Ask anyone who runs a restaurant and you’ll find there is a hell of a lot to do. As managers get promoted it becomes easy to take on the many responsibilities of the business…
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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.
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?