There are a wide range of customer service experiences to be found in NYC restaurants. One one hand you have people like Danny Meyer, who thinks of himself as being in the “hospitality” business rather than the “restaurant” business; or Thomas Keller, who constantly reminds his staff that customer service is the most important part of a restaurant. On the other end of the spectrum you have someone like Kenny Shopsin, who doesn’t give a f*ck what you think or want, and will be happy to telly ou that to your face (as he’s kicking you out of his restaurant). In fact, his attitude is an important part of eating at his restaurant. In between these polar extremes you have everything else, from indifference to clueless to casual.
I bring this up because of the shoddy way I was treated at Sullivan Street Bakery when I visited recently. Not by the young lady who took my order and my money; she was very nice and polite. I am speaking of the way I was treated after paying, by the supervisor who emerged from the back as soon as I pulled out my camera and began to take pictures of the beautiful baked goods.
I will pause here for a reality check. As a food blogger, I know that it is somewhat ridiculous to walk into an eating establishment to take pictures. I have been witness to myriad reactions to this; usually I get amused smirks. Only once have I been told not to take pictures, and I politely apologized and immediately put my camera away. I understand a “no photos” policy, and I will happily comply with such a policy. This is not what happened to me at Sullivan St. Instead of being told not to take photos (a reasonable request) I was asked what I thought I was doing (an unreasonable reaction). After I apologized and put the camera away, I was further accused of potentially being a spy from another bakery, there to (I suppose) steal trade secrets. When Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan St. Bakery, appears on television to show the world how he makes bread ( and encourages everyone to do it at home), why would a rival bakery even bother to do this? Sullivan St. is under no obligation to let anyone take photos inside their store. They do have an obligation to provide good customer service.
In my real job I am a retail manager. I am experienced enough to know that the customer is not always right. Despite this, customer service is my main priority. My store also has a “no photos” policy and I have had to ask customers to stop taking photos. I have never once asked them why they were taking photos or accused them of anything. I have simply and politely asked them to stop. I sometimes get questions as to why they have to stop, but I have never gotten an argument. It is one of my customer service policies not to start a fight with a customer.
When I go to other retail establishments (including restaurants) I do not expect any special treatment. I do often pay special attention to the way that customers act and are treated; sometimes I am appalled by what happens, sometimes I am pleasantly surprised by how far out of their way some supervisors are willing to go to please a customer, even an unreasonable one.
Out of deference to the gentleman at Sullivan St., I have not used any of the photos that I took while inside the bakery. Because obviously they have a strict policy regarding photos being taken in the bakery.
I can hear you now: Enough about the customer service already. How was the bread?
First I sampled a slice of “pizza” topped with potato ($3.50). There were too many onions, not enough potatoes. The flat bread itself was quite good, and the slice made for a perfect snack on-the-go.
I also brought home a loaf of the pane pugliese ($4.00), the famous no-knead bread made at the source. I included two pictures because it is so beautiful and also incredibly delicious. Slightly sour, perfectly crunch crust; it is among the best bread I have ever had in my life.
And yet because of the way I was treated, Sullivan St. Bakery has lost me as a customer. Not because I was asked to stop taking photos, but rather because instead of asking this, I was scolded by an employee. I will not be giving them any more of my money (I will probably try the pizza at Co. once the crowds die down — though apparently the customer service there is not so great either). I can get great bread at my local Farmer’s Market, and I can get it without being accused of anything.
Sullivan Street Bakery — 533 W 47th St