Let’s be honest, the Hospitality industry has never been an industry that parents have actively encouraged their kids to go into. Despite…
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As a business expands there comes a moment when you can’t spend all your time on the floor watching what's going on. Ask anyone who runs more than one site and they’ll tell you spending time on the floor watching what's going on, is pretty rare. As you expand, you have to make sure your staff are delivering the same levels of hospitality and service you would, taking the same care and attention to make your guests feel nourished and valued.
So how do we make sure they’re delivering on our expectations? One way is to create very detailed “steps of service”. Telling an employee what to say, what not to say, how exactly to greet a guest, precisely which words to use and when to use them.
Job done, right? I am now pretty certain my employees are saying and doing the right thing all the time. Wrong. They might be saying the right thing, but what they’re doing is anybody's guess. Let me explain. I might train my hosts to greet everyone with a friendly “Good afternoon Sir / Madam. How are you today?” Sounds great, right? But now my host is so used to repeating the phrase that it becomes empty, valueless. I might as well record the greeting and play it every time someone walks in. They might be saying the right words, but the thought behind the words has gone.
That’s the real point here. If you are over prescriptive in the way you want people to behave, you stop them thinking for themselves. Once they’re not thinking for themselves, you have a team of people who are disengaged with what they do. You’re essentially saying, “I don’t trust you enough to think for yourselves”. The good ones will put on a fake smile and feign interest and the bad ones will most probably stop following your instructions altogether - neither will be paying much attention to your guests.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there shouldn't be procedures or steps of service. But there has to be a balance. Do you really need twenty three steps of service when seven will do? Allow your employees to choose how they greet a guest, but give them guidelines on how you want them to make the guest feel. They can then make a decision in the moment that best suits that particular guest. Now they have to be thinking on their feet, they have to be adapting, they have to be present in their work.
Although it may seem scary giving more freedom to your staff, it’s essential for their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of your business. Employ good people, train them about your culture, show them your vision and then give them the freedom and trust to do their job. That’s how you create a team that makes your guests feel nourished and truly valued.
Love it or hate it, but customers who don’t enjoy their experience have a whole host of public platforms to voice their disgruntlement. No matter how great your restaurant is, there are always going to be some people who don’t like it or perhaps don’t have a great experience (any restaurant can have a bad night). Sometimes a guest's grievances are valid and other times they can be completely unjust. Sadly, Trip Advisor and the like can’t tell the difference. Once a poor review has been published it is there, permanently, for everyone to see.
If your restaurant has been open a few years, perhaps the odd bad review won’t make much difference, but for new enterprises these types of reviews can be hugely damaging. Not just for the success of the restaurant but for the morale of the staff who have all worked so hard to get it open.
I’ll be honest, we’re not big fans of people who don’t mention their grievances in the restaurant (especially new restaurants) only to then go and write scathing reviews online. If they knew how much time, effort and sheer courage it takes to open a restaurant, I’m sure they would take a much softer and rational approach. Let’s be clear it’s far more beneficial for guests to air their grievances to the restaurant privately instead of publicly trying to shame them.
One new restaurant recently came under fire for candidly replying to reviews that they felt were unfair and unjust. Although they were arguably acting in self defence, the owner still had to publicly apologise for his actions. So it does still seem a bit of a one-way street when it comes to public reviews the customer can say whatever they want, but the business’ response still has to be professional and measured.
So what can we do? There are always going to be people who, given the opportunity, will write scathing reviews if they’ve had a bad time. We’re never going to change that. So the changes have to be at our end.
A manager's first response when reading a terrible review is usually something like, “If only I’d known - I would have put it right before they left.” I have no doubt most managers would do everything in their power to resolve an issue and not let the complaint ‘leave the restaurant’. But people aren’t always going to tell you that something’s wrong. People may be shy, embarrassed, scared or there may be a number of other reasons why they aren’t willing to come over and tell you they’re upset.
But here’s the thing. No guest should have to tell you something’s wrong. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s obvious. Any guest who is unhappy will give you a whole host of signals that identify they are not satisfied. It’s all about awareness. Managers and servers alike should be incredibly sensitive to those signs. Looking for the slightest shifts in body language, conversations stopping, people looking around anxiously or straight down at their food, lack of smiling, lack of interaction with the server or their dining partner…there’s so many signs to be looking out for. Even though your guests aren’t actually speaking their concerns, their body language will be telling you exactly what’s going on.
