Whether you have a food truck, a full-serve concept or anything in between, service is paramount, yet breakdowns sometimes happen to the best of us. Maybe an unexpected tour bus stops and you have a rush, a necessary piece of equipment breaks down, people call in sick on a Saturday night or any other day to day challenge. As an owner or manager, the show always goes on, but the customer experience must remain consistent and memorable in a positive way.
I am a big believer in paramount service – it’s the only real competitive advantage. Train your staff to over-deliver and treat every guest as the most important guest and your business will grow. Provide anything less and watch your business disappear, especially in this age of online reviews.
And so it was on two visits to a national quick-serve chain in Colorado this past week. On the first visit, a greeter took our order at the counter and then asked us to proceed down the line to the cashier where we could pay and wait for our food to be prepared. Although customer traffic was steady, The process was efficient and we were satisfied with the relatively short wait and quality of our food.
This place was convenient, so we went back the next morning. Expecting a similar experience, we waited at the counter for several minutes, but the greeter was absent. Two team-members were preparing orders with their backs to us. We looked at our watches while the wait continued. Finally one of the prep staff turned around and told us to proceed down the line to the cashier who seemed flustered. She was new to the register and was overwhelmed with taking orders, entering them into the system, accepting payment and making change. The line started to back up and customers eager to get on with their day became frustrated. Its no surprise that food was mixed up, customers got incorrect orders and the wait was much longer than necessary. Oddly, there was no manager in sight performing damage control.
This scenario can all be avoided with two simple systems. Cross-training and staff “on call”. The first preceeds the second. When time allows, nothing is more important than cross-training all staff in multiple positions until they become adept at multiple jobs. Training isn’t cheap, but a small investment up-front more than pays for itself when the unexpected happens. Now, the show not only goes on, but the customer is unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes.
Years ago, I had dishwashers who doubled as fry cooks, hosts who could make pizza and servers skilled at tending bar. On top of that, we had a rotating “staff on-call system”. This way, we never found our place short-staffed because there was always a dedicated team-member ready and willing to come fill in at a moment’s notice.
Our restaurant mantra was teamwork, respect and recognition, and these were the foundational elements of our success. Management led by example and the team were recognized and rewarded weekly for making a difference. Pretty soon, this approach shaped our culture of “hospitality, family and fun”. No wonder, turnover was virtually non-existent. Advance preparation and resourcefulness were the “key”.
Labor will always be any businesses’ biggest challenge, but you can turn the tables so to speak with a simple system or plan B, that becomes your restaurant’s strongest competitive advantage.