timing

Part of providing a great customer experience in the restaurant is good timing.  A lot of fast food or quick serve restaurants believe in the rule of “Faster = Better” (they also believe in “Cheaper = Better” but that’s another article entirely).  But is this true?  Is there such a thing as going too fast?  Certainly, if a restaurant is going so fast that it is making careless mistakes then that’s not good.  Additionally, the “Faster = Better” rule doesn’t take in to account that the faster you go the less time you spend making sure each customer is receiving a great experience.

Restaurants focused on speed should understand what the ideal timing is for their business.  Essentially, how fast can we go and still avoid making too many careless mistakes, and ensure that we still have time to have conversations with customers?  What is the breaking point when we know that we’re going too fast?  100 transactions per hour?  200?  Logic says that there is only so many people we can serve well within any given time.

For full service restaurants timing is an art as well.  Customers sitting down for their meal still expect their food quickly but not so fast that they feel rushed.  The best servers know how to time each course so that the customer is able to enjoy themselves, but they are not having to wait too long.  That server also keeps a running check in their pocket so the moment the customer asks for the bill…the server has it ready.

The kitchen crew obviously plays a critical role in both of these examples.  Not only do they need to keep up with the orders and be timely in their preparation, but they also need to be able to anticipate.  A great kitchen crew not only knows their prep for the day, but can also react quickly to upticks in the business without always being told.

So “Faster = Better” should become “Great Timing & Anticipation = A Great Customer Experience”.

the evolution of online restaurant delivery service

I read an article today that reported on restaurant owners that were losing money to online delivery services like Seamless and GrubHub.  These services, while great for the customers that use them, are laden with heavy fees for the restaurant owners.  These fees have actually caused a loss for many restaurant owners and a lot of them are looking to get out of their deal with the online delivery services.

The problem is that these delivery services are a huge convenience for diners…especially in cities like New York.  Many restaurant owners feel as though they are stuck.  Either lose money using the online services because of the huge fees (14% or more of each order goes back to the service, plus fees for online marketing)…or lose money because diners won’t order from your restaurant if you don’t use the online delivery services.

Customers like the convenience of going to one site for delivery from all of their favorite local restaurants so those restaurants that think they can convince customers to start ordering from their individual restaurant sites are sadly mistaken.  A customer wants to be able to go to a site, look at the restaurants available to them in a certain area, and then order without having to go to a second site.  That’s what Seamless and GrubHub offer.  Customers are also now used to not having to pay for delivery so restaurants looking to go it alone are in a tough spot.

What is the solution?

One might be for restaurants to work together in creating their own online delivery service.  If restaurant owners could get together and agree on setting up their own online delivery service where any restaurant owner could join for a monthly fee to help with operating costs they could skip the profit making services like Seamless and GrubHub (soon to be close to a monopoly if their merger is approved).  The key would be getting as many restaurants involved as possible to keep the monthly fees to a minimum.

I personally think services like Seamless and GrubHub are not longed for this world because their model on benefits one side and actually hurts their actual customer.  Sidestepping this middle man by working together towards the common good is the simplest and most cost effective solution.

customer experience vs customer service

The Customer Experience in a restaurant incorporates everything that goes in to a customers visit.  Customer service is part of that visit, but so is the food, dining room, look of the staff, and the atmosphere.  There is no number that is used to measure the Customer Experience but there are indicators of whether a restaurant team is doing what is should.

Does your crew seem happy to be there?  If they aren’t would they tell you?

Are your managers engaging the customer or just asking “How was everything?” and then walking away before they get a real answer?

Are your customers happy? Just because they aren’t complaining doesn’t mean they’re happy.

Is the food good?  Really?  Did you taste it?  How many times in a day?

How does your restaurant look?  Did you check the bathrooms?  Do you know what your customer sees when they visit?  Are staff members smoking out front?