Notice your guest's mood when they come into your restaurant, if this changes for the worse during their meal, perhaps something has gone wrong. This is then the time for you to step over and subtly interact. Find an excuse to go to the table; pour water, pour wine, clear some plates, make eye contact and they’ll quickly let you know what’s going on. Then you have an opportunity to fix it. Empathy and understanding are key here.
The morale of the story is thus; don’t wait for guests to come to you. It’s you and your team's job to spot things before they happen, and unhappy guests can be spotted a mile off. Of course, not all unhappy guests are going to write scathing online reviews but most of them won’t come back and that's even worse. Guest awareness is the key to not only reducing poor reviews but also to gaining life long customers.
Meet Keith Mrotek, a bartender from the Norseman Distillery in Minneapolis. He’s making a Martini from a recipe that dates back to 1903. The recipe he’s using details 30ml of Dry Vermouth, 60ml of Gin, Orange Bitters and a Lemon Coin. Three ingredients and a garnish. Pretty precise, right? As he skilfully prepares this classic cocktail, you can hear him say “there’s no such thing as the perfect Martini. But there is a perfect Martini for each guest”. The amount of ice you use, the length of time you stir the drink (Keith likes his stirred for 45 seconds), the amount of orange bitters you use. These all add subtle changes that can be tailored to suit each guest. The cocktail is still their unique recipe, it’s uses their own Gin and Vermouth but there’s flexibility in their approach that delivers something specific to each individual. For me that’s real modern bartending.
That also happens to be the exact approach we have to delivering great service. The U.S. has always been way ahead of us when it comes to customer service, and there’s no doubt we’re catching up. But I also think we’ve picked up some of their bad habits too. As big brands realised the importance of customer service, they developed rules and regulations to create ‘consistency’ throughout the company. Scripted “Good Morning Sir” and “You have a great day Miss” seemed to be the basis of great customer care. The problem is, we’ve got so used to these hollow please and thank-yous that we see straight through them. Robotic and scripted jargon like this is embarrassing for all involved. Airlines are a classic example. Whenever you depart from a flight and the three or four crew say, "thank you" for flying with them, sometimes not even looking at you and repeating the same words in the same tone in between conversations with themselves. Why do they do it? Because the training manual tells them they must. The whole exercise becomes pointless. Sadly that generic, robotic and soul destroying “good” customer service practice has found its way over here.
I’m not saying rules and points of service are a bad thing. They’re not. You couldn’t make this Martini without Gin and Vermouth - but we have to have flexibility. We have to trust front line employees to make their own choices and decide exactly how they think it is best to thank a customer. Our barman Keith takes pride in knowing exactly how to tailor his cocktails to suit his guests. And if you give your employees the right skills to tailor their service to suit each guest, they too will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. It takes no skill to mindlessly repeat “thank you” a hundred times. But it takes a great deal of skill to make each individual guest feel valued, welcomed and appreciated. These are skills that can be taught and honed and are incredibly satisfying to use.
Service without the freedom to go off script is tired, out-dated, dishonest, and your guests will see straight through it. Give your team a bit of freedom and trust, and see what they can achieve.
Right, now I’m off for a Martini… Keith?
OK I admit it, at first glance the idea of finding time to be mindful, in a hectic restaurant may seem a little crazy. Taking fifteen minutes out to meditate on a Saturday lunch (although it would be wonderful) isn’t the most practical of ideas and certainly wouldn’t help your labour budget. But what if I suggested that there are ways to get a good dose of mindfulness even in the most hectic of shifts, and these moments of consciousness, aren’t just good for your mental well-being but are, in fact, vital to the growing success of your business? Even if you’re not sold on the idea of mindfulness and presence, read on, you may just find it useful.
So let’s imagine you’re a waiter, it’s a Saturday lunch, it’s busy, it’s hot, the bar are running a little behind on drinks and the host has just given you one too many tables. Just take a moment, imagine this situation (I get a little tense just thinking about it). Now, I want you to start thinking about your thought process at this point, the stream of consciousness inside your head. As the pressure grows that interior monologue gets quicker and quicker, louder and louder, “where are my drinks? "I told that host not to sit me any more tables!" "I hate this job? What am I doing here? Where’s the spinach for table 6?” Our heart rate increases, tension grows, and we start to become less and less present and more and more locked in our heads. Awareness decreases and stress increases.
