Well, Del Frisco's has done it again. It's once more the subject of one of my "What law firms/lawyers can learn . . . " posts, and not in a good way. My earlier post about the Del Frisco's in Manhattan is one of the most-read posts of this blog. The experience I am writing about today is worse.
Two friends and colleagues, Allen Fuqua and Eric Fletcher, and I schedule regular "steak nights." It's our excuse to get our red-meat and good-red-wine fix and talk about everything on our minds - ranging from legal marketing and business development trends, personal milestones to deconstructing the latest Aaron Sorkin HBO series, "Newsroom." Dallas has no shortage of excellent steakhouses, and we have tried most of them. Our most recent steak night was late August at Del Frisco's just north of Dallas in Addison.
After we were seated, a waiter greeted us and asked about beverages. I asked his name and he said, "Peter." He brought our drinks, I said, "Thank you, Peter," and he said, "Oh, that's not really my name." I asked, "So what is your name?" "It's Bush." (I'm wondering why a waiter would lie about his name in the first place.) "Bush?" I asked. "It's my last name - no one calls me by my first name." (Which, by the way, isn't Peter.) Our waiter was easily in his 50s - or older.
Bush then looks at my engagement ring, grabs my hand and asks, "OMG - How do you hold your hand up?!" And he continues to lather-on remarks about the size of it. I happily chirped that I just got married. He high-fives me and said I'd hit pay dirt.
I should add at this point that I told him early on that I was the host for our evening together.
As the dinner wore on, he high-fived me at least six more times (he never high-fived Eric and Allen, and who does that anymore?!), shook my hand an additional six times (occasionally shook their hands, too) insisted that we order certain menu items and continued to interrupt our conversation with inane and inappropriate comments. He also made cloying observations about the always-nattily dressed Allen, commenting on the GQ fashion statement he was making.
But the crowning moment came when the waiter started chatting at the men at my table. Allen, Eric and I were sharing stories about being happily married, when he interrupted us and said they - especially Allen - should have a girlfriend, too -- wink-wink. He continued for another comment or two as we were staring at each other in disbelief. Looking around the dining room, we saw mostly a roomful of businessmen. The ratio of men to women was 4 or 5:1. We wondered if the women in the room were, in fact, "girlfriends," and felt like we'd been cast in an episode of "Mad Men."
The service experience quickly transcended from weird to creepy.
What can law firm leaders learn?
- Completely understand the culture of your firm. Know that your culture is worn on the shirt sleeves of every person who works there - and it is transmitted to others the minute your employees walk in and out of your door. Do your lawyers and others reflect the values of your firm? Do they reflect (and respect) the values of your clients?
- Just because partners are of a certain age doesn't mean they automatically know how to effectively handle business development and beauty contest situations. There is hesitation to "train" seasoned partners, believing they know what to do. In a recent conversation with a senior Big 4 accounting firm partner in the firm's national office, he spoke of the beauty contest prep he recently did with a client pitch team and two experienced marketers. For a one-hour meeting, they were coached individually and rehearsed six-hours. The Big 4 team included two of the most senior and experienced partners in the entire firm.
It is never too late to train someone how to act better.
- I have never been militant about male/female dynamics in the workplace, but I am always aware and alert. Know what these dynamics are in your firm - and unearth whether you have men (or women) who exhibit bad behavior. Ignoring it with a "boys/girls will be boys/girls" casualness will come to haunt you at some point. And it will, over time, sully your reputation.
- Know your audience. It is stunning to me in late Q3 2013 that firms don't always know who the buyers of your legal services are. It's not a corporation. For important matters, it is a person surrounded by other smart people who all influence the decision. Each buyer brings a history of good and bad experiences with lawyers (and restaurants) to the table, and that person is waiting for you to land in one column or the other. It's entirely up to you where you land.
Del Frisco's emailed a survey to me following our meal. I filled it out and shared a couple of these stories, including the girlfriend comments. I received this response from the General Manager:
I just received your email regarding your dining experience with us on Wednesday 8/28. I would like to apologize to you and your guests for the lack of professionalism we showed you that night. I am truly sorry, we got "too comfortable" and had a lapse in judgment. Please know this type of service is not what we typically do and it will not be repeated in this restaurant. I thank you for the feedback and sharing with me your experience.
That was the right response. But we won't return. The steaks weren't all that great anyway.