It happened quickly. And thankfully the shows highlighting the year or decade in review are all in rerun stage. Now we can focus on the future. We can begin to look towards the challenge of moving forward, developing a stronger customer base, and increasing our business.
For many, that won’t be difficult as they are professionals well versed in the art of customer relationship management. However, for those who are comfortable in a kitchen, they seldom, if ever, get to see the customer. Make it a point to venture out into the hallowed halls of dining room small talk.
A dilemma many chefs deal with is how to get to know their customers while they are preparing their food in the kitchen. That is frequently a difficult challenge to manage. However, it is one of the most important aspects of the restaurant business.
For customers, knowing the owner of a restaurant, or at least seeing him or her in the restaurant, makes the experience more enjoyable. Although difficult to be in many places at the same time, an owner should plan their time efficiently and actually schedule dining room appearance time. Don’t look at this as an egotiscal act, but more of a customer service compliment.
This is one of the main assets that single unit and small group operators have in their arsenal of competitive tricks that chains cannot compete with. And although the hospitality, customer service and friendliness of staff may be very comforting at some chain restaurants, it doesn’t compare to having the owner walk through the dining room and watch how the customers are enjoying their food and dining experience. Customer conversation in small doses often offers large returns on investment.
When I first opened one of my
One Saturday evening a very good customer called me over to his table as I was walking through the dining room and inquired what ordering system I was using. He claimed that every time he came into the restaurant I was out of “Head Lettuce”. He couldn’t understand it. When I explained that I never, ever, ordered head lettuce because it was mundane, he proceeded inform me that I was a culinary idiot.
He continued to tell me how important a wedge of head lettuce was to crumbled bleu cheese. He explained the importance of a quick twist of fresh ground pepper on the mountainous ridge. He boisterously ranted about the placement of half sliced cherry tomatoes and finally bet me that a wedge salad would out sell any mixed green concoction on the menu, 2 to 1.
I took the bet. And lost. In doing so I increased my salad category profit margin considerably with something as simple as “the wedge”. Earthbound Farms was not as happy with me as they had been, but my customers began to thank me for placing the traditional salad on the menu.
That salad tutor had been coming into the restaurant for over a year. But he never thought to come into the kitchen, or call, or even tell the waiter the importance of head lettuce. It wasn’t until I ventured into the dining room to speak with the guests that I gathered the information needed to introduce something as simple as “the wedge”.
Mingling with the customers is not always easy. When times are slow, and the room is half full or empty, walking through a dining room may be difficult. At the same time, a full dining room is just as difficult to venture into when the kitchen is slammed.
But remember, you are the captain of the ship. You need to guide your staff, lead your team, and get to know your customer’s habits, their needs, likes and dislikes in order to succeed. Although customer input at times may seem like suggestive dribble that has little importance on what you are doing, frequently their points may bring you closer to profitability. If nothing else, listening to them will set you apart form the chain whose owner has to answer to the board of directors rather than a dining room full of potential for the future.