« Freakonomics Radio

37. Mouse in the Salad

2011-07-20 | 🔗
In restaurants and in life, bad things happen. But what happens next is just as important.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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me. Twenty one Nilsen report limitations, applying so I'm on Broadway, walking down Broadway the low nineties and I'm about to get through this restaurant, where I used to go all the time. Well, once it weakens every couple weeks and how these long given my friend James Altitude, and it's called the pen quoted here and it's kind of a chain, but a classic with this big wooden communal table and I used to go like it's a quite often with my friend James and play backgammon and eat healthy, delicious, expensive food and, and then something happened that one day that led to my not coming back here once and today is a day that I'm going to revisit
the scene of the crime. Have you feel you nervous? I'm not really nervous, I'm in my nervous about something bad happened again now, I'm in the Gaza thing that happened was bad enough, that it has to be very unlikely, is if it if it happened more frequently than there's no other places business. So I know that is a very relevant and logic tells me it's a very the depend quoted in is a civilised place. That's really the best word for civilised. There is good pastries and strong coffee, nice, salads and tar tens open faced sandwiches and organic brown, bread things like that, the client tell has learned, feel a lot of macbooks lot of enlightened conversation, classical music playing. In the background, the when I used to go to it on the upper West side,
and tat in Broadway, mainly, firstly yeah so I'm looking at sea, vegetable case, there's a roasted Turkey avocado Turkey can share. Later I brought one of our producers with me. Chris nearing the plan was to eat first and then talk to the manager, but the Add thing happen, Cyprus. What are you thinking of eating here I'm gonna, give you one where the base year before he's just a personal preference, I'm staying away from salads explain later well. Actually, let's explain right now
from W and Y see and a young american public media, this is for economics. Radio podcast explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host Stephen governor. here's, the guy I used to go to the penalty and, with all the time James outage her, and it was very complex, the big tables. Well, space. We can spread out, so we would be there at eleven forty five, which was always crucial cause. You beat the lunch crowd by fifteen minutes without sacrificing on your appetite or anything. James is a neat guy, really smart guy and he's done a lot of things. He's been an investor financial writer, who is a dot com which he was a nationally ranked chess master dreams, and I play backgammon use
over lunch, she's long running hundred and one point matches that might take a couple of years to complete. If we play every two or three weeks for a long time, we played it city diner on Broadway Ninetieth, but the waitress that James like their quit. So we moved a block uptown till the pen quoted in for the most part. We were really happy there until last summer. We were in the middle of a game when the incident happened, I noticed this woman was crying at the table next to us use crying and right behind you. She said you re behind a rabbi me and she was sort of crying and half screaming utopia, I don't love. You can imagine that because it doesn't normally happen. Like little kids, don't cry like I like that you're wrong, you don't usually see adults like kind of crying and screaming at the same time, and what was your first thought
curiosity. So I wanted to know what was going on like one should, the woman she was Where was walking around the manager was coming over and this one woman was kindly paralyze crying screaming what'd, you think, might have happened to her, because I remember my thought. What was your initial? That my thought is that these you were too frenzies were two Ladys who were maybe in their home, though sixties or so seemed like. Maybe someone I died. I thought that they were old friends, and one of them her husband, had recently died. This is the scenario that I my mind, Konrad and Millisecond, and that they were having a d russian about it and the emotion just welled up and she kind of lost it, which seemed like a perfectly natural thing to happen. I didn't feel like that, because that that sort of crying is sadness and I'd inquiry- I felt morphed a terror thing outing and that's why I stood up and basely walked over to the table.
Now ass well she's crying. An ad the managers over there and there was a dead mouse in her sally, say it again, so that a banquet daddy and there was that there was a day I walked over there. There was a dead mass in the south and kind of curled up almost looking like a like. A little this baby. But it was a fully road mouth yup, a mouse carcass in the salad. I had James take a picture of it with my cell phone pretty disgusting, we weren't done eating and we were in the middle of a backgammon game, but we decide to leave. I think you can understand why you we actually wanted to do an experiment. I seem to remember our aid for the record. I remember things a little bit differently than James Use unless our walk out that door without paying and the managers obviously going to follow us and you're gonna say: let's see what them haven't.
manager prices our meal, I'm pretty sure I didn't suggest we at a diamond ashes. I remember we went up front and asked to see the manager so manager followed us out the door you said, look were really not feeling. Well, we had to leave more pay Whenever you want, you offer the manager the opportunity to praise the meal was very freak and now makes each of you and the manager, and you said to me in advance what you thought the managers should do. In fact he did do that You see said: look the meals on us. Don't worry about it, of you and your friends come back here as we did, the actual rising the manager look pretty shaken up himself by the mouse and really couldn't handle things that much better. I mean look bad things happen in life. It's what you do next that matters right, but the way James tells the story. Isn't it.
