Fifteen years in the food and beverage industry provides a multitude of life lessons: How to think on your feet, how to make a killer Bloody Mary, how to properly use a mop, how to carry trays of dishes with both hands, and a walk-in cooler is the best place to go scream when a difficult customer or manager has pushed you over the edge. Being an executive-level manager of a few places established some guideposts I’ve used in my own business for the last 16 years. If you’ve never worked in the industry before, you’ll be tempted to dismiss a couple of these insights. If you sense that starting to happen, I’d encourage you to stop reading and think about the point from an opposite perspective—-with empathy.
Control What You Can Control
It doesn’t matter how great a restaurant manager is, I’ve never met one that could predict exactly how many people would choose to dine in their establishment during a given shift. No one can possibly know what time each guest will come in, what they will eat, or how long they will stay so the table could be “turned” and reset for the next guests. Predicting cover counts with 100% accuracy is impossible for many reasons (and these are NOT excuses):
- One never knows everything happening in the area—-if there’s a concert at 7, the restaurant could experience an earlier than normal “rush”, then be slow for the rest of the night.
- There could be a weather situation: A snowstorm once struck during a shift and none of my employees could get out (which also meant no customers could get IN.)
- People have both time and money budgets. Going out to dinner takes time and costs money. Our three children are now adults. No more KIDS MENU for us! Taking our family of five to Five Guys costs $60 and 35 minutes. If we go to our neighborhood place with microbrews, burgers, cloth napkins and food servers, we’ll spend $100 and at least ninety minutes.
If none of this makes sense, I challenge you to try this next time you go to Starbuck’s for a latte’: Have a seat and take out your smartphone. Ask Google to tell you when the next customer is going to walk in. Then ask Google what they are going to order. Document how many times Google accurately predicted either. (If you REALLY want to raise the bar, approach the customer who orders something other than what Google predicted and try to change their mind. You may want to note which arm their smart watch is on as that’s most likely the direction the punch will be coming from.)
Customer Experience Isn’t the Best Marketing Strategy…It’s the ONLY Marketing Strategy
Most people refer to this as “word of mouth”. What many people don’t understand is the breadth of the concept of customer experience. Unless you’ve had mentors who were diligent about perfecting EVERY minute detail from the time a potential customer saw the sign on an interstate off-ramp indicating “Food this exit”, to the way a menu felt to the customer’s touch, to the elimination of water spots on the bathroom counter, to someone ALWAYS being at the host stand to say “Thank you” to guests heading home, it’s unlikely that you can relate.
Perhaps you’re thinking: “If a restaurant has a great chef that produces great food, that’s all that’s necessary”. If so, here’s a little “rebuttal” joke: You know that fastest way to end up with a million dollars in the restaurant business? Start with TWO million. While it may be a myth that 80-90% of new restaurants fail within the first three years, I can tell you from experience that building a successful one requires great vision, hard work, and a total team effort. Such a formula is pretty clear-cut, right? It is until someone begins using two very different terms interchangeably: GOAL and FUNCTION.
The GOAL of every business is to make money.
The FUNCTION of every business is the acquisition, maintenance, and retention of customers.
These words do NOT mean the same thing. Get them mixed up and before long there will be no more customers.
I once worked with a chef who had a “supersized” ego, but not in a value-added way. He didn’t make “gravy”, he created sauce. For 6-course, $150 per plate dinners, he refused to allow salt and pepper to be placed on the tables because his food was always perfectly seasoned. If a customer ordered a medium rare steak and sent it back saying it was undercooked, he took it off one plate and put it on another, added fresh sides and sent it back out. Perhaps this chef should have read Ryan Holiday’s book: “Ego is the Enemy”.
Retention Drives Acquisition, NOT the Other Way Around
If you even SLIGHTLY agree that it’s nearly impossible to predict the exact number of people who will enter a restaurant on any given day or time, then how is using predictive analytics to “drive” acquisition a smart use of mental energy and attention? Why are analytics not used instead to sharpen the very customer experience that creates advocacy and retention in ways that have the potential to exponentially increase acquisition? The answer is simple, but no one wants to admit it: SOMEBODY wants control activity that they believe drives revenue. News flash: Those activities aren’t generating positive customer experiences. They are, in fact, breaking down trust one customer at a time.
Retention is the most consistent, time-tested business-creating activity that is totally dependent upon HUMAN to HUMAN (H2H) connection. (“H2H” was coined by Bryan Kramer, author of Shareology). Where purchase transactions typically involve a systematic exchange of products or services for an agreed-upon price, retention involves the empathetic exchange of emotions that create remarkable and mutually-beneficial value.
Blending of Old and New
There’s a misconception that traditional (human) values cannot be incorporated into New Age processes that are more aligned with today’s demanding customer experience metrics. The reality is that this is not only inaccurate, it’s a paradigm wrought with frustration and, quite possibly, failure for many who refuse to adapt. Ten years ago, it was as difficult to visualize the future as it is to predict the number of guests a restaurant would serve on a given night.
Today the future is becoming as clear as an HD image taken by an iPhone.