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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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.
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.
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.
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.