Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hazelnut tartuffo was great:

Whose dining experience is it anyway? My wife and I tried a nice new Italian restaurant in our neighborhood. The hostess was affable and the food was very good.

Here’s how the experience ended. We were walking out the door and my wife mentioned to the hostess that “we would be back because the hazelnut tartuffo was great.” The hostess replied that “we should come back for the Limoncello instead.”

When a guest shares with you that they have enjoyed something, the correct response is to acknowledge and honor that thought. Afterwards, you may interject that they should also sample some of the other offerings. Do not casually disregard their thought by emphasizing what you think they should return for.

Remember it is your guest's dining experience.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Loyalty v Satisfaction:

Jim Kane’s post examines the steps necessary to create customer evangelists.

“Pay attention to your relationships with customers. You may think you have a loyal clientele, but in reality, most companies vastly overestimate the loyalty of their customers. Don’t forget, customer satisfaction is not the same as customer loyalty. Satisfied customers don’t complain, but they don’t necessarily tell their friends about you either.”

The distinction is huge. Your restaurant may rate 100 % satisfaction from your customers, however if they do not tell anyone then you really have not accomplished anything.

(Hat Tip Maria)

Viral expansion loop:

"To him that hath, shall more be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away." Matthew 25:29

Remember back in the dark ages when everyone was telling restaurateurs that they had to have a web site. How naive we were back then, so twentieth century. Have you been to a restaurant web site lately…ok wake up! Exciting places aren’t they? It is the twenty first century and high time we made that website interactive.

Adam Penenberg’s article about “Ning’s Infinte Ambition” offers restaurateurs another way to create customer advocacy.

“The secret is what's called a "viral expansion loop," a concept little known outside of Silicon Valley (go ahead, Google it -- you won't find much). It's a type of engineering alchemy that, done right, almost guarantees a self-replicating, borglike growth: One user becomes two, then four, eight, to a million and beyond. It's not unlike taking a penny and doubling it daily for 30 days. By the end of a week, you'd have 64 cents; within two weeks, $81.92; by day 30, about $5.4 million.”

What you may ask does this have to do with creating customer advocacy for my restaurant? Everything. Create a social network for your restaurant. Restaurateurs are always looking for ways to have guests interact by initiating club cards, member’s only parties, giveaways etc. Here is the most perfect tool by far. Social networking gives people who are loyal to your restaurant the ability to interact with each other and spread the word about your restaurant.

Create a social network, foster customer advocacy and get into the viral expansion loop!

Tabletop Menu:

The trend is toward wireless tabletop menu presentation, ordering and payment. A Reuters article by Rebecca Harrison “Restaurants try e-menu” introduces the e-waiter.

“Restaurants in Europe, the United States and Japan are testing technology to let diners order their food direct from a screen at their table instead of depending on a fellow human being to note their choice -- sometimes grumpily or erroneously.

Besides cutting costs, companies that sell the "e-menu" argue the bytes-for-bites approach has a novelty value that can lure younger customers, and boost revenues as tantalizing photographs of succulent steaks and gooey desserts tempt diners to order more”

Ethanol Effect:

The price escalation in flour is further impacting margins at a time when softness in the economy is curtailing pricing flexibility. The inane notion that we can burn food for fuel is having negative consequences.

article in the Chicago Tribune highlights the trend;

“The situation with flour is related to worries that the supply of specialty flour is vulnerable because farmers are choosing to grow corn and other crops, the American Bakers Association said. Flour prices are up significantly because the cost of wheat has increased, and the association said it has received reports that supplies of certain rye flour will be exhausted by July…

…" bakers have been hit hard in the last few years by escalating prices for eggs, milk, butter, shortening, sugar and flour. "The core reason for the increase is the price of corn and corn-based ethanol, which we morally object to," Jarosch said. "It's right up there with burning your food to heat your house."

The tendency is to think that food chain is a static model. The cost of wheat is determined solely by demand for wheat. The macroeconomic case study that restaurateurs are now a major participant in, is that price of wheat, milk, meat, etc, is depended on the price of corn and other staples. The interconnection of all elements has created the situation that we have today. There is more demand for meat, which creates more demand for corn, which is already in high demand because of the growing use of ethanol, which encourages farmers to plant more corn instead of wheat, which raises the price of wheat, which is already high because of the weak dollar, which…you get the idea.

