Stung By Sting

Sting and Annie Lennox stung me, and I still feel a little like I'm walking on broken glass.

You see, Wednesday night my wife and I had tickets to go see their concert here in Denver. But they didn't show. Well, actually, they did show, but on the night before. We were one of what seemed like at least 100 couples who were left wondering what happened. A not so sweet dream, maybe?

Apparently, one of the artists decided to move the date of the concert back in April. We never received notice of the change, though. Neither did anyone else we spoke to.

What hurt the most is that we have young children, and we were really looking forward to the night away from the kids. Ticketmaster, a unit of InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI  ) , agreed to give us a refund for the face value of the tickets, but that wasn't much consolation. (Indeed, they won't refund the ticket service fee, which I find annoying. Shouldn't the promoter be on the hook to let ticketholders know when there's a change?)

Fortunately, we relayed our story to the managers where we ate that evening, P.F. Chang's China Bistro (Nasdaq: PFCB  ) . Boy, were we surprised. Mark and Phillip went to work on trying to find out what went wrong, bringing us updates between appetizers, soup, and the main course. Dessert featured comp certificates for the next time we go to a Chang's. All this, even though they had nothing to do with the mix-up.

What's the investing angle here? Just this: Service matters. Mark and Phillip won a customer for life Wednesday night. (Unlike Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) , which ran fellow Fool Alyce Lomax around most of Virginia in her pursuit of happiness.)

The restaurant business can be as fickle as the appetite of a food critic. Building profits means generating a regular clientele. And that's done with -- you guessed it -- excellent service. That's why I want so badly to recommend P.F. Chang's shares. Unfortunately, the trends don't favor the stock at the moment. It's richly priced at 29 times forward earnings, not good when year-over-year growth is slowing to under 20% and operating margins are shrinking. An earnings restatement doesn't help either.

Yet this doesn't mean P.F. Chang's won't ever be a buy. If the menu stays true, and service excellence becomes the norm across the chain, then this stock could go from bland to spicy in a hurry.

Fool contributor TimBeyers is going to have P.F Chang's leftovers for lunch. If you go, he recommends Chang's spicy chicken. Yummy. Tim owns shares of Barnes & Noble, and you can view his Fool profile here.


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