Service design has been a passion for me since learning about it at a conference in Ottawa not long ago. This article marks the first of a series of independent Service Design Reports in hopes to learn more about the practice. This is a personal project and I’m not getting paid for this. My intention is to show how they might be improved with a human-centred service design perspective.
After 2 years of construction, this upscale pub finally opened in Thornhill, Ontario. This is an honest account of my second visit including some recommendations based on online reviews.
Full Report Table of Contents
- My Story – empathy exercise
- Summary of Research from Online Reviews
My friends and I decided to give this place a second chance since the food and service seemed okay last time if a bit overpriced. We arrived at 10:35 pm and found parking to be easy to find but confusing in the darkness since it appeared to be shared with other nearby properties. We weren’t sure which spots were owned by the pub so picked one and hoped we wouldn’t get towed.
Heading inside, there was no queue but also no one seated near the entrance because the music was so loud in that one area. The environment felt very cool and swanky since everything was so new. We were greeted by a waitress who told us to wait a few minutes while she went to investigate the table situation. Another waitress in the meantime had come up to us to ask if we’ve been taken care of already. We told her it was fine – the other girl would come back.
We were eventually seated in a 2 person booth however because there were 3 of us, they added an extra chair. The menus were on the table first but it took a while before the waitress came over to ask about our drink orders. We noted the difference in the menu since our last visit. Some of the prices went down, and the number of options was reduced to one page. Unless they reprint their menus every day, the Soup of the Day and Weekly Specials looked to be the same regardless of what day or week it was.
Side thought: Why are omelets part of the weekly special? Do they actually offer breakfast?
My friends ordered beers and I asked for a tea. The waitress looked at me oddly and said she would ask the bartender if they would ‘make me one’ to which I thought was very strange considering it’s a beverage that a lot of bars in the GTA do offer. I passed it off by giving her the benefit of the doubt considering how new the place was.
A moment later, the beers arrived. Compared to last week, the glasses did not come refrigerated this time.
My tea took a while (about 20 minutes) to arrive and the water temperature was tepid. The waitress said it was Persian tea. I was excited to try it. Unfortunately, it was extremely bitter with a sour and burnt taste to it. My friend tasted it and also made a face. Just awful. He suggested perhaps it came from a concentrated pitcher and they forgot to add hot water to balance the flavour.
We flagged down our waitress and mentioned our grievance about the tea. We even asked her to try it because it shouldn’t be served to customers. She tried to defend the bar by saying “I don’t really drink tea. It’s the way the owners here like it.” While I don’t consider myself a tea connoisseur, I do know tea is not supposed to taste sour. I doubt that Persians like it this way either.
The waitress offered to bring a different drink but I waved her away asking for water. I assumed that she would cancel the order. Instead, and without verifying with me, she brings me hot water with a tea bag on the side. At that point, I literally just wanted water to wash the taste of their tea from my mouth. (In the end, she did not cancel the tea order and charged us for “coffee”.) I had to ask for the water a second time before she brought it.
My friends ordered the wings. It was about $5 cheaper than last week. $12 instead of $18, which was still overpriced but now it’s just reasonably overpriced. The wings were, again, very small but tasty. The fries tasted sadder than they do at McDonald’s. Last week they were fresh. That evening they tasted like they were fried from frozen.
The food arrived without any cutlery or napkins. I understand we ordered finger food but at least provide the basics. Considering the price and intended clientele, I assume people would want cutlery! We had to formally ask for it.
We placed a second order of the same wings however they arrived with the flavour instead. She apologized, saying it was for a different table. She took the dish away and after a moment brought back the correct order.
Afterwards, the bills arrived promptly and the waitress brought the machine over. She set it up for us, placed it on the table, and left. Most waitresses at other restaurants stay to ensure the payment went through. Luckily it did, and she did not return for a while. My friend had to set-up the machine for the second payment himself.
We got up to leave. There were 2 waitresses by the door. None of them waved at us as we left.
My own feeling is that we would probably not go back. They didn’t do anything to retain us, and while the service was prompt, there was nothing remarkable about the overall experience.
