Say My Name, Say My Name

It’s important to focus on the basics of customer service in the hospitality industry. One simple skill that should be part of every training structure is what I like to call Guest and Employee Name Recognition.

Remember the show Cheers back in the 80’s? Along with being a great Emmy Award-Winning comedy, it brought to life one of the great joys of having a place “Where everybody knows your name.” – feel free to sing along!

Norm was the character that everybody knew. Just as important, Norm knew everybody else’s name too. And that, my restaurant friends, is a key ingredient to success! So why do servers rarely introduce themselves to guests?

If we all agree that dining out is about the experience rather than just a meal, then perception through personalized interaction is a key ingredient of that experience. It’s a fact that Guest and Employee Name Recognition affects:

  • Bigger tips in your server’s pockets
  • Increased understanding and patience when experiencing delays and/or mistakes
  • More guests return on a regular basis
  • Guests are more likely to tell others about your restaurant

As a domino effect result, all of the above directly impacts every aspect of a restaurant’s business:

  • Increase in top-line revenue
  • Decrease in cost of doing business. For example, when Servers are more successful and happy, costs related to employee issues, turnover, and training decrease.
  • More time is made available to focus on growth rather than dealing with avoidable problems

Speaking of happy Servers, let’s look at a tip scenario…

Server Joe is going to get what he gets depending on how good of a server he is. However, Julie, who remembered your favorite drink, who just had a birthday, and is saving for her son’s college tuition, is no doubt going to get much bigger tips more of the time. These types of interactive dialogue that build a relationship can only start with an introduction.

Now what if Julie – who typically provides excellent service – forgot to put in your appetizer order? Well, that’s not great, but you know she has a lot going on, so it’s hard to be mad at Julie.

But if it’s just “our waitress” or “that girl,” it’s far easier to experience this minor issue as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you (as restaurant professionals, we know this level of “the world is ending” over-reaction is far too common).

Since guests rarely ask for the server’s name, it’s far less awkward if they already know it when they need to use it. In the Cheers scenario from above, it was just as important to Norm that he ordered his beer from Sam Malone behind the bar. He knew “Sammy” would take care of him. If he went somewhere else it would be “Buddy”, “Chief”, or any other of the standard guy-to-guy references. What if the bartender is a female? Then it’s “Miss,” “Honey,” the dreaded “Ma’am” and the list, unfortunately, just gets worse from there.

So how do we help create a positive perception, help avoid issues, and head off issues before they can even happen? Simple:

“Hi, I’m Julie and I’ll be taking care of you this afternoon. What can I get you to drink?”

By | December 16th, 2016|Communication Tips, Restaurant Tips, Training|Comments Off on Say My Name, Say My Name

Optimize Your Restaurant Layout for Safety & Success!

So you get invited to someone’s home for a party. Not all of the guests have arrived yet and you already feel cramped. In fact, you practically have to start throwing elbows like an NHL player just to get to the cheese dip!

Some spaces are laid out just right for social events, while others aren’t. There’s always that fine line between cozy and cramped (not to mention the danger of catching an elbow from someone who just wants some cheese dip).

When you’re in the restaurant business, riding that fine line is fundamental to your success on multiple levels.

In the world of hospitality, we’re always searching for that ideal mix of maximizing space for revenue, having a comfortable environment for guests, and making it as easy as possible for staff to provide the best possible service. There are lots of variables to consider to help ensure you get the most out of your restaurant space. Here are some to consider…

Restaurant Table Layout — Safety, Comfort, and Style

Perhaps the most common layout mistake we’ve seen during the planning stages of a new restaurant is designing the floor-plan (either physically or electronically) with the chairs pushed in. It’s best to address this flawed “ideal layout” long before guests flow in during the soft opening and crucial travel arteries are cut off. Bump a guest a couple times and what happens to their overall dining experience? So it’s important to keep in mind that a table’s footprint significantly increases when guests are seated. Better to figure it out from the start before causing a domino effect of issues down the line.

Now lets throw in a couple other variables: aesthetic balance of table types (rounds, squares, and rectangles) along with the ability to easily pair these combinations to quickly accommodate larger parties.