To better understand the Customer Experience think about your favorite movie and how it made you feel.  If it was an action movie did you feel ready to conquer the world?  If it was a zombie flick were you a little jumpy when you left the theater?  How do you think your customers feel when they leave your restaurant.  What do they take with them?  A blockbuster or a flop?

the health department

As a restaurant manager there was always a sense of dread when you saw the health department come walking through your front door.  Even if you had great food handling policies and practices in place you knew that if you got the wrong person the health inspection could go poorly.  I have watched as inspectors spent hours during a busy lunch rush walking through the chaos of my kitchen and checking food temps.  Seemingly they could have cared less about the disruption they were causing to our business while line cooks and chefs patiently pulled out every item held in the reach in refrigerators.

I would always bite my lip when these inspections happened because I knew that any protest would result in a even more particular inspection.  So you stand idly by hoping that the inspection would be brief and rewarded with the ever so important “A” rating.  If you got a “B” you could be sure that that meant a loss in business and a call from your boss.  A “C”?  Forget about it…you may as well start looking for a new job.

Regardless of all the anxiety I felt with these inspections I have always felt that the Health Department is more good than bad.  For the most part if your team knows safe food handling procedures and keeps the restaurant clean you’re going to be okay.  I like knowing that there is someone out there checking to make sure that restaurants are serving food that is safe to eat and I won’t eat at a restaurant that has a “B” in the window.

If you’re fighting against the will of the Health Department you should ask yourself why?

 

Where can restaurants serve up tech?

More and more restaurants are using mobile technology like tablets and handhelds to take orders, inventory, and improve the guest experience.  Some of the more advanced technology allows managers to run real time reports on food usage and sales performance without ever having to leave the dining room floor.  A manager that spends more time on the floor can do a better job of making sure his customers are receiving a great experience…which is a good thing.

But many restaurant owners that have been in the business awhile are reluctant to change.  The biggest argument is that restaurants are a human business and customers don’t want to be staring at the back end of a machine when they’re talking to their server.

However, the restaurant business is one that I feel is desperately in need of an upgrade.  Not just so managers can spend more time out of the back office or that servers can keep better track of their tables and orders, but also so these people can spend less time working.  Restaurant peeps are known for pulling long hours so that they can handle all of the tasks that go in to keeping the business in order.  Beyond making the food and serving the guests there are tons of other tasks that need to be done and many restaurants are still doing things old school.  Managers will take inventory by pencil and paper then enter that inventory in to a massive spreadsheet or similar inventory program weekly…sometimes daily.  To me this is only slightly better than using a chisel and stone.

Technology can be a friend as long as you aren’t too reliant on it’s power.  Turning every customer in to a number is probably a bad thing and removing too much of the human interaction definitely is, but improving service accuracy and lowering costs are big benefits.  Especially if it means that a manager can spend less time doing them.

restaurant employee feedback

Do you have a restaurant team that challenges you?  Or are they rank and file?  By challenge I don’t mean disagreeing with you at every turn, but employees that give you honest feedback about how the business is doing.

If you’re not sure there is an easy way to get people to start being honest…ask them.  Specifically, ask them what is going well and what is not going well.  When you hear what isn’t going well the way you respond will determine how honest people are with you in the future.

Respond by taking it personally or going on the defensive, and everyone will go back to work and keep their mouths shut.  You might feel like your job is easier in the short run, but Rome will be burning and you won’t realize it until it’s too late.

Feedback about our business is difficult because most of us feel like it’s an extension of ourselves.  But once you accept that your business isn’t perfect, and neither are you, you’ll be able to improve drastically and what faults you or your business may have can be taken care of quickly.

new restaurant manager syndrome

We are happy to have you as the new restaurant manager and we’re glad to see you’re enthusiasm to help us be more successful.  But before you decide certain things need to change please take the time to understand why we do things the way we do.  Otherwise your “new” ideas may fail because we might have actually tried them before and found they didn’t work.

 

If you want to create a better team…you have to be a part of it first.

the angry chef, restaurant manager, reality show host, Etc.

I remember the days of serving where the chef would yell at us for various misdemeanor kitchen crimes.  You might not garnish a dish right, or it could have a sauce you don’t remember and all of a sudden you were berated with a flurry of foul language all meant to do nothing at all but belittle you.  From what I understand this was and is commonplace among chefs and managers.

