We went for a family lunch at the pub on Sunday.

We were given a two hour sitting, which I understand (pubs need to get as many covers in as they can right now, and to be honest, with three kids, two hours is more than enough to be sitting down!).

We waited an hour and a half for our meal (which I also understand – social distancing in the kitchen makes everything a whole lot harder).

We were eating dessert when the waiter came to tell us our two hours were up and we had to leave.

We explained that we had waited a long time for our meal and were just finishing off. His response? “I’m sorry but I can’t do anything about that. We have another booking and we need this table. I’ll bring you your bill”.

About as far as you can get from the perfect apology.

Here’s the thing: in the phrase, “I’m sorry but…”, the “but” takes the “sorry” away.

How could our waiter have handled it better?

  1. Say sorry. “I’m so sorry, I’m afraid we need your table back”.
  2. Explain what’s gone wrong. “Unfortunately we have another booking for this table now”.
  3. Own the mistake. “This is our fault. You waited too long for your meal”.
  4. Apologise again, and show how you’ve learnt from your mistake. “I really am very sorry about this. We will make sure this doesn’t happen again by allocating longer sitting times for our tables”.
  5. Offer a solution. “Perhaps we can move you through to a table in the bar area and bring you some complementary drinks to make up for this situation”.

Suddenly, a hostile and unpleasant situation has been completely transformed into an opportunity to demonstrate excellent customer service. Instead of leaving with a sour taste in our mouth, vowing never to return, we leave feeling sorry for them having to cope in such a difficult time for our hospitality industry, and telling friends how well they handled it. Diners around us, eavesdropping on us being asked to leave before finishing our meal, would have felt compelled to get onside with the waiter and hurry things along because they could see how genuinely bad he felt about this situation.

We are all human, and we all get things wrong sometimes. It’s how we respond to those mistakes that dictates what happens next.

So, remember the Perfect Apology:

Apologise – explain what’s gone wrong – own the mistake – apologise again – offer to fix it/provide a solution.