Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Buffalo Wild Wings: Great Customer Service, If the Food Doesn't Kill Ya

Earlier this summer, I went to eat at a little restaurant I call B-Dubs. You might call it BW3's, Buffalo Wild Wings, or perhaps you go old-school and throw in the Weck. Either way, my summer visit to the Blacksburg version of the restaurant I had frequented at its Huntington, W.Va., location as an undergraduate at Marshall University did not go so well. The food was cold and soggy, and the sorority girl server was, like, oh my goodness, totally incompetent.

So me, being who I am, I get online and fill out the complaint form on B-dubs' Web site. It wasn't long thereafter until I received a phone call from Mark Puckett, vice president of operations. Yeah, he personally called me. Puckett told me he was aware of problems at the Blacksburg location and that something like 90 percent of the staff had been retrained and the leadership there had been shaken up a bit. A well-deserved shakeup, trust me. I was impressed that Puckett called me in the first place to apologize for the experience I had and to let me know he had done something about the problems at the restaurant. To add to that, Puckett mailed me a $25 gift certificate to go back and try out the restaurant again. And so I did.

Before I talk about my return visit, I should talk about what was going on behind the scenes this whole time. It wasn't just my comment that caused a stir at B-dubs of Blacksburg. I'm not sure if there were other comments submitted, but I do know that the Virginia Department of Health likely made more of an impact than I or any other commenters did. I felt pretty special there for a week or so, until I found out that Buffalo Wild Wings was cited with 15 critical violations and 40 non-critical violations by the health department since February, according to the Collegiate Times in a story published this month. The newspaper also reported that during an August inspection, around the time I visited, there were at least four critical violations, and one violation included not storing chicken at the proper temperature. Yeah, my stomach turned a little just now. Oh, and the CT didn't get the same treatment I got — Puckett didn't return their requests for comments.

So I commend B-dubs for some great customer service and actually at least pretending to care that I wasn't going to give them my patronage any longer. I think that's great customer service and a good business model. But I just really want to know if the health problems there have been fixed (I didn't see this story by the CT until after I did my return trip courtesy of the gift certificate... but I didn't get sick). And I also think it's poor practice for the company not to comment when the newspaper of the school whose students keep it in business tries to get information from management (the local manager referred questions to Puckett rather than just being honest and talking to the reporter).

Well, I did use the gift certificate from Puckett and went back to B-dubs the other night for dinner. I had a server named George, and he was definitely better at his job than the ditz that I had the last time. I ordered boneless wings, half Asian Zing, half Mango HabaƱero. I also tried out the new chili-cheese fries. Yeah, there are some new menu items that seem pretty good, although they still didn't bring back the Dynamic Sauce Trio. Really? Is it that hard to take something you already make anyway (boneless wings) and give me the option of three different little dipping-sauce containers rather than just getting wings already smothered in a prechosen sauce? Whatever, I worked around it. Anyway, the food was great, and I don't think any of the guys I was with had a problem either.

I'll definitely go back to Buffalo Wild Wings again because of the great customer service I experienced and because of the food quality improvements. However, I don't think I'll do so until I see another health report that shows the restaurant as finally upholding standards. I just wonder how many people like me there are out there who did not comment and just decided not to go back to B-dubs or who will not go there at all now because they saw the terrible amount of health violations in the news. As a public relations practitioner, my advice to Buffalo Wild Wings would be to start a campaign locally around this restaurant on and off campus that focuses on two things: (A) Our service and food quality are back to what you love about us, and (B) We apologize that our restaurant did have health violations that were not up to the high standards we have for ourselves, but the problems have been corrected and we invite you back for our great wings. Being honest and engaging in a dialogue with the public can go a long way. Perhaps even longer than a $25 gift certificate.


Wendy said...

Loved the story and the follow up by management! Gotta love a place that actually cares enought o try and make things right!!!
Thanks for sharing.

JD said...

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, I do agree I have a new level of respect for B-dubs after their contacting me directly to actually explain changes they have made. Regardless of whether it was based on comments or things they are in the processing of remedying for the health department, they are still making changes when they need to be made, and that's great.

I do wish they would let the community know more about these changes and invite back the people who may have been turned off in the past few months.