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service training like never before

 Managing the Unmanageable

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Managing the Unmanageable

One of the unique things about the restaurant industry in the UK is it’s workforce. Love it or hate it, the restaurant industry is a stop gap for many on a path to something else. Lawyers, Actors, Economists, Writers, Nurses, Teachers, Photographers, Athletes. These are just few of the professions I’ve come across moonlighting in the restaurant game. Personally, I think it’s something to be embraced, where else would you find such a diverse group of talented people all working in one place. 

 

But, as with most things, there are drawbacks. Some people enter the industry with every intention of moving on but, like it so much they stay. They choose to go into management and push on from there. I can think of a few well known and highly successful company directors who ‘fell’ into the industry. 

 

Then there are those who were always planning to leave but never quite did. They don’t want to go into management, they don’t really want to work in the restaurant, they don’t really know what they want to do. They become stuck, which leads to frustration, conflict with colleagues and most importantly poor service. There’s no joy in what they do anymore. All because they feel their life isn’t where it should be. The vision, if it was there in the first place, has gone and with it, their enthusiasm. 

 

These people can be highly destructive to a team and managing them properly is key. You can’t just hope they will leave, or hope you can build up a big enough case against them for gross misconduct. By that time your whole floor team could be ruined. 

 

So what are our options? One: we go in hard telling them that they aren’t performing to a high enough standard, they look miserable on the floor and are too negative. But how exactly do we break that down? Tell them they need to smile more? Say please and thank you more? Be kinder to their guests? Good luck with that. If anything you're gonna create a fake over-the-top cynical style of service which won’t last long and then you’re back to square one. You’re not addressing the root of the problem, just temporarily masking it. 

 

So what else can we do? We need to remember these people are stuck. The vision of what they want from their career, their life has gone. You’re job is to help them find that vision again and guide them down a route to achieve it.  Progress makes us happy. Moving towards a goal makes us happy. Would you prefer to be cruising down the motorway or gridlocked on the slip road. 

 

Ok so here’s what to do. Ask them about what they want to achieve both at work and in their personal lives. If they’re not sure give them a few days and tell them to come back with something written down. You’re be surprised what they come back with. Even the most unmotivated will come up with brilliant ideas, when they commit it to paper. So now we have a vision. Now get them to break down these goals into sub goals, or steps along the way that they will need to achieve before reaching the big goal. 

 

For example, Jon has worked in a site for four years, he hates working in the restaurant. A week after out initial chat he comes up with the idea that he wants to travel the world and teach English as a second language. Boom! We have a vision. So now we need to break that goal down into smaller goals. He needs to research courses, he needs to save money, he needs to improve his grammatical understanding of English (couldn’t we all). Jon keeps adding to this sub goal list over the next few days. Next I help Jon break down the goals into daily, weekly and monthly goals. I get him to develop his own planner. We have a vision and now we have clear steps of how to get there. 

 

So yes, Jon might be leaving in a year now but all of a sudden he’s working with discipline, clarity and vision. He knows what he wants and therefore we’ve pulled him out of the well of negativity he was stuck in. Just Google ‘goal setting’ and there’s ton of resources on how to set plans. The Jon you hired four years ago is back and he’s delivering good service again. 

 

You might think this is a lot to do and hasn’t got much to do with the restaurant but it’s worth the time invested. You’re making them make change. Change for them is good, it makes them more malleable and more manageable. It’s also incredibly satisfying, for you as a manager, to create that sort of change in another person. I’m not saying they will be perfect all the time but they will make a huge improvement, and the rest of the team, not to mention your guests, will thank you for it. 

 

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Restaurants and French Philosophers.

Maybe our recent trip to Paris has inspired us to bring a bit of philosophy into the restaurant game.  The existentialist philosophers of the 19th and 20th Century may seem to have little relevance when it comes to running a successful restaurant. Can the likes of Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Satre and Albert Camus teach us, in the hospitality sector, anything useful? 

 

Well, firstly, these guys ate out a lot. On any given day you would often find the existentialists philosophers, at a table, wearing a black roll neck, discussing the meaning of life over cocktails and food. But how on earth does this have any relevance in today’s industry? Well existentialism is pretty complicated but it was born out of another, simpler,  philosophy called Phenomenology.  Phenomenology was all about making sure we experience things fully, with full presence and consciousness.

 

So if I’m having a cup of coffee, I focus on that coffee, it’s smell, it’s velvety texture, it’s rich taste, the warm comforting feeling it creates in my body, the bitter chocolaty aftertaste the kick of the caffeine.  All of a sudden a cup of coffee is quite a complex amazing thing. The alternative is to be drinking a cup of coffee with no awareness of what I’m drinking, lost in my own thoughts, oblivious to the wonders of the hot beverage and the world.

 

To Phenomenologists, this was the joy of being human, to be able to be conscience in our interactions with the world. It’s all to easy to switch back to autopilot. I see it all the time; FOH staff just going through the motions with no attempt to connect to the people in front of them. Now I don’t know about you but I want all my staff to be Phenomenologists, staff who are actively engaging with the food we sell, staff that are actively engaging with each and every customer, staff that are present, with their colleagues, their friends, their customers, fully present in their work. If you want a great energy in your restaurant 19th century French philosophy isn’t a bad place to start.