Supply and demand will work toward equilibrium in time, however the transitional phases are very painful.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pricing Perception:

Tim Berry’s post is about a lesson learned:

“One of my dumber ideas was the time I decided that $100 was a better price for direct mail marketing than $99.95. Smarter people than me thought that was crazy. I said that the nickel difference was obvious, an even hundred was a cleaner and more direct price offering. The $99.95 was mildly insulting. I insisted we try it.

Everything else was the same. We changed only the price.

Response went down to about 40% of what it was at $99.95”

Restaurateur’s need to heed this lesson for too often we forget perception is everything.

Elements of Differentiation:

Scott Ginsberg’s post offers

“Maybe you differentiate through … your service.

By making it quick.
By making it unexpectedly responsive.
By making the mundane into memorable.”

Differentiation is not some cute marketing phrase. Differentiation in the guest experience is the vehicle for growth in any economic environment.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Low Carbon Diet:

Tips for a carbon-conscious diet

- Reduce the amount of beef and cheese you eat.

- Avoid wasting food. Buy only what you need, dish out smaller portions and finish them so less ends up in the landfill producing methane gas.

- Compost fruit and vegetable scraps.

- Buy more food grown locally and in season. That will cut down on heated greenhouses and air freight and trucking.

- Eat lower on the food chain. Much of the greenhouse emissions from meat come from the production of crops used for animal feed.

- Drink tap water rather than bottled water. If you must drink from a bottle, choose domestic water rather than bottles from Italy, France or other exotic locales.


Sources: Bon Appetit Management Co. Foundation; Dalhousie University; UC Davis

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Customer is Always Right Myth:

Shaun Sayers’ post: True or False” provides a nice presentation to a sticky issue

The customer is always right – false

It sounds good, but the customer is not always right. That doesn’t mean it’s always super-helpful to tell them that they are wrong, so even when they are wrong it’s good psychology to offer some sort of little victory. It’s just good customer relationship management. Some customers are high maintenance, and some are low maintenance, but one dollar is just as good as another, so we (usually) want to keep them. We also need to ask ourselves “is it our fault they’ve got their wires crossed? Are our user instructions or our terms and conditions confusing?” crucially we need to ask ourselves “how often does this mis-understanding occur?” This is a decent enough yardstick in helping us understand if it’s them that have the problem (which is likely if there are relatively few examples of customer confusion), or if it’s us that’s causing the confusion in the first place (if many customers are getting the wrong end of the stick). But subtlety and good old fashioned good manners go a long way.

Shaun makes an excellent point about making sure that your lack of clarity is not the underlying reason for the misunderstanding. The second point of course is that you can be 100% correct and still face the prospect of diminished traffic. The old cliché “Never lose a customer” is always a winning strategy?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What does customer centric really mean?

Is your organization customer centric? How do you make decisions? How do you define problems? How do you execute your decisions? The horrible customer service epidemic in the world is not caused by rude or angry customers. The primary cause is that the customer is not considered in the equation about process.

Charlie Byrne’s post implores businesses to include the customer in the equation.

Make sure your business decision’s are about (and convenient for) your customers and not YOU.

Of course I’m no so naïve as to believe you don’t have to keep expenses in line and optimize and streamline processes and procedures. But…

Don’t have early arriving restaurant staff park in the best parking spots.

Do not make a decision unless the process starts from the perspective of the customer. Customer centric means that everything, BOH, FOH, accounting, marketing, development and talent acquisition flows from the customer perspective. The restaurateur’s task is to provide a rich engaging guest experience in a manner which allows the enterprise to flourish.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Survey question:

What is the one question you should ask your customers?

“What can we do to improve your experience?”

Management by Walking Around:

Restaurateur’s do this instinctively, however they do not impart this practice to their management often enough. When you walk up to your restaurant, look around, if there is refuse of any kind floating around or being windblown, pick it up. Curb appeal is very important. Also, look around the inside of your restaurant, if there are stray dust bunnies, pick them up. If the customer notices it before you or your staff, they will infer that you do not care about them. Well do you?

Management by walking around is an excellent practice.

Back to basics:

Kate Leahy’s article stresses the need to get back to basics;

If you wish to be a restaurateur, by definition, you should be able to be in your restaurants and say hello to people," says Alan Stillman.