While comfort and safety of our guests and employees is primary, how employees move throughout the front of the house with guests present is vitally important from an overall experience standpoint. If we agree that we should avoid cutting in front of guests and stand aside to let them pass freely, our layout should also account for this often-overlooked best practice.

“Would you like some more coffee?”

Time-of-Stay is another consideration with regards to table placement and layout. With the ideal floor plan to maximize your particular space in mind, here are some additional Time-of-Stay considerations as they may apply to your specific situation:

  • Tall tables in the bar for standing only or typically shorter stays.
  • Lower tables in the bar or dining room for longer stays.
  • If you really want to encourage people to stay longer, offer them a booth.
  • Booths are also a great option for young families who want to corral the younger clientele (which is safer for everyone, especially in high-traffic areas).

While Time-of-Stay may seem like a minor consideration, it will certainly become vitally important as your restaurant realizes more success and you’re looking for more ways to maximize annual covers, check averages, etc. (as an example, see Host Stand section below).

Layout as a Managerial and HR Tool

Yet another key factor to making your restaurant “work” effectively is to provide safe passage for your employees in, out, and around service areas. And — you guessed it — your table layout decisions directly affect where your service areas are located and how they are accessed and used. For example, one defining rule for service areas is: Employees should have a comfortable two-way passage in all service areas.

You might not think that your restaurant layout directly affects managerial and HR issues, but it does. While standard safety is of utmost concern, sexual (and other forms) of harassment are unfortunately all too common in the industry — and cramped, awkward spaces only exacerbate the problem.

The View From the Host Stand

Host staff should be keenly aware of the flow of your restaurant. Although it may be important to seat a particular server because “it’s their turn,” the host should refrain from seating guests next to a large party that is just being served their food if it can be avoided. Either an alternate table should be chosen or your host should be empowered to pass the time with a bit of conversation until the necessary pathway is free from commotion.

When your Host staff understands the logic behind the layout and flow of your restaurant, they can better accommodate guests and ultimately be a key factor in maximizing the guest experience (and covers).

A Framework for Success

Educating staff on how to treat guests — including physical movement throughout the restaurant — is our responsibility as owners, managers, and trainers. We can’t assume that they will simply know when and how to be considerate (sadly, common sense seems to be more and more uncommon these days).

An unfortunate byproduct of our fast-paced, modern world is a constant sense of urgency. Although haste should be made to seat, greet, and service guests in a timely manner, they should never feel rushed or hurried. Having a layout that works for you instead of against you in this regard goes a long way in helping to make your business a success!

These are just some variables to consider when planning (or re-planning) your restaurant layout. This is not to say that there should be no obstacles or unused paths. Rather, that those tighter passages should be minimal only to provide a cozy fullness to that space while allowing for logical, comfortable, and safe movement for guests and staff.

Taking a look at your current floor plan, what changes can you make to your layout to alleviate nagging problems, avoid larger issues, and increase revenue?

By | February 24th, 2016|Restaurant Tips, Training|Comments Off on Optimize Your Restaurant Layout for Safety & Success!

The Art of the Smile

The Art of the SmileIt’s funny how the little things — the simple, often-overlooked things — can make or break a dining experience. More specifically, losing focus on the little things can risk permanently ruining guest relationships. Not only might they never come back, but how many people are they going to tell?

The most basic of these is a smile…

We were recently out to dinner with friends at a well-known, upscale restaurant chain (which shall remain anonymous).

From the moment our server approached the table it was obvious she was not happy. No smile. No “Welcome to…” No, “How is everyone doing tonight?” Just a scowl and, “Can I get you something to drink?” We ordered 2 margaritas – one with salt and one without — and 2 club sodas. No repeating back (active listening), she just scribbled down the order and walked away.

We all exchanged glances.

So when only the two club sodas showed up almost 10 minutes later, I immediately looked around for clues: no crowd at the bar; no line of servers waiting for their drinks. Since logistically it just didn’t make any sense, the only logical conclusion based upon our brief experience with this server was: indifference.