I can’t imagine why this is or ever was acceptable.  It’s only reinforced by all the angry reality show chef’s and various restaurant hosts.  Is this attitude supposed to show us how passionate these people are?  All it shows me is how ineffective and powerless they must feel.  Like bullies in elementary school, but instead of size they use experience and celebrity, these people belittle others to get what they want.  And just like bullies they do it probably because it was done to them in some way in their past.

I find these people to be out of date.  Spanking a child used to be commonplace when a parent dealt out discipline.  Then we learned how to discipline our kids by taking the time to teach them and I think they are better for this.  The same is true for the restaurant world.  There are teachers both famous and non famous that are getting amazing results by teaching…not yelling…teaching.

I would take one Jamie Oliver over a thousand Gordon Ramsey’s any day.  Give me the chef or manager that understands that people get better when you invest your time in them and create a culture of learning.  This time takes more effort than just shouting orders, but it makes for a better workplace and more empowered people.

customer feedback

I just had bad service.  It happens to everybody I guess.  The server wasn’t rude just bad.  They were painfully slow and inattentive, they got our order wrong, and were an all around distraction to the entire meal.  The server was nice, but they either didn’t care or were poorly trained.  The manager was nice too, but he didn’t care either.  If he did then he would have intervened at some point during our hour long lunch.

The thing that bothered me more than the poor service was that I don’t feel that I had any real recourse.  Talk to the server or complain to the manager?  Sure.  I have given feedback to managers and servers before, but I don’t normally feel confident that my feedback is really being considered, and in a time when I read more and more from the service industry about people tipping properly I don’t read a whole lot about servers and their managers taking customer feedback properly.

If you are a restaurant that is looking for a competitive edge over 98% of your competitors out there my suggestion is to focus on your customer, and have a system that allows them to give their unedited feedback.  Don’t compare your customer service to other restaurants.  Compare it to Zappos or Apple where the customer service representatives are trained to handle customer complaints.  Have an outlet where your customers can give feedback and build a culture where that feedback is really considered.

Sure you’re going to get some spoiled brats out there complaining about every little thing, but more times than not there is something valuable in most every customer’s feedback…good or bad.

If you decide this isn’t important.  Then by all means continue to ignore your customers and miss opportunities to improve.  There’s always the alternative way to finding out if you have poorly trained servers…loss of business.

stay to it-ness

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To succeed in the restaurant business you have to have stay to it-ness.  Stay to it-ness means setting standards and holding up the integrity of those standards day in and day out.  Restaurants can fail for a bunch of different reasons but one important element of success is never giving up on your ideas, your standards…your restaurants raison d’etre.

I recently visited a pizza joint called Juliana’s in Brooklyn (DUMBO to be exact).  The owner’s name is Patsy Grimaldi.  Patsy was the original owner of Patsy’s in New York.  He had to give up that name some time ago to another owner after a legal battle.  Afterwards he opened the famous Grimaldi’s.  After many years of success and accolades as one of the best pizza places on the planet (accolades that I completely agree with) he promptly sold the name Grimaldi’s to a restaurant group BUT he kept the original building in the sale along with the coal brick oven.  He renamed the place Juliana’s after his mother and continued making the best pizza on the planet.  His restaurant stayed packed even though the new owners of Grimaldi’s chose to open up right next door to him.

When I was there something occurred to me.  Juliana’s was successful not because of the name but because of the standards that Patsy had built in to the restaurant and his ability to stick it out in the restaurant business.  His pizza is still made the same exact way, which is why people come to eat at his place.  On most nights Patsy can be found at the front door greeting people and taking pictures.  I have read enough about Patsy to know that he expects his restaurant to be run a certain way and he demands his pizza be made one way…his.

The point is…know why your restaurant is successful.  If you’re just starting out have a vision, have standards that will turn in tradition, and stick to it.

(If you want to know a little more about Patsy’s journey check out this article on Grub Street)

 

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