Cheesecake with raspberries

Leadership Lessons from the Cheesecake Factory

By Ron Pereira Updated on September 22nd, 2022

To celebrate my wife’s birthday, we went out to dinner at the Cheesecake factory. If you’ve never been to the Cheesecake factory you need to go.  The menu is massive, the drink selection amazing, and the food is out of this world.  And the cheesecake, well, it’s about as good as it gets. The service, at least for us, was also great.  Our waiter was nice, quick, and very helpful.  He also made a mistake.  In fact, one could argue he made a huge mistake. But in this moment was an opportunity for the restaurant to truly prove its customer service mastery. So what happened?

We’re Stuffed, Can We Have a Box?

As I mentioned the portions are huge and we just couldn’t finish our meals.  So, being the great waiter he was, he offered to take our plates and box them up so we could take the leftovers home.  Meanwhile, we transitioned into dessert mode (we did manage to save a little room).

After doing our very best on our desserts (I got cherry cheesecake and my wife got this cheesecake/chocolate combo thingy) we were ready to pay and be on our way.

Hey, Where are our Boxes?

Then I realized something… our waiter never brought our boxes back.

When he came for the check I asked him about it.  The poor guy, who you could tell was an excellent waiter, got this panicked look on his face and ran for the back.

A few minutes later he came back… his head was hung low as he explained how he made a mistake and our food was accidentally thrown out.  The guy was truly devastated.

Making it Right

After explaining what happened he insisted on refunding us for our desserts.  He was quite forceful in fact.  My wife and I told him it was OK.  There was no need for a refund.  He wouldn’t stop insisting… but we wouldn’t listen.  We had just had an awesome meal and weren’t interested in a refund.

He finally gave up and thanked us for understanding.  OK, his exact words were, “You guys are so cool.”

Here Comes the Manager

We thought this was the end of the story until the manager of the restaurant came to our table.  She went on to explain how the waiter approached her and explained what had happened.  She also explained how this young man was one of their best waiters and that he felt terrible.  She then started in on the whole refund thing.  She quickly realized we weren’t interested and she gave it a rest.

Real Leadership

Here’s the thing. Not only did this waiter admit to making a mistake – he could have easily blamed someone else – he tried to make it right with a refund.  When that didn’t work out he went to his manager and admitted his mistake!  He didn’t have to do this.  No one would have ever known.  But he did it anyhow.

It’s small life lessons like these that remind me what real leadership is.  You see leadership has nothing to do with your job title or salary.  Instead, authentic leadership is all about doing your best at whatever God has called you to do.  And then when you make a mistake, which are inevitable, real leaders stand up and take responsibility and do everything in their power to make it right.  Just like this young man demonstrated tonight.

The End of the Story

Once we had paid and collected our dessert boxes we were on our way to the door.  We were just about there when we heard someone yelling, “Sir!”  We turned around and guess who it was?  Yep, the waiter.  He was holding a bag and had a smile as big as Texas on his face.

He went on to say how he found our boxes.  It ends up someone else boxed them for him and put them behind some things so he couldn’t find them.  Well, he found them just in time.  His last words were, “See, I knew I was a good waiter.”

Indeed he is.  Indeed he is.

  1. Alex Simmons

    November 13, 2008 - 8:40 am

    What a great story! Most people would have taken the refund which in most cases comes from the waiters check. He was lucky you and your wife were nice peopple.

  2. Jeremy Garner

    November 13, 2008 - 9:40 am

    I really enjoyed this article. I agree that your character and willingness to accept responsibility determine what kind of influence your leadership has in lives around you. It takes confidence AND being honest with ourselves, others when we make mistakes.

  3. Aaron Miller

    November 13, 2008 - 4:39 pm

    I agree with both Alex and Jeremy. It takes a lot of courage to admit when you’re wrong and sadly most so called leaders of our day have long forgotten this.

  4. Andrew Wamari

    November 14, 2008 - 4:45 am

    This just shows that leadership has all to with the inner attitude of individuals and how they translate those to influence their organizations. Taking responsibility has become hard for many “leaders” and this translates to service provision at the tail end. Nice, brief and encouraging story.

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