I recently went out to breakfast with my family at our local Denny's restaurant. We arrived around 9:15am and there was a pretty "interesting" line of folks waiting to be seated. In retrospect this should have been an indicator that something was wrong and things were going to be slow.
We finally got seated and our server promptly brought menus and took our order, then we settled down and began waiting for our food. While waiting at out table, at least 6 other groups came in after us, were seated, ordered, got their food, and left.
After about 30 minutes, the greeter actively started telling people that the food was going to take from 30-90 minutes to prepare and people stopped being seated. In addition, while the greeter was saying this to new customers, our server kept telling us the food would be out "in just a little bit". By 11:00am, I was pretty irritated because our breakfast had turned into lunch and all the other places to eat in the area were now open (note, Denny's was NOT our first choice).
Finally our food arrived, we ate, and I had the dubious honor of talking to the manager about what went wrong. It turns out they only had one cook... normally this is a problem, but then they had a bunch of people show up, everyone panicked, and things went downhill fast. In effect, the entire attitude was that "it's not our fault"... unfortunately, I didn't really care who's fault it was or wasn't, I cared that I sat around for 1.5 hours waiting for some food I could have prepared myself in about 30 minutes.
This brings me to my three rules:
#1 When things get out of hand, tell your customers immediately. They are NOT going to be happier if you make them wait longer wondering what the heck is going on. Notice I didn't say "if". That's deliberate, I know "stuff" happens, reasonable people will get it.
#2 When things seem to be getting out of hand, adding another cook might not help. What seems to have happened in our case is that a few other employees tried to help the cook and screwed things up. Everyone started getting irritated, arguments started, and things started to spiral out of control.
#3 Treat your EXISTING customers as good or better than new ones. If they had approached me 30 minutes into the debacle and said "we're running a little slow, are you sure you want to stay, it might be another hour" I probably would have left. Yes, I would have been upset, but not nearly as upset as after waiting for 1.5 hours (with two kids under 5 by the way). Note, wireless companies, satellite, cable, and other companies could learn something about this too. I'm tired of wonderful deals for "new kids" and me getting substandard service because I'm already "hooked".