Exactly how I remember you, so I remember I said to the manager we're leaving now, because the mouse grows to sell and we re in some of our food and if you want to pay, will pay, but I don't think we should pay now. Has that different from the way Jane this tells you offer the manager the opportunity to praise the meal? Well, yes, and no, I offered him the chance to set the price, but only after I suggested what the price should be. Two zero. I was engaging in a little anchoring. Behavioral economists call it that, really means trying to influence the outcome of a decision by establishing a numerical anchor whether or not that number actually make sense will get back to them? in the salad in a few minutes, but first a little detour into the world and anchoring The original experiment Was they asked people a question? I think it was what percentage of Africa
countries are represented in the United Nations. That's Richard sailor, you teaches at university Chicago many people, myself included, would call him the godfather of behavioral economics when I think of anchoring I think of Dick sailor and they had a wheel of fortune tat day, spun with numbers between zero and two hundred and it would stop some number say: thirty five and then they would ask people. Do you think there? the answer is above or below thirty five, and then what do you think? The answer is and people's answers were influence. By the number that came up on that we'll a fortune even though they saw that the number was generated at Rand. So if you ask people, do you think the percentage of countries Africa. Representative in the? U N has any
thing to do with the number came up on the wheel of fortune? Lady? No, of course not. What are you crazy, but nevertheless, if they start at thirty five they're going to come up with a lower. For them if they start at eighty five, it's pretty much inevitable. So the starting point influences the final answer. Even if the starting point is meaningless, that's how anchoring works mean think about it. If I tell you there My boss is really a person just a mine, blowing the brilliant guy, and then you meet him in your impression. Is that he's a massive idiot? you're, probably less likely to actually conclude he's an idiot because I've anchor you to the idea that he's brilliant at the pen criterion when I talk to the manager on the way out. I set the anchor of the price of our lunch at zero. If he will
The charges for our mousy meal he'd have to dislodge the anchor. I asked Richard Thaler how he thought I handled it will. I think it is the case that in many situations you want the other side to make the first offer you do. I would think that the exactly wrong. Why is tat? Well because sometimes they're gonna? for a deal better than you would have asked for rats, now wondering what the pen criterion would have given me. If I'd let them set the anchor like failure suggests maybe a lifetime of free dining. On the other hand, not sure I want a lifetime of free dining at a place, it puts mice in their salads, so James and I took our backgammon game elsewhere and I set foot in a pen quoted in four months coming up. If you are-
running a business. What do you do after that? Very bad thing has already happened and will go back to the scene of the mouse with the tanker Didion CEO. This whole incident started to question our basic philosophy of food. Yeah. Thanks to Pennsylvania, lottery, scratch, offs, pennsylvanians or scratching their way to find and we'd newgate every month, big top rises and second chance, drawings, excitements, always in order so try, Pennsylvania, lottery, scratch, offer your ticket to fund and get yours today keep on scratch. It must be eighteen or older. Please pay responsibly benefits older pennsylvanians every day. Economics, radio, sponsored by wonder is business movers podcast when Kosovo,
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I expect that they all have their role fishes and this one is having its growth issue in this particular way. But you know is this: a growth issuers is just one mouse and I mean just the mouse and say I mean it was no. This is a growth issue, because too many things went wrong. So each each one thing has a low possibility, so a mouse gets into the sand. When salad bagger happens, we lie around that's inappropriate, although the guy in the mouth dies there. So I don't know what they're overnight the guy takes us here then and puts it in. I didn't see the mouse the way as our waiter brings the as over didn't notice it so four or five What's wrong with a sound was delivered with the mouse in it to the store to begin with, so we don't know where what wrong this is a typical thing that could happen not just exactly what this aspect of things breaking down. Multiple things breaking down happens when you doing that regional to national surge of a business, the penguin Gideon is a growing companies
started in Brussels in nineteen ninety, and now it has more than a hundred fifty locations and sixteen countries and is planning to grow some more adding about fifty locations in the? U S, England and France over the next few years. But I wondered is that growth responsible for the mouse and sound? I wondered a lot of other things too, like what did the ninety first rate location do after the mouse incident to prevent a replay? How did they make amends to the customer who that serve the mouse and most of all, when you're running a business? think back something really bad happens. How'd you will gain the trust of customs. These are some of the questions I wanted to ask the pen quitted. That's why I went back that day. I found the man drawn duty, nation of guy and asked if we could talk, I pulled out a picture of the mouse in this.
