While reading Kay and Jim Salter´s latest book,Life is Meals, I am reminded constantly, of the complexities facing restaurateurs in the customer service arena. The Salter´s, although neither restaurateurs, know the workings of the trade better than many operators.
In one of Salter´s snippets on solitary dinners, (May 3, page 157), he simply conveys the feelings of eating alone at a restaurant as, "tedious". He also points out "if it is a decent restaurant, there is usually service at the bar, the best solution". Although some may not feel the strangeness of dining alone- at a table-, it is an awkward situation for many.
On New Year´s Day, I noticed a dapper gent eating breakfast alone at the Fairmont Mission Inn in Sonoma. Dressed in a perfectly tailored grey blazer, white shirt and tie he looked resembled those in GQ.
When he walked into the dining room, the host gave him a gracious greeting, handed him the day´s paper, and showed the guest to what appeared to be his regular table. He promptly ordered his meal and opened the paper to crossword puzzle.
When Kranston and I finished our breakfast, we approached the table. I had to comment on how great he looked in sea of Blue Jean glad visitors attempting to fit into the world of grape and grandeur.
The man explained he was in mourning. He had recently lost his wife. We exchanged New Year greetings and went on our way.
This past Sunday he was at The Fairmont again. Same table. Same breakfast. A different outfit and a more recent crossword puzzle. The 87 year old Sonoma had been frequenting the restaurant for years, I found out, and enjoys his place at breakfast regularly.
After commenting on how wonderful it was to be able to enjoy the company of the local restaurant and their employees when alone, in life, Kranston shared a story. While in high school, she worked at a local Country Kitchen in Michigan. One night a week and elderly man came into the diner-styled restaurant for dinner. He lived down the street in the small, Michigan town and would dress for dinner in shirt, tie and blazer, as men would do back then no matter how casual the diner.
For the man´s birthday, one year my wife made the customer a tie realizing his selection of neckwear was limited. The customer never wore the tie to the diner for dinner. Some years later, Kranston invited the widower to her wedding. And, when Ray Crosier walked through the receiving line, Kranston was surprised to see Crosier wore the very tie she had made him. The ultimate in customer service.
Here are a few more tips that we may frequently overlook:
1). Make your customers feel at home even if it´s their first visit.
2). Remember special occasions that mean something to them
3). Periodically, buy them dessert, an appetizer, a cocktail, or pick up the check for their meal.
4). Ask them about their family and how their day has been. Interest in others is a hospitable trait.
5.) Explore what they enjoy and let them know when you place it on the menu.
6). Remember where prefer to sit and who they would prefer to wait on them.
7). Keep a list of special guests to invite to functions and events that could be closed to the public.
8) Keep track of when good customers come in, regularly. If they don´t come in for a while, call to find out if they are all right. If they aren´t, send something to their home.
9). Periodically tell your staff that the person at table 3, or the couple at table seven are friends of good customers and to make sure they get great service even if you have never seen them before. One evening each time a new couple sat in his section that they were really good friends of mine, my wife´s or my father in law, and to make sure to "treat them right". At the end of the evening, the waiter asked if I knew everyone. I told him I didn´t know any of those people but that is how I expected his services to be, every night. He got the message and eventually became a manager.
10). Remember that your employees are part of a team, but customers are part of the family.