Its the Customers Stupid!!!
After almost 4 years you would think we would get it. You would think we would have lines out the door by now and raving reviews all around. Most the surveys say how good the food is and how we pay attention to the detail. But there is one minor thing we overlooked during the cooking process. The main ingredient……THE CUSTOMER – YOU. There I said it. Ok back to making more soup…. No really they never talk about the customer experience in Engineering classes (degree in Industrial Engineering UCF ’94). They talk about waste, processes, quality, profit, but they don’t really mention the customer a lot. So in the beginning, we thought if the food was really good, people would put up with slow check outs, under performing staff, slow wait times etc. We actually thought that Soup Nazi guy was a real operation. Man, were we wrong. We alienated our core customer, we did everything wrong that all the Restaurant shows like Restaurant Impossible, Stakeout, etc would tell you. We didn’t do it because we are mean spirited or because we didn’t care we did it because we were clueless. Its not saying that we didn’t offer good service by accident but we weren’t passionate about great service. We sided with bad service and the excuses. If a server complained about a customer we would side with them and blame the customer. If orders took too long we would blame the small kitchen, excuse after excuse, we became the excuse.
As we entered out 4th year we realized something has to change. We can’t keep creating amazing food while service lacked. We couldn’t just keep finding new customers. We couldn’t allow servers to do it their way because we were failing. Business was down almost 30-40%, it got a little scary because employees were raising eyebrows. We actually thought about going fast casual counter service with no servers. Customers were not coming back and something had to give. So over the course of the last 3 months, we cleaned house. New servers were hired, new training programs were put into place. I got out of the kitchen and into the front of the house, serving a few tables from time to time to evaluate the experience. Secret shoppers were brought in, cameras were watched closer, the kitchen got additional instruction on expediting, the menu changed. We essentially did an operational overhaul. What were realized was that service, customer satisfaction is as important if not more important as how good our Cuban Sandwich tastes or how good the Chili is because at the end of the day all that matters is how many people walk through that door or how often the phone rings.
As these changes slowly took form an interesting thing happened. Sales started to inch up, the phone rang a little more, lunch started to buzz and customers started becoming vocal as they started to realize a service revolution was talking form. They mattered. They had a voice. So now we are relentless on getting it right. In staff meetings we talk about body language, we talk about wowing the customer. Going above and beyond is more important, and finally the quality of the food and the quality of the service is neck in neck. We are not going to be perfect every time but if we are perfect 9 out 10, the momentum on the side of great!
So I leave you with a little story and note that was left behind today. during a very busy lunch as the phone is blowing up and orders are flying across the room and people are finding their way back to the local offices an Asian couple sits at table #6 and quietly eat their meal without saying much. I notice them as I drift from table to table. I walk right up to the lady and I ask how was everything? as I see the lobster chowder and the broccoli and cheese barely touched. She quietly says, its ok. Not an answer I wanted to hear. I prod a bit and she says I am sure its very good but its not the kind of food we are used to eating. As I look at their order I realize they ordered cream based soups and judging by her accent I realized they are probably used broth based soups. So I immediately say give me 10 minutes I will be back. I run back into the kitchen with no pos ticket in hand (breaking a big rule) and start making a Miso Happy soup for them. Mammas Chicken broth, miso paste, veggies, rice noodles, spices, soy sauce, sesame oil, more spices… almost done. I look up and every cook is looking at me pretty pissed by now as I jumped ahead of orders and not offering to help them a big no no in the back of the house. As the soup boils, I pull it off into a bowl, two spoons and back on the table in 9 minutes. They smile as I say will back to check on you in a few minutes. As I come back they are smiles ear to ear, they say they missed this on our menu and how much they appreciated what was done for them. As they left they wrote this message for me in appreciation for the efforts and their lunch. I think of nothing greater than an international traveler sharing an invitaion to their country for some hospitality. This is what great service is all about, this is our new battle cry, our new benchmark. So the next time you come in, expect the best you deserve it!
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