"There are a lot of great restaurants in New York City and in the world," McGuire says. "Often what becomes the differentiation point are the people. People who make you feel comfortable, who are unobtrusive, who know you by name."

Stillman, who has run both chains and single-location restaurants, believes that one-on-one hospitality inevitably diminishes as a restaurant brand expands.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What Customers Value:

A guest that walks into your restaurant does not care about the menu, price points, décor or service. What will determine the value that guest receives is the intangible of how they were made to feel. If they feel good they will return, if they did not leave feeling good then they will not return. That is the secret of success, not the celebrity of the chef, not expansive wine lists, not creative decors, not gimmicks, not the quality or quantity of the culinary offerings. Customers equate value with how they feel.

How does your restaurant make its guests feel?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Extension Day

Why is everyone so excited about April 15? Every restaurateur I have ever met files an extension on the 15th day of April. I have never met anyone that actually filed their taxes today.

How about you?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How to prosper in a recession?

David Farkas’ article in Chain Leader answers the question nicely.

One thing is for sure: These executives haven't changed their minds about discounting, a tactic that they say boosts guest counts but also pressures margins and weakens image. “We will never try to improve sales with a discount. It's a kiss of death,” declares Randy DeWitt, founder and CEO of 13-unit Rockfish Seafood Grill and five-unit Twin Peaks, both headquartered in Dallas, who has successfully used e-mail newsletters to maintain sales.

“From everything we know about short-term changes like discounting, it isn't the way to go. It digs you into a hole,” says California Pizza Kitchen Senior Vice President of Marketing Sarah Grover, who is managing the chain's database “more aggressively” than in the past.

“Discounting is a marketer's nightmare and never a sign of a healthy organization,” maintains Kendra Sartor, vice president of brand development for Tampa, Fla.-based The Melting Pot, where sales and guest traffic remain flat. Instead, she adds, “we have to find price-point opportunities.”

“Perhaps the most important marketing we do is to spend a lot of money on training managers to take care of guests,” he explains. “Our No. 1 goal is to turn guests into advocates.” That they come more often doesn't hurt either.

Great advice, train managers to take care of guests and don’t discount.


UPI story lends scientific evidence to the clique “an Apple a day keeps doctor away”

"We found that adults who eat apples and apple products have smaller waistlines that indicate less abdominal fat, lower blood pressure and a reduced risk for developing what is known as metabolic syndrome,"

Add more apples to your menu and promote the benefits of good health.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Swing Shift:

My favorite time to visit a restaurant is between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Tables are plentiful and the experience is always surprising. Walking in you will notice the lunch managers reclining while enjoying their lunch, evening managers preparing for their charges, wait staff finishing their side work, dinner employees arriving and lunch employees going, and general cleanup that occurs after the lunch rush.

Guests who arrive in the in-between hours create havoc. These guests are interfering with the normal transition between lunch and dinner. I have little patience for restaurateurs who have not as yet perfected the swing shift day part. If this occurred once in a while I could be persuaded to overlook it, however it happens every day at the same time. What are you thinking? If you open, you’re open. I came in because the sign said you were open. The fact that you have not figured out who should serve me or who should prepare the meal is not my problem.

Here's a hint, stagger shifts!

Tax rebate windfall:

The rebate checks are coming, the rebate checks are coming. What do you think will be the primary use of those rebate checks? Let’s see what can you buy for $300.00 or $600.00 if you had a net taxable income? My estimation is that there will be a bump in restaurant sales in May. I am really going out on a limb on this one. The question is are you ready?

Fishing for clients:

Peter Romeo’s post highlights a scary trend. Instead of chasing ambulances, attorneys are now sitting around thinking about who might be in the market for legal services but have not had the foresight to initiate the contact themselves.

“After pounding a keyboard for 29 years, I foolishly assumed the English language was no longer Greek to me. But a Baltimore litigation firm set me straight Wednesday. The statement it issued clearly states, “Brower Piven Announces the Filing of a Class Action Lawsuit Against Darden Restaurants, Inc.” To me, that means a party named Brower Piven had filed a class action lawsuit against Darden Restaurants, the operator of Red Lobster and Olive Garden. But, oh!, was my participle dangling.

