13 Mar, 2015
“Hospitality starts with the genuine enjoyment of doing something well for the purpose of bringing pleasure to other people. Whether that’s an attitude, a behavior, or an innate trait, it should become a primary motivation for coming to work every day.” –NYC Restaurateur Danny Meyer
Everyone touts the importance of service in the restaurant industry, but what does service really mean anymore? To some operators and customers, service is no longer even a priority. Quality, value and speed take precedence. To others, service is paramount to performance—they know that good service can save a bad meal, but a good meal cannot save bad service. And another set of foodservice operators believe that service is not transactional, and therefore can’t be “given”. They consider service to be a by-product of consistently executing other processes–like hiring right, training well, and practicing servant leadership. Wherever you stand on the issue, this much is certain: consistently great service is as unpredictable as an Spring forecast.
In my opinion, service is the key deliverable that distinguishes foodservice from retail operations. For instance, if you buy a laptop at an electronics store, you still have a laptop when you get home, no matter how you were treated by the employees. But when you go to a restaurant–other than leftovers—what do you have when you get home? Memories. It may be of quality, cleanliness, convenience, value, or service. But of all those things it’s service that makes those memories positive and drives more customer trial, recency and frequency. And while I can’t dictate your quality, value, convenience or cleanliness, I can share the seven drivers of customer satisfaction for your consideration:
- Focus on ROG not ROI. Everyone is familiar with ROI, but a lesser-known and more critical metric is ROG: Return of Guest–a concept and philosophy pioneered by Boston-based chain Legal Sea Foods in its team development. Repeat business is the linchpin of profitability in any successful foodservice operation, big or small. That’s why Return of Guest (ROG) is such a prime and critical measurement. “Will you come back and would you tell you tell your friends to try us?” are the two most important questions relative to the customer experience. If the answer is yes to both, you’ve delivered on expectations and achieved ROG. If not, you haven’t. It’s that simple.
- Hire power. Repeat business will always be dependent on the weakest person you allow on your team, since that will affect consistency of service and consistency of customer experience. Do the math: in medium-sized restaurant, a server with a six table section that turns twice nightly, working five shifts a week will directly impact the experience of nearly 13,000 guests each year. That’s a lot of positive or negative influence on your repeat business potential for one person. Make your customers happier by hiring and developing great people. When you hire great people, despite the cost, despite the effort, despite the commitment, great things happen. Compete first for talent, then customers.
- The number one enemy of great service is inconsistency. When customer service problems re-occur, look first at system or process failures, before you blame your people. Bad service issues arise when: you hurry-hire the wrong person, or when an under-staffed or under-trained kitchen team fails to get entrées out in time, or bad scheduling causes servers to have two additional tables, or you’re missing an extra bartender during an evening rush. This makes customer-facing teams tense, swamped, and snippy, so they smile, serve and sell less. Habitually consistent service is the result of systems that foster a caring culture, make positivity and fun key business values, and develop teams daily to be guest-centric.
- Model the way. It’s a proven fact that you serve better and sell more in a clean restaurant. So if you want your team to wipe down more tables, keep countertop or display areas consistently neat and dust-free, keep glass and brass polished, or routinely suggest appetizers, beverage or desserts, you get there by exhibiting that same behavior whenever or wherever you see the need. Great companies do what the boss does. Don’t walk past a problem or you’ve approved it.
- Build capacity then fill capacity. A business generates more profit by increasing either 1) customer traffic or 2) the amount of money customers spend. Sync all hiring, training and marketing processes to support and exceed guest expectations and revenue targets. Nothing should be designed exclusively for the efficiency of the building or the menu or the team, except as it relates to the customer. Process and training builds capacity, marketing and service fills capacity. Align teams to a common purpose: servers must sell all that the kitchen can make and the kitchen must make all that the servers can sell.
- Break the Big Thing into smaller things. Service goals should be budgeted every year along with sales goals. “Twenty percent fewer customer complaints,” “Five percent increase in customer traffic,” etc. And when you’re framing a target, whether it’s service or sales, remember that perspective is key. For instance, which goal sounds more attainable: “$60,000 more in gross sales this quarter,” or “$346 more each shift for the next three months”? They’re identical. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
- Have a post-shift meeting with every team member. In this one minute de-brief before they clock out, thank each team member for their contribution, and highlight shift results compared to pre-shift goals. Tell them how their effort enhanced the customer’s experience, or what problems they solved, or how their job added value to the company. Keep energy high at the end of each shift by making work more meaningful for your teams.
I haven’t been to every restaurant in the world and I haven’t sampled every cuisine. Yet I share something unique with every diner on every continent and in every era: service. Every single day, we are the stewards of special moments in people’s lives, and our industry’s shared disposition to giving care to strangers and “regulars” alike as part of our business model is what sets us apart from retail and manufacturers. With service, the customer gets more than sustenance with their meal, they also receive food for the soul. I wouldn’t call our mission holy exactly, but I would say that maybe service is simply love in work clothes.