Article by Mark Anthony, Customer Service & Sales Trainer, President of Training for Success
The food service industry is a people oriented business. Does your staff give such great service that it separates you from the competition?
How do you give “wow” levels of service in a high turnover, low wage industry? The food service industry has always had the challenge of needing to train and develop people who are at times more focused on getting a paycheck than on building a career. They are often younger and in many cases are making minimum wage. Increases in minimum wage requirements have made this even more frustrating as added expenses cut into profit margins.
Great Service is an Attitude
Successfully delivering service that wows is not about paying people more money, it is about hiring and inspiring people who care. It’s about creating an environment that nurtures best practices including training staff to continually do those little things that get the customer to take notice, tell their friends, and of course, come back.
One simple change can transform the customer’s experience. Each of your people already know how to give good service, you just need to inspire (and in some cases empower) them to take action to bring that service to the next level. Lucy, a waitress at a cozy little restaurant called The Whale’s Tail in Long Beach, New York has taken the almost meaningless question of “How is everything?” that so many servers ask 5 minutes after bringing your food, and reinvented it. She also comes back 5 minutes after food is served, but instead asks, “How is everything tasting?“.
People are so numb to the question, “How is everything?” that unless there is a big problem they give a mindless reply of “fine” or “very good”. When Lucy first asked me, “How is everything tasting?” I actually stopped and gave it some thought, and happily it was excellent. I asked Lucy what made her ask the question differently than 99 out of 100 other servers.
She said, “I really wanted to know what people thought, the restaurant wants the customer to be happy, and we take pride in what we serve and how it tastes. So I thought about how I could learn about each of those things quickly. I’m in a restaurant and the bottom line is the food needs to taste great and be to the customers liking. So I just started to actually ask what we all want to know, “How is everything” and then just added “tasting”. By adding that one extra word the customer feels more cared for and happy. My tips also went way up because I actually learned what the customer wanted, but wasn’t expressing. Once I started learning what the customer was thinking I was able to take care of it or get the chef or manager to accommodate their request. Everyone all around had a better experience.”
Note to all managers: Lucy’s solution literally requires no extra time. Your staff is full of great ideas as well as a valuable resource. Tap into their ideas, and their solutions. Inspire them to share those ideas with you and their team members.
Do Your Team Meetings Inspire?
Whether you are a fast food or fancier restaurant, food supplier, a supermarket, a restaurant equipment manufacturer, or the architect who designs the space, you all have customers who expect great service to be delivered from your team.
Do you have regular team meetings? When running your meetings, are you allowing part of the meeting to address the challenges faced by your staff as well as to create practical solutions? Are you both challenging and inspiring your staff to find ways to make it fun to work within your organization and therefore making it more fun for everyone, including the customer? Are you asking questions that get your people thinking creatively? Are you inspiring them to care? Are you motivating them to take action and improve? Are you nurturing an environment that makes your people want to “wow” the customer and share with you all the low cost, easy to implement ideas they would be proud to take action on?
At a mid-size organization with 13 locations, I ran the customer service and masterminding portion of their semi-annual team meeting. The organization’s Senior Director wanted everyone to wow the customer. The staff of over 200 got into about 25 mini groups of 8 people each. Each person in the mini groups came up with several possibilities on how to wow the customer and make the environment more fun for everyone (staff and patrons). Each group then decided on what were the two ideas that would have the greatest “wow” impact on the customer. Each group’s spokesperson then shared why that idea was essential, how it would help the customer, as well as why it would build word of mouth and repeat business. The vast majority of the ideas shared were easy to implement and cost almost nothing to implement. Nearly 50 practical and easy to implement ideas came out of that semi annual team building meeting – “low hanging fruit” that management was missing the opportunity to harvest.
The team loved being in an environment that gave them the opportunity to improve their workplace. They were thrilled to create and share their ideas. They were being listened to and felt valued. They felt they were being given the opportunity to make a difference. These were their ideas; they generated them and wanted to be empowered to run with them. Interestingly, some of the ideas were things management could have very easily told staff to do. In the past some of the ideas were even things staff was told to do. The difference this time was that these were “the staff’s ideas” and they were excited to implement them. They had ownership of the idea, pride in the idea, and finally felt valued to share those ideas. It was theirs, so more was at stake and they wanted to see them succeed.
As C-suite managers, we understand the importance of people. As minimum wage costs and other expenses continue to rise, we must get more and more out of each asset. Our human capital is one of our most valuable assets and we must remember to continually find new ways to develop it and maximize its value. When Applebee’s New York Franchise CEO Zane Tankel was challenged by payroll costs skyrocketing due to increasing minimum wage, he chose to fire 1000 people. As technology evolves, “simple” tasks such as placing an order at a restaurant or checking out at a convenience store are becoming more and more automated. Much like the way many factory workers of the 40’s and 50’s were replaced by machines, technology is now doing the same in the food service industry. I frequently travel through Newark Airport where tablets have replaced waitstaff at many restaurants, and it is getting harder and harder to find a server who can guide “a guest” on a recommendation of one entree over another.
You can choose to have your business be a commodity and see your people as a tool to get a task done. Alternatively, you can see your people as an asset, one that makes your business unique and gives your business a voice along with a distinct personality that comes across joyfully. Develop a customer service culture with your staff that puts a smile on the face of your customer. It is your responsibility to inspire your team to deliver their own genuine warmth, heartfelt smiles, and care for the customer, rather than your overseeing that the team is simply executing a transaction correctly.
A tablet lets people transmit their order to the kitchen. A scanner lets them transfer money from their account to the merchants. An inspired customer service team transmits smiles, transfers warmth and is capable of creating an experience that brings your business to life. Individuals like doing business with other individuals. The time has never been better to have your business grow and flourish because of its people.
Mark Anthony is President of Training for Success. He has trained teams on customer service for over 25 years and delivered his programs on 6 of 7 continents. For information call 212 683 1834 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Serving & Presenting custom workshops for Clients on 6 Continents since 1988. For more information, visit their website.