Turns out, if you read further, that a lawsuit had been “commenced,” which doesn’t necessarily mean “filed” under the rules of language that are now applied to law-firm press releases. As we’ve learned in recent weeks, many are trumpeting lawsuits that are not really lawsuits, or at best not yet. The hope is to scare up plaintiffs—specifically shareholders who lost money on the would-be defendant’s stock—who might like to join a legal action when one is actually undertaken. It’s the equivalent of a chain declaring it’s bigger than McDonald’s, then muttering in an aside that it just hasn’t opened the 35,000 units yet.”


Jeffery Summers’ post “Enough is Enough” is worth the read!


Make sure work/life balance has room for you:

Harried entrepreneur’s schedule time in their day for customers, employees, vendors, all manner of work related chores, charitable endeavors, community involvement and family. Nowhere is there any time for themselves. I am not asking that you become narcissistic, however there needs to be a time where you choose to do something for yourself. Schedule time for yourself into the day and the benefits will become self evident.

Leadership essentials:

Dave Logan’s (Tribal Leadership) post reminds restaurateurs to refocus on your competitive advantage.

“After a 10-year study of over 24,000 employees across multinational corporations, our team came to a startling conclusion about leadership: the more you develop yourself as a leader, the less of a leader you are.

How could this be? We ourselves were dumbfounded when we asked the leaders of Fortune 500 companies for the key to their success. They each had the same answer: “Don’t ask me. I didn’t do anything!”

Finally, however, the answer became very clear: the leader does not shape the organization. It’s the culture.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, any day of the week. So the successful leaders were the ones who stopped focusing on themselves, and created a world class culture. This made their leadership appear “effortless” to both them and everyone around them because they leveraged the strength of the entire group, or as we say, “tribe.”

This leads to a very important finding: if you are empowering yourself instead of your tribe, you are hurting your company”.

Empower your competitive advantage your tribe!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Tom Sietsema post “Dinner without the Din” raises the volume on a growing trend that shows no sign of abating.

“The No. 1 complaint of restaurant-goers in the Washington area isn't the service, or even the dinner. It's the din.”

Restaurants have become audio/video inputs. What is even more disconcerting is the next generation of ipod/phone combos is a video pod/phone combo. The result of that combination is going to be video projections on flat surfaces all over your restaurant. I get dizzy thinking about it. Smoke has been legislated out of the restaurant/bar arena in many municipalities, decibel levels is the next battleground.

Is your restaurant sensational?

John Wesley’s post “the secret to a web sensation” provides the ingredients to a sensational recipe.
  • “Utility. Its creates value. Something that improves people’s lives. (making someone laugh is very valuable)
  • Uniqueness. It doesn’t exist anywhere else and there are no suitable substitutes.

This first is the easy part (relatively). Find something of value and deliver it. The second is the sticking point. It’s ineffable. Some things have it, some don’t, and no one really knows why.”

If what you do everyday is not sensational, then why do you do it?

Automated Restaurant:

BBC News introduces us to Fast food German Style

“I say "restaurant" - but it actually looks more like a rollercoaster, with long metal tracks criss-crossing the dining area.

The tracks run all the way from the kitchen, high up in the roof, down to the tables, twisting and turning as they go. And down the tracks - in little pots with wheels fixed to the bottom - speeds food.

Supersonic sausages, high-pace pancakes and wine bottles whizzing down to the customers' tables with the help of good old gravity. One pot is spiralling down so fast, it looks like an Olympic bobsleigh (but it's only Bratwurst).

What's more, at the 's Baggers restaurant in Nuremberg, you don't need waiters to order food. Customers use touch-screen TVs to browse the menu and choose their meal.

You can even use the computers to send e-mails and text messages while you wait for the food to be cooked. But all this may not appeal to those who like traditional waiter service.

Labor shortages, product costs, supply issues, forget them all, innovation is the “coin of the realm”

Monday, April 7, 2008

Such a deal!

Real estate brokers who were unavailable two years ago are frantically canvassing thriving restaurateurs. Vacancy rates at strip malls are approaching 8%, retail space in downtown buildings is becoming readily available. Prices are descending from the stratosphere, “Such a deal!”

Sometimes a space is available because even if they gave it away, a restaurant could not flourish. Location, location, location is key. If the traffic pattern does not support your concept, no amount of rent reduction or rent incentives will help. There are plenty of great locations becoming available. I urge you to seize the opportunity, however I caution you that “Such a Deal”, sometimes is not.

