I like iced tea. In fact, I like it a lot. Over the course of a hot Houston Summer, I bet I drink a thousand glasses of iced tea, each with just the right amount of self-administered artificial sweetener. Because I eat out a lot, and tend to frequent the same places on a regular basis, most of the eateries in my neighborhood are familiar with my voracious thirst for the stuff.

Over this most recent summer, I took note of a practice related to how some restaurants handle the refilling of my iced tea. Their approach is illustrative of how companies’ policies and practices, many meant to better serve customers in one way or another, can actually cause more problems than they solve.

In particular, I am speaking of the practice of constantly refilling my iced tea glass even though it’s only partially empty, or positively full to all you optimists out there. This is done ostensibly to better serve me as a customer. Some establishments admit it’s done to convey the appearance to other patrons that all are well taken care of at the restaurant. In other words, they believe a full glass makes for a happy customer — both in appearance and reality.

Whatever the reason for the constant refilling, I consider it a nuisance. You see, each and every time my partially empty glass is refilled, or even just topped off, the tea-to-sweetener ratio is changed. More specifically, the tea becomes less sweet than I like it due to the additional unsweetened tea now in the glass. It’s in effect been diluted.

To remedy the problem, I have to guess as to what measurement of sweetener is now required to restore the replenished glass of iced tea to my desired sweetness. Unfortunately, on balance, I’m wrong as many times as I am right. As a result, the tea is not completely to my liking a lot of the time.

Part of the uniqueness of the situation from restaurants’ standpoint is that glasses containing water and soft drinks can easily be refilled with little-to-no inconvenience to the customer. There’s no dilution problem. Self-sweetened iced tea, on the other hand, is a different animal.

It’s also a messy process, with me stirring as much as eating, maneuvering my spoon through new ice, some of which lands on the table inevitably stacking up with half-empty sweetener packages strewn across its surface. It’s an eyesore for me and my neighbors, and the very kind of disheveled appearance the restaurant wants to avoid.

Clearly, the whole process is a lose-lose for both parties.

Fortunately, some establishments have recognized the problem and found a simple solution. Rather than keeping my single glass full at all times, they bring me a second glass of iced tea as well. I sweeten both immediately to my liking, then proceed to drink one at a time. Once one glass is empty, I simply start in on the other. In the meantime, a server comes by and refills the empty glass. I alternate between the two glasses the entire meal, sweetening each only once and enjoying each in full.

Voila! A satisfied customer who tips generously and returns often in light of the smart service they’ve received.

Believe it or not, I think customers of all kinds can relate to my iced tea experience, at least in spirit. I’ll explain how in Part 2.

Missing the Point - Master with Caption