Article contributed by Gerry Murphy
Congratulations, you have made it to the Fall! In case some members of your team forgot, you’re in the hospitality business.
The dictionary says that hospitality is a noun. The friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way. I think we can agree that the definition is accurate. Especially for a Fall Kickoff!
However, with that said, I disagree with hospitality being called a noun. In order to succeed you need to turn that noun into a verb. So, think about some of your past practices. As the old saying goes actions speak louder than words. As Steve Saunders (president of Sea Breeze Concentrates) likes to say, “People like to do business with people they feel comfortable with and whom they trust.”
Today is the first day of the rest of your restaurant’s life. It is time to blow up all old habits and rethink what a best practice was to a new COVID-19 Best Practice. Overall, what I am saying is you and your staff are the most important people in your restaurant. Yes, that is correct. The reason I say this is because if you and your staff are not the authority on serving safe food during a pandemic than who is?
Let’s be honest, sadly the old saying of the customer is always right does not work during a pandemic. You must be correct. Practice Murphy’s Law always: “What can go wrong will go wrong”. Okay? Time to move forward. Get training for you and your staff. It is easy right now via Zoom etc. Get info from Rada at Letter Grade Consulting. List industry training sites. Make sure your staff is at ease with new COVID-19 practices. Give your staff rescores to quote to customers. If possible, give latest pandemic updates as a handout to customers with each order. Give them a reason to come back for good food and good information. Let customers know that you and your staff train daily. Pre-COVID-19, you and your staff could talk about sports to customers, let’s be honest, not much going on there. Please forbid yourself and staff from talking politics. It does not matter how good or bad a situation is, one customer will hate it and another will love it.
So now you are open, and it is a series of first encounters. First for your customer and first for your service staff. The trick is to turn the first into the next and not the last. There used to be no shortage of customers. When you think about it, today you are really fighting for customers. Has there ever been too many customers? The National Restaurant Association survey says that great service can carry poor food. Do you think poor service carries great food? I think not. Restaurants cannot live off what they used to be.
Now is the time to train and empower your staff to do the right thing. Each property is different. However, the goal is the same: Customer Satisfaction.
Believe it or not, there was a time when if you had to wait to for your reservation and things where running late the manager offered you a complimentary (alcohol-based) drink. I know that there are many dangers in offering free alcohol to people. It seems to me we need a return to that spirit. Look around the corner to see what you can do to make sure your customers return.
If your property has a pickup line have a server with proper distancing offer hospitality. Hospitality comes in many forms. It used to be a smile and a handshake; those days are gone. What does hospitality look like in this new pandemic world? It could be a small soft drink, a small bag of chips, or snack served in individual packages of some kind.
If you were doing some office catering or catering at customers’ homes. Forget the larger platter and think the “individual complete meal”. Each guest gets their own meal. Post COVID-19 meals must be thought through. Perhaps think of catered food as a gift. The entire meal in one container water, salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert. Plan for success, think about every item one could need to enjoy said meal that must be in the container. Don’t put the host in an awkward position. If hot sauce is needed, then supply individual containers. “Sharing Not Allowed”. During this pandemic “Sharing is not caring”. Make the host happy the way to do that is that the guest asks for nothing because you planned it through, and the rest will take care of itself. Failure to plan is a plan for failure.
Give customers what they want, and they will create a path to your door. What do they want? They want Hospitality, they want to feel like you are care about them. There was a time when the energy of a restaurant would embrace your customers just like a hug. That crowd said this place must be great it’s crowded. Today people see a crowd the see fear. One other thing to consider is having the reverse baker system on display. Post the new capacity and they post the number present allowing the customer to know without thinking that your restaurant is safe. Safe is what people want. A crowd may help you short term, but you will lose the war if you are crowding people in. One other thing to remember is there are spotters out there now so why chance it. When we come through this thing and we will you want to be the operator that followed the rules and shed light on customer safety. Remember this customer safety translates to your safety and that will keep you open through this pandemic.
Fall has arrived, ramp up your planning. Look to old sales records and plan a focused fall menu. Give all departments time to plan. Analyze each and every item. What is the career path of each item? If you have unused food items, what is the second use of said item? If a food item is so special that it only has one use than do not allow over purchasing. Underestimate demand for that item all the time. Have an unlimited supply of items that you can turn every other day. Sadly, it is better to run out. Having leftover raw food laying around with no place to go is not part of a plan for success. Don’t chase away your summer buzz. Slowly start to change decor perhaps small pumpkins on the table offer a box of crayons for decorating pumpkins and put them on display. Have a pumpkin decorating competition on a Saturday evening and will announce the winner the following week allow customers to vote for the pumpkin of their choice. One vote free. $ 5 for each extra vote and the proceeds go to charity. The restaurant relief fund.
With Fall here, what are you going to need to keep your outdoor dining area open? What will you need in the form of extra? (Heaters lighting side walls for tents, etc.). Depending on the type of establishment your run may be you offer logo long sleeve shirts for sale. Another item that might make a hit is a small blanket like the airlines offer. Perhaps you can partner with a sponsor for said items.
Think about the end of the meal. Maybe with cooler temperatures having a fresh selection of coffee and tea readily available. Offer coffee and tea is well constructed to go containers with a lid. Serve hot beverages to the table and allow the guest to self-serve cream and sugar. At the Self-Serve counter allow for refills and have a selection of deserts on display in clear to go containers. Think about the containers a florist might use to sell a corsage it might be a way to increase desert sales. Now the guest has an option for later at home evening coffee and dessert.
With all this planning for customer satisfaction make sure you wave your own flag. Awareness is also a new item to be considering. In the pre COVID-19 days you and everyone else took your menu and hours of operation for granted. To survive and traverse to a Post pandemic world you are at war for business. You just can’t show up you and your staff must always be promoting your establishment. Remember utilizing the internet via e-mail send out weekly email reminders. Offer coupons with your e-mails. It is a way to see if your advertising is working offer buy one get one free dessert. How about house made Pet Treats? Customer goes out for dinner and brings back treat for the Pet.
Don’t allow the supermarkets to eat your lunch there in the prepared food business, go after some of their business. Specialty Tomatoes and exotic produce that you already have in stock. What I am saying is you can’t do what you always did. You are no longer the same old restaurant business. At your takeout counter have additional items for sale. Be it lip balm, hand sanitizer or anything you think your customers want. Maybe insulated bag with your name on it to easily carry food home in. Where I live the grocery stores charge for plastic bags to carry food out, that they once given for free. Reminds me of the airlines used to store your luggage for free. Luggage is now a billion-dollar industry. If you are headed for survival, then you need to change the way you did things. Good Luck & Be Safe.