To good to be true:

Victoria Pychon’s post “Hard Bargaining” reminds us that we have to live with every agreement we make.

“Yet it is Lou who taught me that the deal you drive too hard is the one that will come back to bite you.


Because you have to leave enough profit in it for your negotiating partner to survive.

Once, Lou says, his company drove so hard a bargain, leaving so little profit to its bargaining partner, that the contract had to be renegotiated, on terms less favorable than originally offered. Had the stronger party been content with the deal that could have kept its negotiation partner healthy, it would not have had to take a worse deal months later based upon the other's inability to comply with the harsher terms originally imposed.

You not only have to leave them "face," you also have to leave them with enough money to survive.”

Judging from decreased traffic and lower check averages restaurateurs understand that we are in a recession. There are also a lot of deals out there now. The temptation is going to be substantial for you to drive the very best deal you can. Additional pressure is being put on you by your customers to offer them concessions.

Taken in the aggregate you will want to pummel your vendor, do not do it. Your vendor has to survive to be able to fulfill the terms of the agreement. There is no benefit to craft a deal that results in the insolvency of one the parties. The same caveat applies to you, do not craft a deal which you can’t fulfill

Friday, April 4, 2008

Those who linger also serve:

There is a discussion stewing at the Chicago Tribune blog “The Stew” about people who linger at a table.

“Can you really tell me how long my meal should take?

There are places out there that will say, “Yes, we totally can”—and that’s exactly what they do. Everyone knows someone who has been asked to make way for waiting customers. Some restaurants will even tell you upfront that you must limit your visit to a set time.” Cheryl Bowles

“Hey, you with the Sunday paper, fussing with the crossword puzzle and the dregs in your coffee cup. Your spinach-cheddar omelet has been history for an hour. Time to clear out. There are 20-plus people waiting for a table.” Judy Hevrdejs

Restaurateurs, those poor helpless types who are in a total no win situation try to appease both opposing views. During slow times you welcome those who linger because it is “social proof” that your restaurant is the place. During the busy times the same behavior becomes a liability. Those who linger are sucking revenue away, and that revenue will never be made up.

What to do? The most common strategy is to have the servers remove all items from the table and continually visit asking if there is anything else they need? At some point if that does not work the manager sheepishly strides over and stumbles over a request to move you to the bar or out all together. On New Years Eve etc., most restaurants have a time limit on the table so the guest knows up front. I have actually seen a time limit written into the menu.

I am really old school on this one. If it is only one table, I would allow them to linger as long as they want. If every table in your restaurant has people who linger, that is a different discussion.

What do you think about those who linger?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Call it an Investment:

Maria Palma’s post at “Customers are Always” reframes expenditures.

There are business people who think that spending money to improve customer service is “risky”. Martha Stewart’s book, The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials For Achieving Success As You Start, Build, or Manage a Business, contains the perfect quote to share here:

“If the word risk makes you nervous, call it an investment.”

I think we can all agree that business is a risky venture. Some businesses are riskier thank others, but in essence there is an element of risk involved. However, when it comes to spending the money to improve customer service, it should be viewed as an investment. You’re putting in the money knowing that it will come back to you.

The key word here is “knowing”.

What is really risky is not spending money on customer service.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tourist Information:

The last time you visited a new city did you ask the server at the restaurant for information about the city? Did they provide it? How did you feel about that? Should your staff provide tourist information to your guest?

New employees should received a basic geography orientation which will allow them to understand where the restaurant is located in relation to the rest of the city. Your guest will thank you for providing them with a beacon.

Frequent Customer Cards:

Eric Newman’s article at Brandweek introduces a new dimension in the process.

This week, loyalty marketing tech firm Chockstone, Portland, Ore., will unveil the next generation of "Single Swipe," a technology used by retailers that enables a single payment terminal to process gift, loyalty and credit cards. The new Single Swipe technology lets retailers put loyalty card info onto consumers' major branded credit cards. That would essentially eliminate the need for the key fobs, plastic and punch cards that form one of the primary costs for retailers in loyalty programs, and the biggest source of headaches for consumers.”

The problem with loyalty cards is that customers wind up with twenty separate card in their money belts. This will make loyalty programs more accessible, usable and manageable for both restaurateur and guest.