Sunday, May 31, 2009

Companies Tony Loves: Leonas

This is the fifth installment of the Companies Tony Loves Series. "Companies Tony Loves" posts describe why innovative companies and business practices make us all better off, and therefore why they deserve our love. "Companies Tony Loves" is featured every Sunday on this blog.

Adjusting to customer service in Chicago has been difficult. Maybe it is a Hyde Park phenomenon, but the service here is just plain bad. Even though I can easily recount more experiences, here are four examples of what I mean by bad service:
  1. At one (unnamed) restaurant, I am habitually overlooked by waitstaff. As soon as I need a refill, my waitress disappears for 15 minutes. The only reason I go back to the place is that I love their food.
  2. Whenever I pay for my food at an unnamed cafeteria, the cashier always asks me if I want a receipt, I always say "no thanks," and he always gives me the receipt I didn't want. Why ask me if you were going to give it to me anyway?
  3. When browsing the menu at another unnamed restaurant, the server came to the table saying, "Whadda ya want?" When I told her that I was not ready to order, she didn't come back for 15 minutes.
  4. Bad service is not confined to the restaurants: I have been yelled at by bus drivers for scanning my wife's bus card incorrectly. I know it isn't that hard to figure out, but give me a break, I'm from Montana!
In Montana, it would take years to have as much bad customer service as I have had in our first eight months in Chicago. Because most of these bad experiences have been in restaurants, I avoid eating out whenever possible. I used to really enjoy eating out. In Chicago, I prefer delivery and that makes me sad.

I thought I would never find a place in Chicago that provides good customer service at a reasonable price while serving decent food. To be fair, Hyde Park has plenty of places with good food at acceptable prices. The problem is finding good service. Until Friday, I had not found a sit-down restaurant where I could reasonably call the service "good." That's why this week's company I love is Leonas: we went there for dinner on Friday and the experience was better than good -- it was wonderful.

To start off, Leonas' menu is extensive: they serve burgers, deep dish and thin crust pizza, salads, full-sized meals, vegetarian entrees and desserts. They also serve lena cakes (half brownie, half cheesecake) with almost every meal. Leonas lasagna is devine and their buffalo wings are authentic and spicy. After ordering their Romano Cobb chicken sandwich, I claim that it is the best sandwich on the planet.

Good food wins my business, but good food is not enough to win a spot on Companies Tony Loves -- good food and good service is. Leonas had plenty of good service to go around. The waitress was courteous and frequently asked if we needed anything. While we waited for our food, she brought out a mini loaf of bread for us to share with garlic butter and marinara sauce (on the house). Our food came just as we finished the bread. And, the food was great. The manager even came around to our table to make sure everything was good. Eating at Leonas really had a home town feel.

As we finished our meals, we noticed a set of cards at the table, each with the heading "Leonas' Brain Food." Each card had five trivia questions to help stoke some conversation. I really appreciate those little details. They make all the difference when it comes to great service.

While we were enjoying our trivia discussion about the percentage of Americans with a college degree in 1990 versus 1998 (21 versus 25 percent), the bill came. For three people, our total came in under $30. For great service, good food and some time to ponder trivia, that's a bargain in Hyde Park.

Just as we were about to leave, I noticed a placard in our booth that I think explains Leonas customer service philosophy better than I ever could.
With over 40,000 Chicagoland restaurants, 21,000 where you can get a drink and over 4,000 that serve deep dish pizza, we're glad you're here!

Such gratitude is refreshing in a world where too many people feel entitled. As Leonas wanted to win our business, they were grateful when we walked through the door. That's a philosophy and a company that I can love. We will definitely return for another meal.

If you have ideas for Companies Tony Loves, please let me know. It could never hurt to have more suggestions!

Leona's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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