So here’s a real pro tip: when you are wining and dining your brand new client, who has flown from New York City to London exclusively to work with you, and you’re trying to make a really sexy first impression, and you take her to a restaurant that’s been named one of Zagat’s number one in the world, DO NOT PANIC WHEN THE ENTIRE PLACE CATCHES ON FIRE AND EVERYONE IS EVACUATED MID-MEAL.
Because this absolutely happened last night. And let me tell you what: last night, the Brits showed all of us how to handle a crisis with grace.
As they politely and urgently informed us that we needed to evacuate, we grabbed our wine glasses (AS ONE DOES) and piled into the street along with the rest of our fellow diners. Men in proper suits; women with fuck-you haircuts. Heidi was the only one who didn’t grab her wine glass, and for a moment we laughed that a 20 dollar glass of Hermitage would be the only thing worth going back into a burning building for.
The “fire brigade” arrived with their hoses and their helmets, and all of us stood on the sidewalk wishing there were something we could do. Fortunately for us, we had the pleasure of already having dined on a multiple-course meal, including all sorts of exotic carpaccio, and steak, and sea bass, not to mention jalapeño pisco sours. (Seriously, are you following my Insta-stories already?!) We were nearly about to ask for the check when the evacuation happened. Some others, however, weren’t so fortunate, having just arrived to the restaurant only to be shuttled outside.
So we did what anyone in our shoes would: we waited. You know, to pay the tab. Return the wine glasses. Be upright (wannabe) citizens of the UK. There we were, patiently waiting for some little bearded man with pursed lips to come around with one of those mobile card readers, asking for our credit cards and awkwardly trying to match up diners with their bills. We thought that perhaps they’d ask us to kindly stay behind; or at the very least, to come back tomorrow to settle up.
However, soon a team of people came around and said something else:
“Ladies and gentlemen, please consider your meal compliments of the house this evening. Go ahead, enjoy your wine, and just leave the glasses here on the street when you’re done. In the meantime, there’s champagne waiting for everyone next door, on the house, and we hope you’ll come back and give us another opportunity to make it up to you.”
We looked at each other in amazement. Our bill, as we’re imagining, must have eclipsed £400. I didn’t want to think about tables of five or six. And there this poor restaurant was, losing tens of thousands of dollars.
And yet they went above and beyond, spending even more money to make it right.
They handled the situation with pure grace and class, despite being in a position of weakness. And that’s elegance. That’s how you handle a crisis: by making sure it's yours—not your customers’.
So often we’re quick to panic; to worry about the loss; to act in fear. We clench our fists at the thought of losing money, and we don’t always do what’s right because crisis kicks us into survival mode. But it’s important not to let greed in the short-term affect who you are as a business person in the long-term. Integrity matters. Generosity matters. Acting in a way you’re proud of, despite the pain of doing so, matters.
When disaster hits, you can get angry. Or, you can use it as an opportunity.
Most of the time, we forget that even in crisis, there is chance.