About 5 minutes later we got our margaritas — both with salt. My friend mentioned the salt on the glass and the server’s response was, “Do you want me to have them remake it?” At this point my friend just wanted to sit back and enjoy her drink after a tough day, declined the server’s half-hearted offer, and just scraped off the salt.

The rest of the meal was more of the same: a general sense of I’ve got better things to do than be serving you people.

When I noticed the general responses to our mutual “How is your food?” questions  leaning more towards, “It’s okay.” rather than, “Oh, it’s really good!” I was again reminded why I place such importance on the little things.

Not only is smiling the right thing to do in service industries, but on a practical level a genuine smile will affect a guest’s perception of everything that happens throughout their dining experience. A smile will enhance the positives and diminish the perception of any challenges related to timing, mistakes, quality, etc. On the other hand, the lack of a smile which creates perceived indifference and/or rudeness will negatively impact even the highest quality meal.

We decided to have our dessert on the patio and listen to live music. Our new server gave us a friendly “Hello!” with a big smile. We told her we just ate inside and came out for dessert. “Sounds great!” she said. “And maybe some coffee?”  Sure! “Excellent. Let me get those for you while you look over our dessert menu.” When she returned shortly with our coffees, we asked her how big the brownie sundae was and she immediately became very animated in describing it and said we we were going to love it. We did. I believe the brownie sundae tasted better as a result of her energetic, smiling description.

I then watched as she moved from one table to the next through the packed patio connecting her smile with each of her customers.

The art of the smile is everything in the service industry. It is the package of every interaction and everything that’s said. The more this becomes a second-nature habit, the less chance there is to have personal challenges leak out and affect a guest’s experience and ultimately the restaurant’s short-term and long-term bottom line (not to mention the server’s tip).

Guests are not just paying for a meal, they are paying for an experience. A friendly smile isn’t just a good idea, it’s part of the job.

By | December 7th, 2015|Restaurant Tips, Training|Comments Off on The Art of the Smile

Welcome to the Re-Brand

Breathing life into our client’s brands is what we love to do. So it feels kind of strange to do it with our own brand. Giving an 11-year-old company a fresh paint job has been fun and interesting. But underneath the fresh coat of paint, what’s actually changed?

Over the last 15 years as a media design and communication training consultant, my focus was typically more on the marketing, branding, and design side. That has changed quite a bit over the last several years.

I found crafting communication structures and training to be as creative as any marketing, branding, or design project. So while our unique value-add has always been the mix of marketing and communication training — leveraging over 25 years of communication and sales training experience — we finally made the decision to shift the main company focus to training. Why?

How often do we hear groans when someone says:

“So I had to call <insert company here> customer service this morning…”

When did “customer service” become such a cringe-worthy phrase? I can’t stand to watch clients make huge branding and marketing investments only to have the customer relationship destroyed from the moment they hear an indifferent, “Can I help you?” (which, by the way, should be, “How can I help you?”)

So while we will continue to be a valuable resource with our unique blend of branding and training, the primary focus on building communication structures ensures that we continue to help our clients… build brands from the inside out.

Perhaps the biggest change is for Allison Strauss. A 28+ year veteran of the restaurant industry, Allison has worked in every area of the business from high-end fine dining to country clubs. After spending 14 years as a GM with Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse — a Chicago restaurant institution and one of the most successful, fine dining restaurant groups in the country — Allison made the decision to move to full-time restaurant consulting 2 years ago.

Bringing her wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise with building teams, Allison is helping both new and existing restaurants with every aspect of the restaurant business. From training staff and management on guest communication and service standards, to inventory, forecasting, P&L, and marketing, she’s able to position restaurants for continued success in an what can be a volatile industry.

What’s Next?

As a national, Chicago-based consulting company, we are able to travel anywhere to help companies succeed. Watch this space for communication skills and tips to help a variety of industries and feel free to drop us a note to discuss how we can help build your brand!

By | December 2nd, 2015|Branding, Communication Tips, Restaurant Tips|Comments Off on Welcome to the Re-Brand