What I Brought Back from Napa (and it wasn’t wine!)

February 2, 2024 Robyn Reis

What I Brought Back from Napa (and it wasn’t wine!) 

Robyn Reis, Dental Practice Coach 

A while back, I made a business trip to Napa Valley. I was enjoying lunch on the patio of the Ottimo Café which is attached to a shop featuring wines, gourmet provisions, and culinary tools. It was a lovely day, and I was out in the beautiful California sun by choice. A nearby covered area provided shade, and there were multiple diners inside the shop waiting for those shaded tables. 

The maître d’ had given me a choice of tables and made sure I was comfortable. The food, wine and service were excellent. 

A family of four wandered over and sat down at an empty table in the sun. One of the waiters approached them and must have told them there was a line inside because they got up and went into the building. A few minutes later, they came out escorted and sat with menus at the same table they had left. There was obviously a system in place and it was working. Not long after, the two children became unhappy sitting in the sun. 

Being a parent myself I empathized with the parents as they struggled to keep the kids entertained. The little boy put his shirt over his head to block the sun, and I watched the dad looking at the covered area to monitor those shaded tables. As people from the shaded area got up, the tables were cleared, and the maître d’ seated more people.  

There was a lag between one table being bussed and people being seated because in a flash, the family left their table and sat down at a shaded table. The maître d’ approached them again. The family was speaking a different language and the father was using hand gestures. Obviously, communication was difficult. Ultimately, the family remained seated at the shaded table. There was no doubt that “good” customer service for this family was out of balance with “good” customer service for the people inside waiting to be seated. 

It was fascinating to observe the maître d’ having a conversation with the waiter who had been serving the family. My guess is that he was saying something like, “Hey, stay alert to maintain the seating system.” The waiter only nodded. It reminded me of a dental practice where you may have a patient in the hygiene chair and think to yourself, “Oh, it’s a small filling. Let’s go ahead and take care of that today.” Unbeknownst to you, someone may have walked in the front door hoping to be seen, and the front office thinks the walk-in can be accommodated based on the schedule.  

In both situations, it’s best not to make assumptions and communicate, communicate, communicate! In the back, check with the front to see if that filling can be done now. In the front, check with the back to see if the walk-in can be accommodated now. And in the case of a scheduled patient waiting in reception, you don’t want to keep them waiting unless it is really unavoidable.  

Sometimes we’re going to disappoint someone, however, we want to plan our schedule so no one is left waiting. We’re not in the restaurant business where customers are willing to wait in line for a seat at our table. Despite a fine reputation, if you cannot see new patients within a reasonable timeframe, they are going to call elsewhere.  

Look at your own schedule and converse with your team. Do you have an adequate number of new patient appointments available? Are you allotting sufficient time for each type of procedure? How good is your back-to-front and front-to-back communication? Do you keep patients waiting? 

My meal and business trip were a success in Napa. And while I didn’t bring back any wine, I did bring back the importance of having systems in place to ensure a great experience for every patient at every visit. 

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