I go to a restaurant, I appreciate the fact that they will accommodate our requests if they are able to. If it's a place worth recommending, I'd encourage my friends to patronise the restaurant.

Mar said...

It really depends on how much hassle this really is, and how often it's being done. I mean, a simple birthday cake isn't really a big deal, since it happens once in a blue moon, and usually it isn't the management that is involved in the transaction, but the waiter/waitress that does the extra work. Usually, when something like that happens, my friends and I will throw some extra money towards the waiter/waitress b/c they went out of their way to accomodate our b-day party. But we're Americans, we appreciate and reward silly feel-good things like service a lot more than Asians do...

At any rate, I think you've got a good point if things are happening that make it unreasonable, for instance:
(1) If there are MANY b-day cakes in the fridge and it's taking up a lot of room
(2) If they stain a LOT of plates, and you've always got double the # of plates to clean at night
(3) If they don't eat a real meal, just want to have a place to have a birthday celebration

We've got nice places in LA that charge "plate fees" for birthday cakes and the like, just like the "corking fee." Nothing ridiculous, maybe $5. But the important thing is to let the customer know BEFOREHAND that the fee will be charged, and explain the reason for it. For example, let them know that you need to pay for the extra soap and water for all these little small dishes, and while that cost is included in the price of your food, it isn't included when they bring their own stuff.

Alternatively, you can take the less formalized route and when people bring in cakes, tell them about how much extra effort you guys are putting in when you're:
(1) Keeping the cake in your fridge, taking away space for other food
(2) Keeping extra matches around at all times so you can accomodate
(3) Giving the table extra forks, knives, plates, and washing them all free of charge
(4) Singing a song?
...and that you would greatly appreciate an extra tip at the end of the meal for accomodating them. Then they choose an appropriate extra amount of money to give you, and yet you're making it purely optional, so they don't feel pressured to give you extra gratuity.

But the most important issue is communication. People don't mind paying a little more if they know how much trouble it's causing you, or using small napkins if they know that providing such little courtesies is costly. But they'll get offended if you provide them sub-standard service (like those napkins) w/o letting them know why you're doing so, or if you tack on a "surprise charge" on the bill. Talk directly to your customers who're bringing in the birthday cakes. They'll tell you more accurately what a reasonable solution might be better than your friends who read your blog.

Anonymous said...

I also find weird that people bring their own birthday cakes.

And yes you should put a corkage charge on the B-Day cakes.

Yuhui said...

Erm, sell cakes instead?

Yee-Wei Chai said...

Good comments guys.

Mar: you're giving some ideas I wish I could implement though it might work in New York, I'm afraid Singaporeans are too pampered to find such extra charges "unreasonable". You are right with the point about communication, the problem is how do you pass that message to them that all those "free services" they expect actually cost money and they should not take them as "expected"

Yuhui: I sell cakes, just not as fancy. But a customer that says "hey you dun sell cakes" is just being unreasonable. Does it mean you can go into any shop bring your own foods and say "hey you dun sell them, so I can bring them in"? It was a flawed reasoning to begin with.

Anonymous: Accomodating requests like "hey can u gimme more rice"? Can you put less sugar? Can you hide my flowers somewhere until my girl arrives? No problem. But "hey can u serve a cake i bought from elsewhere and clean up after my mess?" Ermm ... this is happening a few times a week that I am seriously thinking I am just doing bad business.

Anonymous said...

um, i think it is good practice for you to accomodate such requests. if its a birthday celebration, wouldn't that mean you are getting quite a lot of people? i think that would be reason enough for you to accomodate their requests. if you agree to their birthday wishes, not only are you making them happy, but their guests as well. which could mean return business for you.

if you end up telling them that they can't eat their cake in your restaurant, that will probably cause them to boycott your restaurant and perhaps in turn tell their friends to do the same.

as a regular patron of restaurants, i know that no matter how good the food is, if the service is terrible, and the waiters are rude, i won't be going back. don't forget the saying, 'the customer is always right', no matter how wrong they are.

skidzzy said...

hey yuwei

i think singaporeans can be reasonable. if you explain upfront about the costs involved, and ask either for additional tip for the wait staff or tell them the need to charge a small plate fee most of them should be fine...

else u can accomodate them and hope this is a short phenomenon? or hey...y not open a birthday party restaurant? ...

Anonymous said...

I think this kind of things is pretty normal in American restuarants, but then tipping is also expected and the amount should be reflected when the restuarant provides extra services in order for the b-day party to bring their own cake.

I wouldn't recomend the "corkage" charge on cakes or even force them to purchase a cake from the rest. Maybe just live with it in the name of providing superior service and hope that the good will returns to you in future happy customers. If this happens a lot, then maybe it is a sign that many customers give you repeat business for their friends b-days as well.

Anonymous said...

I have been to Michelin starred restaurants that are happy to serve customers a birthday cake that they have brought in.

What you are complaining about is the need to provide service to your customers, unfortunately for you good service is something that customers tend to value.

The customers that you are complaining about will also tend to come to a birthday party as a large booking and consume more alcohol (which is where your greatest profit margins lie), so I fail to see what your problem is.

Anonymous said...

happened to see your blog... frankly... as a fellow diner, I too get irritated as the noise generated and that irritating birthday song. Arrgghhh...

maybe a birthday free zone will help but it depends on what type of restaurant you are running. if it is a family type, it will be hard to refuse such demands.

Anonymous said...

wowowor, please let me know what resto you own, so i will know to avoid it, and ask my friends to do the same. its funny how you view this so negatively rather than as a biz opp to build goodwill and repeat biz. the threshold pop in singapore is really not that high, i think repeat biz is definitely essential. but obviously you think otherwise, and i am sure many of us would loathe to impose on you and your staff with our birthday cakes.

Yee-wei Chai said...

This is just crazy .. more than 1 year after I wrote this post, people are still coming back to this and getting all worked up over reading this. Well, maybe for those who wish to know, we are still allowing birthday cakes in the restaurant that I own and people are not charged extra for the extra plates they are using. Bizarre how just asking for thoughts about this issue, has ended up with people reaching the level of "I will boycott your place and your place sucks". C'mon guys relax ...

Anonymous said...

hi,,, ive had the same prediciment,, and now i say health and hygiene wont allow it as we have 5 stars in our restuarant and ive had to put up with some cakes i wouldnt feed my dog !!!! so we will take the cake out sing happy birthday to them,and then will cut the cake for them to take home,,, i supply birthday cakes and a huge range of home made desserts,, and i miss out big time if they eat there own cake !!!!