This scenario is not uncommon, go into any busy restaurant on a Saturday night and you may just see it. But is it really that bad? Surely that’s just part of working in a restaurant isn’t it? Well yes and no. Yes it is bad, I’ll go into why in a second, and yes it is part of working in a restaurant.
So why is it bad? Firstly, for the waiter. Health wise, both physically and mentally that amount of stress is simply not good for you. It’s exhausting. I’ve just been reading The Art of the Restauranteur by Nicholas Lander. There are so many incredible people who have founded wonderful restaurants only to tragically die of a heart attack ten years in. Leaving their business partners to carry on alone. That’s the pay off for working with all that stress. Secondly, for the customer. The customer is on the receiving end of distracted service. Nothing frustrates a customer more than when they feel the waiter is not giving them their full attention. Thirdly, for you, the owner. As stress increases our ability to make rational decision decreases. There's proper scientific studies into this. The more distracted we become the more mistakes we make, the more wastage we create, the less productive we become. Not to mention the fact that your customers are now not having a great time either and might not be too keen to return.
That idea of mediating for fifteen minutes doesn’t quite seem so crazy now does it? I jest... But we do need to get present, and we need to be able to do it quickly. It can’t interrupt service and it has to be done on the floor. So here’s how we do it. Every time you go to a table it is an opportunity to be present. Think about that for a second. The waiters have to talk to the tables. So why not use this time to bring yourself into the present. To stop all that interior monologue. A three minute break from all the stress to enjoy being with your guests. When you’re at a table, you don’t have to run food or drink all you have to do is be present. Listen to them, speak to them, enjoy that human connection. If you find that connection you will become present. Simple.
On a busy shift you need to see tables as a gift, a gift to be present. Like a mini pit stop during service. So many waiters go over to a table so distracted and rushed they completely miss this golden opportunity.
Here at Hop there’s a little mantra we teach all of our students to remind them how to get present on busy shifts. Before they go over to a table they take a second, I literally mean one second. They take a breath and say the following in their heads. “Establish. Engage. Enjoy.” Now let me explain. Establish: they establish good body language, usually just letting go of tension. Engage: they genuinely try to engage their guests, great eye contact, good smile. Enjoy: now they have the engagement from the guest they can enjoy that connection, enjoy that human experience. That’s why we all do this job because, at the heart of it, we are social beings who enjoy connecting with other people.
Establish. Engage. Enjoy. At first waiters will say I haven’t got time for all that. But it only takes seconds. At first they will feel like they're spending longer at the table, because they are speaking at a more relaxed pace. But in reality the actual time at the table is the same.
Furthermore, whilst they’re at the table their stress will reduce, their awareness will increase, the guests will be getting a much more unique and genuine experience and you will have a happy restaurant with a better atmosphere.
That’s how to get a good dose of mindfulness in a busy shift. Joss sticks are optional.
One of the things I love about our industry is the diversity of the people who work in it. I'm not just talking about where people are from or what language they speak, I'm talking about the skill set they have. In what other industry can you find a trainee lawyer, an architect and classical pianist in one room. When you think about it, that’s pretty cool.
Now, there are two ways to look at it. Firstly, these people probably aren’t going to be here that long and they’re not really interested in the job as a career so we’ll just let them get on with things. They’re not really valued as employees. Or we could look and say, “perhaps these people won’t be here forever, but hey, they’re living with purpose, they’re trying to achieve things, they could be a real asset while they’re here”. And this is they key: if you want to bring out the best in people, so they give your guests amazing customer service, you have to make your staff feel valued. How? Just speak and genuinely listen to them. I mean really listen, ask them about their lives, their dreams, they’re interests. It’s so easy to ignore the staff who we don’t see as ‘important’ or see as ‘transient’ but these guys are speaking to your guests every day. If you really value them, they will value your customer. Simple.
Now stop reading this, and go and add some value to your restaurant team. Customer service with heart is what every good restaurant should have and that comes from being valued.