May 28th, 2017 - Brand

Bad tastes and broken promises

We went for dinner with friends last night and I’m perhaps a touch, ummm, let’s say ‘bleary’ this beautiful sunny morning. Bleary and just a titch cranky.

The bleary part is likely obvious (a little wine, perhaps?), the cranky? Well, the cranky bit starts with our server, whom I’ll call Joe. And for the purposes of this story, let’s agree to use the term ‘server’ rather loosely.

From the moment he popped over to our table, Joe exuded attitude – the ‘You’re so extremely fortunate to be graced with my witty presence and to be allowed into this divine establishment…’ kind of attitude.

He blatantly ignored our table while hanging about gossiping with his colleagues, poured our red wine into a used decanter (ummm, could you grab a clean one buddy?), fawned over the two men at the table while referring to the women as ‘Miss’ in a dismissively patronizing way, and he didn’t bother with basic service like cleaning the table between courses.

That last bit is when it got really interesting. My friend had enough of Joe by the time he plopped the dessert menus onto a rather dirty table … the shared-plate dining trend isn’t conducive to pristine white table cloths after a few courses. She politely called him out, picking up the menus and asking for the table to be cleaned. His response?

“Would I come to your place of work and tell you how to do your job?”

I gasped! And then stared.

He wasn’t done.

“The title is ‘server’ not ‘servant’ …” I couldn’t listen to his rant any longer. I was gobsmacked. We all were.

So today I’m cranky. We dropped a fair chunk of hard-earned after-tax dollars to enjoy a night out with friends. The four of us left with a good story to tell, but a bad taste in our mouths. The icky-awful-bad taste that results from a broken promise. In this case, Joe had broken the restaurant’s brand promise.

A brand promise is carefully cultivated and then articulated to connect with potential customers. This restaurant has it all – from the funky name, to the carefully styled colour palette, strong logo and visuals, edgy and comfortable interior. It promises fun, unpretentiously down-to-earth good food.

It promised exactly what we wanted – casual comfort with fabulous things to eat.

And it didn’t deliver.

When it comes to branding, too often business owners get caught up in colours, visuals, logos and language. Owners demand hip and trendy. They promise the world and forget to back up the promise with real life service and quality products.

I’ve had this conversation a few times lately as I’m finding it harder and harder to hand over money for poor quality service or products.

Living the brand promise seems to be a blind spot for business owners.

We’ve all heard it before but branding is so much more than a logo. Yet businesses don’t want to do the hard work to ensure their team and their products live up to that hip logo or articulated brand promise. They forget to create and implement common-sense process and set employee expectations and standards. And when this happens, business owners lose revenue and reputation.

Listen to your clients, screen for the right kind of staff, hold staff in-service training and, most importantly, lead by example. Model the right behaviours.

I’m pretty sure my experience last night would have been different if the restaurant had worried more about the client experience and less about hip design.

With gratitude,

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Founder, Blackcoffee Studio

Over the course of 15+ years, Shannon has grown Blackcoffee Studio out of a love for building brands and reputations. She serves up Blackcoffee as a morning ritual while caffeinating clients and readers on the regular. You can find her at


Blackcoffee Studio

Blackcoffee is a premium brand development agency, offering luxury brand experience to clients at home in Calgary, Canada and around the globe. Brands create experience, set you apart from the competition and drive growth. Anyone can bulid a business but only the exceptional can create a brand. Are you ready?

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Hi I’m Shannon, founder of Blackcoffee Studio. A former reporter, spin doctor and politico, I now focus on using my powers for good.

I create mighty brands for clients and share their stories with the world. I’m also rather addicted to my nutty family, dogs with pushed in faces, Mexico and of course coffee … black.