30-day Challenge – Day 25

There is a well known adage about business success in relation to a customer’s experience:

A happy customer tells one friend, but an unhappy one tells everybody

Today, I write as both a happy and unhappy customer with experiences in the same product category, from two different brands. More importantly this post is so realistic, it serves as a practical case study on how to deliver the best customer experience possible – whether you are in the luxury, mid, or low product/service segments. Today’s post is about restaurants, and based on the title of this blog, I’m talking about fine dining. I’ll talk about two specific fine dining experiences I had on Sunday (12/11/11), while taking my darling wife on a day of dedicated DSE (dining, shopping, and entertainment) in the Williamsburg, VA area.

The first restaurant, Second Street – An American Bistro, a stand alone restaurant on Second Street in Williamsburg) was absolutely great and worthy of a return visit with my best friends.

The other, Center Street Grill, left a lot to be desired – I wouldn’t recommend it to my enemies. Sincerely, any quick-serve restaurant would have been better than the Center Street Grill in New Town (a mixed-use community in Williamsburg).

I’ll start off comparing these restaurants on a range of aspects. You won’t see any comparison of the food, because I’m not a food critic. I didn’t get to try much at the Center Street Grill, and I doubt my experience there could have helped their food seem adequate at the least.


  • Second Street – An American Bistro: From the moment Taylor greeted us at the door to receiving the check, I felt like this restaurant really wanted to delight me with a unique experience.
  • Center Street Grill: Things started off well at this restaurant. The manager recognized my wife as a returning customer, and understood that this was my first visit to their establishment.


    • Second Street – An American Bistro: In simple terms, I felt like a VIP here. Our server, Annabeth, went as far as having the barkeep create my favorite cocktail (which was not even on the menu). To me, this experience was really “high-touch”. I even got a table visit from Steve, the manager, to ensure that my Brazilian Caipirinha was made to my specifications.
    • Center Street Grill: At this restaurant, the waitstaff tried to fullfil my beverage preference, but didn’t have the required ingredients. My wife had always been able to order a custom vegetarian sandwich (very simple – ciabatta bread with grilled vegetables and cheese), but this time they told us that they weren’t sure they had all the necessary ingredients in stock. It wouldn’t have been a bad experience if they stopped there. The staff went on to say that they didn’t even have the time to make my wife’s sandwich because they were too busy getting ready for a large dinner party. At that point, I’d had it.


    • Second Street – An American Bistro: Aside from the wonderful decor and inviting dining space, this experience was all about delight. I even took the time to fill out one of their survey cards, and I left what I thought was an appropriate tip for the level of service.
    • Center Street Grill: Though I didn’t try the gastronomic fare here, I still left a tip for our waiter because he really tried to give us good service – he had served us the complimentary bruchetta, which was nice. However, he was in no position to offset what I believe was a bad management culture. I was really surprised that they let an unsatisfied customer leave their premises, even after the manager was made aware of the situation. All he did was repeat the same sorry excuse. If they had only known that one of the dissatisfied customers was a habitual blogger on luxury goods and services. I’m glad I paid this restaurant for the privilege of not eating there.

Further Proof of the Customer Experience

Before writing this post, I thought about the impact it could have on the underperforming restaurant. I tried my best to find something that would help me forget about my bad experience, and discount my great one. My efforts at self-inflicted amnesia worked until I looked at the websites of each of these restaurants.

In any business, the effectiveness of the various interactions with the consumer will affect the the firm’s performance. In this case, a comparison of the digital “touch points” for these two restaurants showed the same divergence in marketing strategy.

The Second St. Grill website was full of elements that helped create the excitement necessary to actually go to the restaurant (what marketing gurus term “conversion”). Though the site may be too long (vertically) to have the most impact on visitors, there were several embedded social media, promotional, and educational elements that let you know this restaurant is ready to earn your patronage.

To the exact contrary, the Center Street Grill  has a dismal website. Someone needs to let them know that we are way past web 1.0 and heading fast into web 3.0. The site basically looked like someone “phoned it in” (did the bare minimum work). Maybe they are banking on their food creating the word-of-mouth buzz that trumps any marketing  strategy. However, they should’ve answered this question:

What do we want to tell people who have never been referred to us by a friend?

As a reader, ask yourself: if you didn’t have any friends as recommenders, which website would stop you from heating up a frozen dinner?

I’ll let you be the ultimate judge. Take a look at the websites yourself:

Second Street – An American Bistro

Second St. American Bistro Homepage - Click the picture to see the website for yourself

Second St. American Bistro Homepage - Click the picture to see the website for yourself

Center Street Grill

Center Street Grill Homepage - Click the picture to see the website for yourself

Center Street Grill Homepage - Click the picture to see the website for yourself

And the winner is: Second Street – An American Bistro (excuse my camera-phone pics. I guess you’ll just have to go try it yourself)

Second St. Vegetarian Sandwich - My wife's delectable choice.

Second St. Specialty Burger - My choice.

Some Second St. seating

Second St. bar area

Second St. bar

Disclaimer: Neither my wife, nor I was paid or rewarded for any of my comments. We paid for our food.

2 thoughts on “Night and Day: Fine Dining in Williamsburg, VA

  1. Hi,

    First, I would like to tell you how much I really enjoyed this post. Your blog over all is great and really like the layout, very cool.

    My boyfriend writes about restaurant reviews at http://meatmeblog.blogspot.com/ I accompany him frequently and it is astonishing how little these restaurants care these days when word of mouth is so “viral”. We live in LA specifically West Hollywood, where restaurants turn quickly if they do not have the best customer service reviews. However, the more “managers” and owners I meet along these trips, its blaspheme how little they are able to communicate. I am not sure if its a lack of training or just plain snobbery. As if they think they are better than us patrons for owning or working at the establishment? At any rate. I really enjoyed your blog. I think you might find Sean’s (my boyfriends) interesting. Thank you for the share.

    PS: I found it posted on Linked In.

    Share with your wife, my blog.. http://trendrighter.blogspot.com/

    Have a wonderful holiday season,

    • Laura,

      Thanks for the comment. It is important to highlight restaurants that do a good job of serving the upscale market. Sean’s blog is real nice. I read a couple posts on his as well as your blog. Thanks for the support.

      – Edmund

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