Justifiable Turndown or Lousy PR?

I am still trying to process a turndown I received this week.

I left home without my handbag on Tuesday.  Weighed down by probably five other tote bags, I didn’t sense its absence.  I didn’t notice my error till I was far from home and at the radio station where I tape.  I had to scrounge paper, pencil, kleenex.  Luckily, I stash a pair of reading glasses in the car, which saved me on that front.  No ID, of course, so I had to be careful to not encounter any circumstance where I’d need to be identified.  But to have no cash at all, and no credit card either, was the worst of it.  At one point, I popped into a P.O. to mail a letter before realizing I was unable to transact even so basic a task.  I passed a grocery where I wanted to pick up some items, but was caught up short again, knowing I was impotent.

As will eventually happen, I got hungry for lunch.  Now, I am a regular at a particular ethnic restaurant in town.  I figured that the owner of this small mom-and-pop would take care of me, would front me the money.  Well before the lunch crush hit, I entered, was warmly greeted by the owner, and immediately copped to my predicament.  “I have no money, but with your permission, I will call you later with my Visa # or however you might want to handle it.”  He at first thought I was there to pick up carryout, and said OK.  Then, when he realized I wanted a table, he paused for what must have been three l-o-n-g minutes of excruciatingly evident mental debate.  Finally, he said, “no, I just can’t.”

I emitted a thin, face-saving smile and said something about not having a very trustworthy face.

I thought about it later.  He was perfectly justified in turning down a customer lacking the seven bucks to cover a lunch.  But then I put on my PR hat.  One, I was a proven regular.  Two, I had admitted to my problem up front, rather than ordering and eating and only THEN feigning surprise that I was money-less.  Three, the irony was that I had, just a week before, taped a radio show about the glories of ethnic dining in Indy, prominently featuring this particular restaurant as one of the best around.  I did not mention this upcoming burst of free advertising to him, not wanting to play that card, not wanting to plead.  The decision was his to make, but I’m beginning to think that he made a poor business decision when viewed thru a PR lens.

What do you think?  What would you have done if you were the restaurant owner?  What would you have done if you were me?  By the way, I will return to this restaurant next week, with a friend who’s never been there, a date previously on my schedule.   Should I mention the incident again when I see the owner, or mention the upcoming radio boost he’s due to receive?  Or simply stash a twenty in the car so this never happens again?

5 Responses to “Justifiable Turndown or Lousy PR?”

  • John Dingledy:

    Methinks the restaurant owner messed-up and shoulda floated you the lunch, especially after all you have done for him, but resentments and revenge only hurt the possessor/perpetrator. Don’t expect an explanation or apology the next time you see him, but you may get one. From what I have read in your book so far, you have big mind. Let it be and then you’ll see?

  • The restaurant owner made a big goodwill mistake by refusing to serve you on faith. You offered to call him with your credit card number and he surely could tell that “you did not just fall off the turnip truck” by your speech and appearance. He should have played it forward so that in the future you could be kind to someone else in rememberance of your good fortune.

  • Thea:

    Floating around, read this & thought I would comment. I think we tend to see things through the lens of our own point of view & without knowing the owner’s side it is impossible to know his reasoning. From your story, it did sound as if he would have been willing to let you take away the food, just not sit at a table. This sounds fine to me. He was willing to take the risk on you not paying for food you would take away with you, but he couldn’t risk you taking a seat that prevented a paying customer from sitting & ordering who would pay. How long would you sit there? You had stacks of bags & probably looked tired so maybe he could miss out on 2 paying customers. I don’t think it had anything to do with you being obviously not trustworthy as you assert. He did consider it, for awhile too. Given the state of the economy, his bottom line probably doesn’t look too good at the moment. I’d give him a break. He could well have been as embarrassed to have to turn you down as you were to have to ask him for a favour. Unless you have diabeties, it was unlikely that you were going to suffer health problems from missing a meal, so it isn’t really a big deal. After being caught out at a petrol station with no money, I have taken to stashing $20 in the car. It has been a situation saver on quite a few occassions.

  • Gavin Wall:

    Perhaps you could give a positive plug for this restaurant and for those who go there on your recommendation, tell the the owner you recommended eating there. It is hard to know why the restaurant owner turned you down. Next time you go to this restaurant take a copy of your book, the Vigorous Mind, and sign the book for him. He will benefit, you will benefit and others will benefit too.

  • Scott Lewis:

    I can understand the restaurant owner’s desire not to get involved in the “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” routine. He was probably thinking that he would be setting a bad precedent that would be used by less trustworthy patrons as a justification for their wanting a lunch on credit – a lunch he would feel duty-bound to provide.

    Stash the twenty.

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