LATE SUNDAY AFTERNOON in the Casa Calabria parking lot. The Mothers Day rush.
“It was a nightmare,” says Casa owner Jim Johnson.
A nightmare because the Casa had only recently reopened only for take-out, and the orders on this special day at one of Marquette’s favorite restaurants had arrived like a tsunami. Two hundred orders, in fact, with drivers in the parking lot–most of them patient–waiting for their orders to be delivered to them.
The kitchen was frantic with activity. Not a moment to rest.
“It was hard on our customers, it was hard on our employees,” says Johnson. “We were trying to accommodate everybody and it was tough. The phone lines got tied up, and then we just stopped answering the phone. We had to. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have taken that many orders.”
But then it got worse. One customer returned to the Casa parking lot with her order, demanding a refund because she said the meat was spoiled. When she didn’t get a refund, she demanded to speak to Johnson who explained, through an employee, that he couldn’t talk to her now–he was extremely busy in the kitchen–but that he would talk to her by phone later.
That didn’t solve the problem.
The customer, with a friend, entered the restaurant briefly–even though a sign asked customers to wait outside–and then returned to the parking lot which was packed with drivers waiting for their orders to be delivered. The unhappy customer talked to the other customers, vociferously criticizing the Casa’s food.
Not a happy scene, not a pleasant way to spend Mothers Day.
Eventually, Johnson called the police and asked for help. The dispatch call came in at 7:30 pm. A few patrol cars arrived to quell the disturbance and resolve the problem. Captain Mike Laurila said his officers quickly determined this was a civil, not a criminal, matter. Officers talked to both sides, and at the the request of Johnson, issued a No Trespass order against the woman. The cops left, the unhappy customer left.
Problem solved, case concluded.
No. Not even close.
The unhappy customer took to Facebook and posted a damning indictment of the Casa, its food, its service, its owners. Hundreds of friends shared the post, hundreds commented–many of them complimentary of the Casa, many not.
But the damage was done. The nightmare had come to life.
A local business that had built its reputation here for 40 years was now the target of unfiltered and sometimes unhinged abuse. Any unhappy customers and ex-employees over the years were free to join in.
You might recall something similar happened five years ago at the Landmark Inn. Joe Heck, the bakery chef extraordinaire, was either fired or quit, depending on whom you believed. In any case, it blew up on Facebook with fans of Heck castigating Landmark management and vowing to drive the Landmark’s Tripadvisor ratings down. Which they did, virtually overnight. Way down.
The Landmark eventually recovered. And the Casa will, as well. But for a business owner and his or her employees, the power of Facebook can be devastating. For all its virtues in bringing people together, Facebook can also flex its muscles as a mob. And the victim–a person or a business–is rendered almost defenseless as toxic words are spilled out onto the screen.
Okay, now the happy ending.
Johnson says he and the unhappy customer spoke by phone Tuesday night. A good chat. Both apologized. Things went too far. He’s now withdrawing the No Trespass order, he’s issuing her a gift card at the Casa, and she’ll be welcomed back any time she returns to the restaurant.
And the customer, whom we reached out to a couple of times, responded to us via Facebook message with a simple “We have found a resolution. No story.”
And the viral Facebook posting has been taken down.
A final thought: All of this could have been avoided if Johnson had simply issued the refund immediately. But that’s easy for us to say now; we weren’t the guy in the kitchen, swamped with orders, orchestrating the cooks, the phone ringing off the hook, servers hustling back and forth, customers massed in the parking lot waiting for their special Mothers Day dinners.
It certainly wasn’t Johnson’s favorite Mothers Day ever, nor was it the unhappy diner’s. They were two people having a very bad day, with unfortunate interventions by the police and Facebook. But a simple phone call and a quiet, respectful conversation, we hope, has started to make things right again.