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Paris Je t'aime

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Paris Je t'aime

What we learnt in Paris.

 

There’s so much to love in Paris. The food, the wine, the cheese, the bread, the level of customer service. Yes - the level of customer service. OK, perhaps Paris hasn’t always been famous for it’s customer service especially not to us Brits. I used to live in France and would often find Brits unable to speak French getting more and more frustrated with a waiter, who seemingly couldn’t speak English. The louder the guest asked “Do you have an English menu?’ The more the waiter would shut down and reply calmly “Je suis désolé monsieur, mais je ne comprend pas”. Ironically, the waiters could all speak English they just refused to, if they took a dislike to certain individuals. Amusing as these episodes were to watch I always thought pride was the key factor. A proud waiter would not be spoken down to by a tourist making no effort at all to speak Europe’s founding language.

 

On this trip I didn’t witness such instances, but I did feel a sense of pride coming from almost every person who served us. Pride in the restaurant they were working in, pride in the food they were serving, pride in helping us pick a wine, pride in taking away our empty plates, knowing we had enjoyed their food, essentially taking pride in making sure we had a good time.

 

One of my new favourite cocktail bars, The Mary Celeste, was packed when we visited, but the barman took his time to speak to us, ask us what we liked, and then made us something completely off spec just for us. He then spent time checking we liked it, he was making sure everyone in that bar felt valued. The energy of the bar was beautiful, bustling and busy, but fun and warm too. After the terrible attacks in Paris it’s service like this which is so important. It makes people feel safe and warm and valued and keeps people going out, and for me that really is something to take pride in. Next time your in Paris make sure you drop in, it’s at 1 Rue Commines. I guess that’s what we learnt in Paris, that pride in your work is key and sometimes making other people feel welcomed, valued and safe really is something to be proud of. 

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Added Value

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Added Value

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. 

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"Don't judge a book by its cover."

Sometimes, what you see, isn’t always what you get.  Don’t judge a book by its cover my dear old Gran used to say. And the same is true with people, as we found out at a training session last week.

 

We’re in a big new, beautiful restaurant a week before soft launch. We’re mid-session and a shy, nervous student gets in front of the rest of the class. She moves to the front of the room to see if she can put into action some of the things we have been talking about. She starts the mock scenario with our actors. To begin with, her style is cold at best, at worst a bit scary, intimidating, aggressive almost. 

 

Now, at first glance you may have thought there is no way this person could provide gentle, empathetic and fluid service. She obviously hasn’t got ‘it’ and there’s no way she could learn ‘it’. ‘It’ being that elusive, effortless ability to make guests feel relaxed and welcome. Some people may have thought she’s never going to get ‘it’. Just let her get on with it and maybe she’ll leave eventually.  Not us. We try a couple of things. She has a go at the scenario again. Not great but better. The girl has heart and determination. The pressure is building as the rest of the class watch on. The actors look a bit scared. We work on voice, body language, intention and then boom! I can’t do justice to the transformation; all of a sudden there is the most incredible smile, a warmth, a joy, a sense of humour. She has ‘it’ and not just a bit but she has ‘it’ in spades and all in under fifteen minutes.

 

I have no doubt this particular student will go onto to be a General Manager, the feedback from the management team has been incredible and this particular student has discovered a side of herself she didn’t know existed. Transformations like this are incredible and they create the most loyal and dedicated employees; but sometimes you have to get through the hardback cover to discover them. I just wish my Gran could have been there to see it. 

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The dementors of the service industry.

Yesterday I went to a very high-end, swanky restaurant, famous in many quarters. Sadly, I ended up on the receiving end of the type of service I can’t stand. Robotic, generic and soulless. Nothing can suck the very being out of me quicker than fake generic service; it reminds me of the dementors from Harry Potter (apart from fact that I have to pay for this agonising privilege).

 

The food was great,  the wine was great, plates laid down with sophistication but the atmosphere of the place was non-existent, no one smiling or laughing, not many people even talking. The staff slowly draining the life out of each and every guest.

 

I watch intently as our waiter goes around to each table, speaking in exactly the same rhythm and tone, lifeless and all one-way (clearly not listening). There was absolutely no attempt to connect with any of his guests. He was on autopilot, spitting out the same old drivel, locked in his own thoughts, with no regard for any of his guests. Not present, or enaged at all in what he was doing and the scary thing was he thought he was doing a great job! We ask to make an alteration to a dish, the waiter say "yes fine." The dish comes out unchanged; the table next to us have no mains as the waiter forgets to order them. The table to the other side get the wrong starters.  Our side dishes are wrong. All because someone isn’t present in what they are doing.

 

Why does this happen? Because the joy has gone in what they do. There’s no heart or soul in what they do and they don’t know where to find it. Perhaps more worryingly they don’t even no they’ve lost it.

 

We all get distracted and caught up in our own thoughts from time to time, but to find joy in what you do you must connect with your guests. Whenever I’m distracted I make an extra effort to really listen to my guests, to really give them my full attention. To make them feel valued, and that will make them happy (well most of them) and if you are genuinely part of that experience that will make you happy. The joy of the job is found in the way we communicate with our guests and our colleagues. It defines the energy of a restaurant. Happiness is nothing unless shared. 

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