There’s a place that I really liked here in Christchurch called the Bangalore Polo Club.
It’s apparently fairly new, and it stands out really well from the other bars on ‘the strip,’ mostly because it has a carefully cultivated element of cool. The decor is beautiful, the drinks are great, and the attention to detail when it comes to their image is really obvious. The staff runs around in polo uniforms and they even have their own team, The Badgers.
Clever clever clever, and yet they’ve lost me as a customer because of one big foul-up that was due not to their look or feel, but their customer service.
The Foul Up
Mid-April, I decided to have my 25th birthday after-Laser Strike drinking festivities at the Polo Club. A double-handful of people showed up and we were having a great time, ordering more and more drinks, slapping backs, telling stories. Things were just as they should be, until I got a text from a friend who had left to meet her boyfriend as he made his way over to join us. She had left the bar to meet him halfway.
Usually leaving a bar wouldn’t be a mistake, but in this particular instance, my friend happened to not be wearing fancy shoes. Hell, most of us weren’t dressed up at all – t-shirts and jeans were the standard attire – but apparently the Polo Club has very strict rules about shoes. ‘No trainers (sneakers),’ said the bouncer.
Looking around I noticed many other people wearing similarly ‘unsuitable’ footwear, but the bouncers had apparently not been paying as close attention when they walked in, just like they hadn’t noticed my friend’s shoes when she came in the first time. No matter, I figure, it’s a chill place, so I’m sure they’ll make an exception.
‘Come on man, she was just in here. And look, you can’t even see her shoes, they’re covered up by her pants.’ This was true…all you could tell, upon VERY close inspection, was that her shoes were dark brown. They could easily pass for brown leather shoes.
‘Sorry, can’t do it. It’s against the rules. No trainers.’
Since they obviously didn’t care about the ridiculousness of the orders they were following, I decided to appeal to the more practical side of their brains.
‘Seriously, it’s my birthday. I’ve got a group of people in there and we’re ordering a lot of drinks. If she can’t come in, we’re going to another bar. We’d like to stay here, but, well, I’m sure you can see the predicament.’
‘Can’t do it. Boss’ rules.’
At this point I was fuming, partially because they bouncers were obviously enjoying the power trip, and partially because I hate to see a business that does so many things well do something so badly.
After finishing the drinks we had already ordered (and canceling the other orders we had made that hadn’t been filled), we moved on to another bar where we spent a whole lot of money and drew more people in as the night progressed.
What the Bangalore Polo Club did wasn’t technically wrong, but it was a VERY foolish thing for them to do.
I’m going to assume that the bouncer thing was not an anomaly here, because their response meant that either 1) the BPC hires pricks, which I don’t think was the case, because up until that point the people there had been pleasant enough, or 2) management is screwing up by not empowering the staff.
If the (more likely) latter case is true, it all comes down to giving the staff the ability to do right by the customer. You can talk all you want about giving customers a good experience, but if you don’t allow the staff to make case-by-case decisions on their own, you’re essentially telling them to fly without wings.
For example, the night of my birthday should not have resulted in my friends and I having to bail and go to another bar. If my friend had been stopped at the door at all (which I don’t think she should have been in the first place, but let’s assume they actually continue to periodically enforce the ridiculous shoe-rule), as soon as the bouncers found out that she was with a big group, a BIRTHDAY group no less, and was wearing shoes that would not have been identified as trainers to the casual observer, they should have been able to say ‘Okay, but next time wear something with more heel’ and let her back in to join us.
Hell, even in the worst case they should have felt like they could take the initiative and said ‘Well, we can’t make that decision, but let me get my boss over here and see what he thinks.’ Then the manager could have strolled over, declared that they would make an exception this one time, and not only would we have not hated the place, but rather felt extra-special, soft-and-fluffy thoughts about them. They did us a favor! They’re human, like us! Let’s come here all the time (and wear extra-nice shoes, because we don’t want to offend our new friends)!
Instead, here we are. The worst kind of offense is caused by the people you love, and the same holds true with businesses. Where once I would hold every business meeting and casual outing at the Polo Club, now I avoid it like the plague. Why would I go out of my way to help keep a place that so casually insults me and my friends in business?
Whether you run a bar, a small business, a corporation or a booth at your local craft fair, the bigger the fan that you offend, the more harsh (and vocal) a critic they will turn out to be.
Treat your customers like you’d want to be treated. There’s always a chance for rifts like this to be mended, but it’s much easier to just not let them happen at all.