Suddenly he wasn't quaintest. You will not be remembered the incident to be sure, but he said he wouldn't talk. Couldn't talk about. He gave me a cord from the pen cotillions New York headquarters suggested. I talked to corporate communications, so I gave a very nice woman told me that the appropriate party would get back to me. Sir but it didn't happen. I kept call him. I was told that a lawyer and then a pr person would answer my questions about the mouse and the salad, but neither one did. I thought this was strange, something like this happened to your company. Will you at least one return? Some reporters Paul and explain yourself, maybe off Apology is pro forma that apology might be since Le Pen could tedious wasn't talking to me. I called someone else. Someone with his disaster experience Yom undergoes over consult non communications
After a long and storied career in journalism, Gowers went into corporate communications first, Lehman brothers, not long before collapsed and then straight to BP, where he worked during the deepwater horizon spill. His job in each case was to represent company to the public. It puts one little mouse in the salad into perspective. Doesn't it I asked Gowers what accompany large or small needs to do when disaster strikes a do think this is serious premium on doing your best to be as transparent and clear about. What's going on as possible, I say that an appropriate, cautious way because, as I said before, in crises its it's very often not possible to know everything was going on, but if there is any suggestion that you are behind the curve in terms of holding information or, worse still, disguising or gilding
nation, then you are on a hiding two very difficult place. The pink or tedium wasn't being very transparent worthy. I gave him another call. They stolen talk was frustrating. I obviously was puzzling. And then? Finally, after many weeks, many requests my cell phone rang. It was a company ceo. He agreed to meet me back at the scene of the mouse so. My name is Vincent Herbert from Belgium, forty six, three kids fantastic. Why? living in New York for twenty years. I'm currently very busy at living in a great journey with the package you Jim, as overseas. the strategy animal receiving migrants year worldwide, so Vincent Herbert.
I sat at one end of the very long communal table and I asked what he did about the mouse mountainous island. There is a crisis happening and if you look at it and even do introspection, in fact, it tells you Vincent go and dig into, which I did I went to see, and I ask all the questions: why didn't happen? What about the quality assurance? What about the vendor? What about all the processes? What did we do about the customer You know how do we respond to the media if the media comes to us by asking these questions, I'm com to realize that there are a couple of things that I could do better, and I think that these the opportunity of owning things are having to talk to me about the fact that you the President wanted to come here and talk to me about this incident, whereas the other
people who work in your firm took exactly the opposite tack and what that's is about the way firms handle bad news these days, I think Well, for us, it's it's a very new appearance to have them We are coming to us, we're pretty shy to the media and therefore I realised through that insight another good opportunity. A good lesson is that we need to get better at understanding how to partner with media so that we are, open and transparent and in the right context that differ reaction, indeed of my team was scared, paralysed in I don't know what you do. It's only gonna be negative. It's it's! It's you,
liability, the less we say, the better. It is kind of avoiding and as a person and as the leader of this organisation, I very much disagree with that. I think I think this is an opportunity again too, to tell the people what we stand for. Ok, so Herbert is pulling his company down the road towards transparency. But the first thing I wanted to know is: what happened. How did that mouse even get in that poor lady salad? Yet so we went through all the processes ass, many questions to all the older people and we determined with the vendor that it came from the field. So it came from the letters from the field
and it was very, very interesting and and and the very important moment when in fact, this whole incident started to question our basic philosophy of of food, which is our philosophy of packages, organic food You know we're where we believe in organic farming, An incident like this. It's amazing how an incident Agus wouldn't make people think about will do we keep going organic This is a business and something like this. If it's taken out of proportion out of context and and we we jumble over this? It could this this business. It could destroy this small growing company people, it was amazing how in my team, even in my team, we and some people say well, we're just gonna change, we're not organic. You know we're just gonna,
you gonna go to us, as some people are saying. We because the mouse came into the salad from the field and because its inorganic vendor pairs. Maybe if we got non organic salad, we would not have a mouse. So so there are people putting putting the pressure to do that. What did you say to that? Where there is no pressure there was. There was a again a rational, detective suggestion to say well. If we don't want this to happen again, we just change or philosophy, and we go from organic to conventional. We use pesticides and we use old, was crazy things and, and yes, they're not gonna, be any baby field mouses in letters and and it's not gonna happen again, there was, We in the team that suggested that we had to change a philosophy that was very reconfirm for me to say: ok, my team still or die hard believers in the core philosophy of the backwards. and and and for me there was no question So the mouse in the salad became an inter.
