Was the Pei Wei Hostess Right?

Posted on: 04/27/15 8:39 AM | by Jonathan McKee

sorry-we're-closedLast night when I finished teaching my More Than Just the Talk parenting workshop in Albuquerque, NM, a bunch of us went out to catch a late night dinner together.

About 15 of us walked into Pei Wei (the poor man’s PF Changs) at 8:38 p.m. A young employee walks up to us and said, “Oh, wow. Yeah, I just wanted to tell you that we close at nine o’clock.”

One of the guys in our group, a police officer, looked at his watch confused and said, “Well… it’s 8:38.”

She said, “Well, it takes about 15 minutes to cook your food and that would only leave you about 5 minutes to eat.” She paused… registering her own words, then quickly added. “Not that we would kick you out.”

We all smiled and said, “Okay. No worries.” And left.

15 feet from the door we all paused and began debating. “What the heck just happened there?” We laughed and began discussing, “Do you think her manager knows she’s turning away large groups of customers 22 minutes before closing?”

So as we were all eating our dinner at Chipotle (who gladly welcomed our party of 15), the topic of discussion was, “Was this girl’s customer service shrewd?” We (most of us over 40) all thought it was ridiculous. But then one of the couple’s 18-year-old daughter showed up. Her dad chuckled as she was off ordering her food and told us, “Ask her what she thinks.”

I commented. “Oh, I know exactly what she’s going to think. She’s a Millennial. She’s going to side with the girl at Pei Wei.”

As we told this 18-year-old the story, we hadn’t even finished the story and she quickly retorted, “Oh, absolutely. That’s so rude!”

We all looked at each other confused.

“Who was rude?”

She continued. “It’s rude to walk in when the restaurant is closing like that. People do that to us at Starbucks all the time.”

That’s when the discussion became really engaging.

So… what do you think?

Was the Pei Wei girl right? Do you think the Pei Wei owners would approve of her actions? Or more intriguingly… is this younger generation going to invoke a new “employee first” customer service mindset that old customers (like me) will have to adopt?

12 Replies to “Was the Pei Wei Hostess Right?”

  1. Absolutely not. She was wrong. Serving hours are until 9:00 pm, not 8:40 pm. I would assume her manager would be upset.

    I am 50 now, but I remembering working at a pizza place in my teens. There was a church group that would show up most very Sunday evening 20 minutes before closing. Yes, you would complain personally because you were hoping to get out on time after taking an hour to clean up and close out after locking the doors, but you knew it was the right thing to do.

    But also ways of thinking have changed in a lot of things these days. Guess I am OLD!

  2. I have owned businesses for over 30 years and I have always said, “everyone should own a business at least once in their life!!” I think it would change most peoples perspective on customer service!

    In my retail business, not only would I welcome a customer in at closing time, but if while that customer was in the store shopping, another customer came in AFTER closing time… I would welcome them in also!! And I would continue to do that until there were no customers left in the store and none coming in. Several times I would “close” 30min to and hour AFTER “official” closing time. In my small town, people would even call me at home after hours to get something they needed… and I would go open up to get it for them. But, I got a LOT of compliments, AND business because of that.

    But you may ask, “I understand why an owner would do that, but why would an employee do it?” Because if the employee runs off the business, they are literally firing themselves!! No business= no need for employee’s!! The owner of the Pei Wei may never know what this employee did, and she may not get fired specifically for that incident, but she still may lose her job because of it!!!

  3. IMO this young ladies customer service is HORRIBLE! If business hours are until 9pm then her and the rest of the staff at that restaurant shouldn’t flinch if customers come in at 8:59pm for dinner. As someone who worked in the restaurant business as a teenager/college-aged person I can tell you that her shift probably didn’t end until somewhere between 10-11pm so really this service person is being totally selfish when it comes to squeezing customers from being served before closing. And I also would say that if the owner knew she was turning away customers like that she wouldn’t have a job much longer either. Just my $.02!

  4. As long as their hours state that they’re open until 9:00 then they should serve customers until that hour. If they don’t want to serve large parties they need to post a disclosure that the establishment won’t serve parties over a certain amount after say, 8:30. It wouldn’t serve that restaurant well to do that though, in my opinion.

  5. I feel this conversation needs to be had between the employee and the owner or boss to set expectations across the board. Some bar/restaurants deal with this scenario well by stating what time the kitchen closes. That’s what needs to be shared with the customer – same message consistently for all customers.

    And millennials…welcome to the real world of the salaried employee who puts in hours of non-compensated overtime.

  6. It does appear to be an increasing trend in business that people don’t truly and genuinely care about the customer.
    I’ve been a manager at a fast food shop and a laser tag arena. At both places, you had the people who would go the extra mile to serve, while quite a few others actively discouraged business. They wanted to do the bare minimum.
    I’ve served customers at the fast food shop 10 min before we were meant to go home. (We still got out on time)
    I wouldn’t be going back to that restaurant if that’s what they did to me, or I would lodge a complaint.

  7. My son who works at a grocery store feels the same way. He doesn’t like it when someone walks in the store 2 min. before closing and proceeds to buy a whole basket full of groceries. Even though he knows that “the customer is always right”, he feels customers also need to respect the workers time, who need to go home to do homework (like him)!

  8. I’m 28 and I run a family business (Local Online Auction Company). I guess I understand both sides. We personally serve each customer that comes into our business so customer service is huge to us. Today actually we had someone stop by at 4:30 and we closed at 4pm. She asked if we were closed and if she could still pick up her stuff still. I told her we were closed but I could help her get her stuff anyway because I understand her time is precious too and it saves her another trip to our business and avoids irritation. I do get frustrated when people repeat coming in at the last minute and take their time (especially if I have other obligations to tend to). But in the end, we love to make our customers feel appreciated and like they matter.

    On another note, one time I took our youth group to a Neighboring city to eat Taco Bell. We arrived at 9:52 and they had already locked the doors when closing time for the diner was 10pm. I called headquarters. The. End.

    Pei Wei Girl was wrong. Bye Bye Business!

  9. My husband use to wait on tables at a place that closed at 9. Often he had worked the whole day and was just ready to close up shop. I know that he was always irritated when a group, esp a large group that would take a lot of time, would come in with only 30 minutes to spare but he never turned anyone away. He knew that it was his job to make the place inviting and to get those return customers. So while I completely understand the “how rude!” sentiment of last minute diners, customers are worth an extra hour on the clock.

  10. If your in the SERVICE industry, then it is your job to provide SERVICE. I spent 8 years providing SERVICE and bit my tongue weekly, if not daily, in order to promote business and garner good reviews.

    The customer isn’t always right, but when your paycheck and business are reliant on them…unless you’re the soup Nazi…you can find another line of work.

  11. Both parties are in the wrong here. Your party should have considered the consequences of your near-closing arrival, especially if there were other viable options nearby like Chipotle, and especially at a full service restaurant (versus a coffee shop or retail store). It would have taken your party at least an hour to get drink orders, decide menu items, split up the bill,etc.–much longer than 15 minutes.

    BUT the employee should have welcomed your business with a smile anyway.

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