Eating out has become as much a part of daily life in America as showering. Whether it be grabbing a muffin and a Grande Latte at Starbuck’s or enjoying a cold lamb sandwich at Bouchon, statistics prove that on an average most people consume prepared food outside the home at least once a day. The brown-bag lunch is all but dead. Snacks have filled the desk drawers and closets of corporate powerhouses. Grocery stores offer such a vast array of prepared food for grab and go meals it’s a wonder anyone has a kitchen in their homes. How do we stay competitive in this market?
Focusing on the smallest amenities that your customer may notice is a great way to attract and keep customers. Make a list of things that sets your restaurant apart from others and make another list of things that you don’t do that well or would like to do better.
Ask your staff to come up with three ideas each of what they would like to see in the restaurant. Have a meeting to discuss all the possibilities of adding a bit of life to the body of work you produce daily.
The small things that matter to customers are often overlooked by managers, staff, and owners.
Two things shout out to customers that a restaurant isn’t up to par with others in the neighborhood. One – dirty windows and finger marked doors on the front of a restaurant. And the second is a dirty bathroom. If a dining couple loves the martini’s, enjoys the steak, and can barely live without the special house dressing, none of those kudos will matter once the female discovers the bathroom resembles Buddy’s Truck Stop on Route 66.
One of the main places you can make a difference is at the table.
Make sure your salt and pepper shakers are filled and cleaned daily. Did you ever notice that the ketchup bottle at home never accumulates that disgusting mass of dried, caked, brown ketchup on it like the bottle down at Romey’s Burgers and Buns? Clean the tops of the condiment bottles daily. It’s part of the side work routine for somebody. It makes a difference.
Condiments. Load up the selection. Izzy’s Steak House in San Francisco offers more condiments, hot sauces, and steak sauces than anyone can imagine were ever made. The lamp above the bar had a broken globe on it for a decade- part of the character of the place and the owner, Sam Duvall. But everyone loves the steak sauces.
Flatware makes a difference. Simple rule in restaurants. Knives have weight, spoons have capacity, forks aren’t bent. One of the greatest silverware outlets on earth, Fish’s Eddy in New York, has long been an emporium for mix and match silverware and dinnerware. If you want to serve dessert on a novelty plate, possibly from the Biltmore Hotel, this is the store to visit.
If you don’t inspect your menus, daily, start doing it immediately. Sampling food to customers is great. However, it should be done on a plate, not a menu. Get rid of the dirty menus. And, if you use those plastic menu covers, make sure that someone is wiping them down with a clean towel or cloth.
It is so easy to ruin the look of a perfectly set dining room with table clothes that hang at varying lengths. Review the look of your dining room throughout the evening to make sure your table clothes look as crisp and uniform as the Boston Philharmonic. When Ernie´s opened two decades ago in New York City, the cavernous room oozed an inviting, warmth due to the fact that the white linen was perfectly set and artistically appealing. Still popular, the linen still lines up.
Polish your glass ware. Lipstick stains belong on shirts. They have no place on vessels for Martinis, water, coffee and tea.
Crumbs should never be apparent, or overly abundant in the bottom of a bread basket. It only makes sense that bread can only crumb to a certain point. Does it seem realistic that a basket of new bread can accumulate a massive amount of crumbs from the bread station to the table? That can only happen if the basket isn’t emptied and the liner refolded. Of course we are not going to use a new napkin with every bread basket. But, we should at least shake the liner out as if it were a table cloth. Next time you´re in a restaurant, look at the bottom of the bread basket. It may help cut down on carbs.
Finally, look in the container your bussers and wait staff use to scrape plates at the dish station. Is it filled with food? Is one entree more apparent than another? How about the salad? Take an inventory of the bucket. Are your portions too large? Or, is your food not appealing. Often, you can get an encouraging customer response by looking at a slightly full scrap container at the end of the night. And, it may be a sign of why your food costs are running through the roof. Your food could going out the back door- in a garbage bucket.
Pay attention to the small things. They make a huge difference in the long life of your restaurant.