Not having interviewed the staff to get the whole picture, here were my assumptions about what might have transpired on each of my points.
- There’s no website and no information other than Google Maps. Maybe there’s no dedicated designer to work on it or it wasn’t done on time.
- It’s hard to see what parking spots belong to Thornhill Pub. It’s easy to miss when you’re coming from Clark Ave. at night. They likely don’t hear any feedback about this.
- Multiple waitresses greeting us at the door is a sign of either disorganized service or too many waitresses per table. Perhaps no dedicated greeter.
- The menu changing from week to week is likely a reaction to the public reviews about their expensive prices and hit or miss food, therefore the new simplified menu with fewer items.
- To be fair, I didn’t see tea on the menu which is why she charged us for ‘coffee’. This might mean that she doesn’t get the request often. The tea they originally provided was likely from something similar to a Zavarka filled with concentrated loose leaf tea that had been sitting for awhile. The temperature when it came implied it had been sitting for at least 20 minutes before being brought over. There was no steam at the top.
- The lack of table settings might be a sign they were too busy and I did see some of the staff sitting down at a table folding napkins.
- Their food supplier or the chef might have changed which would explain the difference in the quality of their fries. They might have tried a different shortcut with the fries by freezing them.
There’s a consensus that the pub looks and feels very fancy and upscale. Everything is clean and comfortable. The menus could use some improvement. Music is good but is at points too loud. The patio is beautiful. It is unclear about where to park.
The food is too expensive for the portions. The beer is fresh and cold. The menu lacks variety and when the food arrives, the quality tends to be hit or miss. The wings are small but tasty.
The service is also hit or miss. Customers identified that the staff seemed untrained in customer service and hospitality. No one answers the phone. Some customers waited too long for either service or food. Others had attentive waitstaff.
Most customers felt the prices were too high for what you get. This sentiment might have changed slightly since the new menu was released with lower prices.
|Week of Jul 30||1, 4, 5||3.3 stars|
|Week of Aug 6||1, 5, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 5, 1,2, 2, 1||1.9 stars|
|Week of aug 13||3, 3, 4, 5, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 5||2.7 stars|
|Week of Aug 20||5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 5, 4, 1, 2, 5, 1, 5, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 3||3.1 stars|
|Week of aug 27 (3 days)||5, 1, 2, 5, 4, 2, 5||3.4 stars|
Summary of Recommended Improvements
Your frontline staff is a key touchpoint for all customers. They need to have a unified voice. Consider training all staff in the following:
- Customer Service – with focus on customer retention
- Table Settings – especially if you wish to be upscale
- Hosting and Hospitality – You need at least 1 host at all times to figure out all the logistics, provide customer service, and answer phones
Establish a brand that will encompass the feeling you wish to convey. This is important for emotional resonance and memorability. It can include:
- The voice and tone of your printed content and staff
- The feeling of any advertising or marketing materials
- Website that communicates who you are as a bar or restaurant
I’ll reserve judgment here as I am not a chef and food is very subjective.
- Definitely, hire a chef to do a review of the kitchen and get everything organized.
- Fix the price to food portion ratio by getting familiar with other competing restaurants and bars in the area.
- Get a sound specialist to come in and fix the music so it’s distributed evenly throughout the place. Presently, it’s very disruptive.
- Examine the parking situation outside the pub. Your neighbours adjacent to you might not like your patrons illegally parking there. It can be as simple as painting some lines on the ground and posting some signage about where patrons are allowed to park.
A Note about Loyalty
We didn’t feel that we received any special treatment, especially for the first or second visit. The pub needs to work to earn loyalty. First-time customers are only 40% likely to return. Second and third visits are similar. By the 4th visit, the chance the customer returns jumps to 80%.
This neighbourhood pub needs to ensure their experience is consistently positive in order to stay alive. Everyone was drawn by its beautiful renovations but if the service design isn’t lined up, it may quickly go downhill. I myself am hopeful that this business takes this seriously and listens to their customers.
With more time, here are other items I would do to expand on the findings here:
- Competitive analysis
- Service Blueprint to map the ideal service experience
For those who are curious, feel free to take a look at full the raw report I created on Google Docs.