“Where have all the spoons gone?”

Posted by | April 12, 2014 | Eats, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 20.20.33Five things restaurants could do to stop customer rage. Well, my rage at least.

Have you ever waited an age for your coffee or your bill? Ever wondered what’s going on? No, it’s not just forgetfulness or indeed poor prioritising, more often than not your server can’t find a spoon for your coffee or a side plate for your bill. So where have all the neatly polished spoons and plates gone that were there at the start of the shift? The reasons are simple enough: the front-of-house have no agreed system of service. This lack of training is endemic in Ireland: staff carry out tasks from second to second without a vision of how their micro-task management is impacting on the end of their shift.

Throughout the boom, and even the bust, I marvelled at how banks, and others, happily invested in new restaurants based on a hunch. Sometimes it was a little more sophisticated than that, but the one area that was consistently ignored was the sales team. Or as the catering sector calls them: the wait staff. Sadly they are much maligned lot but it’s unfair to blame them alone for bad service, they often don’t know, what they don’t know.

1 Where have all the spoons gone?
Still waiting for your coffee? I suspect the spoon to go with it is either on a table where somebody has long gone or the spoon is getting jiggy with a dirty plate in the wash-up area. There are two simple mantras which will ensure a plentiful supply of spoons at the end of a shift: ‘ABC: Always Be Carrying’ along with ‘Never leave the kitchen empty-handed and never leave the floor empty-handed’. This is a win-win for staff and customers as any server who implements this will radically reduce their foot fall (reducing sore feet); as well as increase service for customers, who will tip more and return to the restaurant. It also reduces clean up time at the end of the shift so cuts the hourly wages bill too. That probably makes it a win-win-win.

2 Stop trying to make new friends and start talking to your old ones
I’m all in favour of mini-marketing campaigns and reaching out to your local customers. However, have restaurateurs ever wondered how insulting incentives to new customers are to regular customers? Attracting a new customer will cost a restaurant five times as much as keeping one they already have. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) isn’t just for mega corporations, SMEs need to have a CRM policy too. So if you’re launching a campaign to attract new customers make sure you’ve something planned for the regulars too.

3 Know what to do when somebody complains
Restaurateurs have chanced their arm for a long time in Ireland that customer service is about friendliness. It’s not. It’s about having systems in place to ensure a smooth running shift for staff, customers and their bottom line. We have made a tiny shift in recent years as we now ask people if they are enjoying their meal. But woe betide anyone who actually replies with a complaint no matter how politely delivered. Although an infinitesimally small number of restaurants do manage this well most do not, yet a dissatisfied consumer will tell somewhere between 9 and 15 people about the bad time they’ve had. Worse still, some 13% of dissatisfied diners will tell more than 20 people. Then of course there is the horror statistic that for every customer who complains, 26 customers have said nothing … to the restaurateur. They’ve obviously told all their mates. Nonetheless a complaint well handled can actually become a positive mini-marketing experience as they share their good experience with those 20+ friends.

4 I’m over here!
Many harried wait staff spend shifts in a state of semi-panic, keeping their eyes down and focusing on a single task. It can be hard to persuade staff to look up, scan the restaurant and see what needs to be done. But if they’ve already anticipated everything a customers wants they’re only going to get the occasional request. There’s an easy enough trick to help wait staff take control of their section, or indeed help anyone trying to manage a complexity of tasks: always know the next three things you’re going to do. The priorities may change but wait staff should always be asking for what they need rather than others screaming for their attention, whether that’s the kitchen, the drinks dispensary or the customer. Look up and scan the restaurant. Oh and I’m over here looking for another drink (which roughly translates into waiter-speak as: increased spend-per-head = increased tip).

5 Say hello, wave goodbye
If somebody arrived at your home, or the door swung open into your living room, you’d look up to see who it was and at the very least acknowledge them. Right? Except many front of house staff have trained themselves to ignore that moment. It’s quite a feat, as it’s counter-intuitive to humankind’s inquisitive nature. Yet, it happens all the time. You open a heavy door that makes lots of noise and staff allow a few moments of discomfort before they actually look your way. Then, like a verbal gauntlet, and without a hello you get: “Do you have a booking?” They are nearly always disappointed when you say yes. But even in the busiest of times there is always a nano-second to catch somebody’s eye and nod or smile so they know they’ve been seen. It’s true, you know, you can have somebody at hello.

The exit is important too. Once a customer has asked for the bill psychologically they have left the restaurant. This means they want the bill quickly. Once they’ve paid they’ll nearly always look around to say goodbye to whoever has served them or welcomed them but curiously, once a restaurant has got their money, the customer seems to disappear from the wait staff’s line of vision. It feels a little cheap as you trudge out the door and all it would take was a wave goodbye to guarantee a hello from a the following week.

These are just some of the issues I’ll be exploring at a MasterClass I’m hosting called ‘Would you like profit with that?’ in the Marker Hotel, Dublin, Tuesday 13 May. Further information and booking details here: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/would-you-like-profit-with-that-a-masterclass-in-restaurant-income-growth-tickets-10305378665