a referendum on whether the penguin Gideon should carry on its organic mission, and the answer was a big fat. Yes, now is it true that being organic is what led to the mouse that is if the pen criterion used conventional dreams, would the mouse. Have necessarily been eliminated before got to the salad bowl. Apparently, not. We talk to some agricultural academics, who told us that typical pesticides don't actually discouraged things like rodents. In other words, you can't just slip a chemical switch and make sure that no mouse ever ends up in your salad, the woman who got serve that road and at the penalty and woman whom I had imagined, was destroyed over some kind of a private loss rather than a public mouth. She didn't want to be interviewed
want me to user name on the air, but we did exchanged a few emails. One of the most amazing thing she still eats at the pen. Quantity and the same pen quoted in all the time. She said she respects and admires their organic mission, and she forgets then for the mouse entirely. I asked Vincent Herbert had not happened. He said the pen quoted in kept her trust by being brutally honest, and I think the honesty and transparency, the empathy With that incidents was very important, nothing to customer understood, one that This is something that is very unusual and and we'll talk about anything that happened a year ago in one store in this, but she understood that we we for this we were sorry, we gonna do everything we can, but we were honest.
Which is a human being, is talking to another human being in saying this happens, you know we're not gonna we're not going to run away from it happens and we're sorry, but this is and I think this is where this is a great person stood that is life there are no guarantees. The only thing is given to us is to do our best efforts What did you side all that beside communicating with her in a very human, humane way, let her ear for free for a year life was there any kind of arrangement like that not that I know I think I think monetary, stimuli and those guys think. I don't think that that would make any difference to the data. It's like motivating people to work in a company. It's it's, not the money that you pay it's more than the culture, the the honesty to transparency, to the way you treat people the way you talk to them. I think that's more
Nothing that's where the team did a good job as they they weren't. You they were not hiding, they were just like this is it doesnt reflects this is not what we represent. We try to do our best. We have a setback we really gonna try to do better. I mean, let's be honest, you're talking to This is a story that will work its way into the public bloodstream. nay, somebody may radar Harvard Business Review case, study This is the way Vincent Herbert took a bad incident at a restaurant and turned it into a positive. I mean is that it is, and I think that what What I know when I spoke with a couple of friends and my wife and she's deafening my big mentor, by the way she's an animal psychology social. She understands it was instincts and she definitely
That's me very well, and and and we were we worth king live it about the fear factor, and you know things like this happen. The first instinct is kind of, like fear, skeered, you know gotta go hiding, you know this is bad and- and I think that the fear factor can push you to do something extraordinary. And I'm nervous about this, because I dont Y know well enough what your intentions are with this, but again I gotta trust that by being rudely, honest wit in an environment of a setback that that it's not going to be taken out of context, that, that we gonna get stronger out of his. This is an opportunity to tell the people that we have integrity
that we have resilience, we have tenacity, you know- and I think you know we will keep going organic. We are not going to jeopardize your not going to compromise or vision to provide organic food to our people. and and and its and it's about taking certain risks and managing them. How can you help but respect events in her Yes, it took a while for his company to answer the call, but here is now front in centre. Taking ownership of the mouse in the sound mean good for him. Bad things happen in life, might be your fault, it might
but at some point, somebody's gotta put up his hand and say I'm taking responsibility for better or worse for the incident itself and for the efforts by the way, when I went back to the pen quoted in I stuck to the keys just dinner, the stomach for a solid friggin mix, radios produced by W and Y see a PM american public media and definite productions. This episode was produced by Chris, nearly withheld from Diana Win, Susie, electing Burke and calling Campbell David Herman is our engineer. If you want more frequent onyx radio, you can subscribe to our pod cast on Itunes or go to freak an armistice com or you'll, find lots of radio a blog, the books and more.
Transcript generated on 2021-03-17.