Restaurants and Mother’s Day: A Few Tips

Mother’s Day, the busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry, is almost upon us. The annual salute to Mom can be a highly profitable (and stressful) affair for restaurant workers and managers everywhere.

The FoodTender team have all been there. We’ve worked on the front lines serving, cooking, and managing our way through several Mother’s Days over the years.

So, in an effort to help with this year’s onslaught, we’ve combed the web to collect a few ideas for making this year’s event a smashing success for your establishment.

Promoting

If you’re offering the usual menu on Mother’s Day, you run the risk of losing those customers looking for something a little different for that special occasion. This is the time to run a special feature.

Decide on your special and start promoting it both inside the restaurant and outside. If you have an email newsletter, Mother’s Day needs its own edition. Spread the word across your social media accounts, update your website with relevant content (perhaps a blog post), and add a memo to the bottom of your receipts. Use every channel at your disposal to make sure frequent guests know yours is the place to be on Mom’s special day.

Menu Planning 

Many restaurateurs recommend going with a smaller menu for this occasion. The key is to focus on something that makes it simple for the kitchen to put out quality dishes in the timeliest manner. On the single busiest day of the year, try to streamline your offerings in order to take at least some of the heat off your kitchen.

A smaller menu for the day also allows the back-of-house to prep efficiently. Focus on a few easy-to-prepare dishes, like fresh salads, and simple appetizers. Try not to offer a special feature that puts focus on one particular station of your kitchen. This is inefficient on the best of days; it could prove downright catastrophic with Mother’s Day’s increased traffic.

Treat Mom Like a Queen 

If you’re serious about making a good impression with Mom you’ve got to go above and beyond. A great meal and friendly service is very important, however, on this holiday, you need to take your guest experience to the next level.

Consider any of the following specials for moms:

  • Free dessert
  • Complimentary bar drink
  • Chocolates after the meal
  • Gift Cards and/or flowers

Depending on budget, you could consider hiring entertainment for the day. If you go this route, keep in mind volume and noise levels; not everyone enjoys live music while they dine. And be sure that whomever you hire to perform (bands, kids entertainer, etc) does not require much of your management’s time. You don’t need distractions taking management’s eyes off your guests.

Don’t Forget About the Kids

Where there are mothers there are children. So, be sure you’re prepared for an increase in younger guests. Few things make for an unsatisfying dining experience like a slew of unhappy, restless kids. It may be Mom’s day in the spotlight, but be sure to keep the junior diners happy as well.

Now is the time to make sure your toy box is stocked and ready to roll. Crayons and children’s placemats should be fully-stocked as well. If you’ve got extra high chairs and booster seats in storage, now would be a good time to dust them off and get them out.

Booking 

The worst thing you could do is create excessive wait times, so don’t overbook. Management needs to be very hands on with the reservation book. Make sure you’ve got well-communicated limits on how many guests you’ll serve at what time. And make sure managers and hosts know when to stop taking reservations.

Keeping parties waiting, specifically those with reservations, is a recipe for disaster.

Consider holding set seating times to avoid this hassle. For example at brunch book tables for 11:00, 12:00, and 1:00, etc. It may be worthwhile to limit large parties.

Make the Wait Bearable 

If people do have to wait to be seated, do what you can to alleviate boredom. See if you can free up extra seating in the bar area. Some restaurants prep some extra appetizer samples to be distributed in the waiting area. It’s a great excuse to push a new appetizer.

Staffing 

This one’s simple enough: make sure you have plenty of staff on to keep up with the day’s traffic. Also, be sure the Mother’s Day staff is made up of your A Team –  the cream of your crop. If you’ve got brand new staff on, let them bus tables, serve as extra dishwashers, or help with expediting.

If you’ve created special features and new menu items for the day, be sure serving staff are able to discuss the particulars with guests. This goes back to starting your prep as early as you can. Be sure to have a quick pre-shift meeting with all staff before open and/or before the next rush.

Do Something For Your Staff

You should absolutely consider doing something special for your team. Remember, they’re spending a large chunk of their Sunday away from their own mothers and families. Free staff meals, free drinks (after close of course), small gifts. Whatever you can think of. And whatever you do, don’t forget about the mothers on staff.

Create a Great Guest Experience 

Finally, here’s the part where we drop in a quick plug for another one of our posts, Create a Great Customer Service Experience in Your RestaurantMaybe give that one a read before Mom arrives.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.

 

4 Smart Customer Service Tips for Your Small Business

customer_service_SMBAs part of last year’s Dreamforce, Alex Bard, SVP and GM of Salesforce Service Cloud and Desk.com joined a panel aimed at best practices for small businesses, with a focus on customer service.

Bard began by referencing Amazon and Zappos, two brands well-known for delivering incredible customer service, with well established company cultures that place the customer at the center of the business.

With the bar set high, Bard highlights four key areas for small businesses to focus on in order to develop the kind of world-class customer service that makes companies like Amazon and Zappos go-to examples of getting customer care right.

1. Listen Everywhere

For Bard this point is really important. Your customers are everywhere. They’re calling, they’re emailing, but they’re also on social media so you have to make sure you’re listening. Listen on Twitter. Listen on Facebook. Listen on forums and communities.

“My head of marketing came up with this saying during a presentation. He said, ‘Social media is the new 800 number’ and this got a lot of mileage and traction and lots of tweets, and it’s true. It really is.”

“One of our customers, John Rote of Bonobos, asked “If 25% of your customers were calling, would you not answer the phone?” Of course you would, otherwise you wouldn’t be building a business. So listen everywhere.

2. Knowledge is Power

Bard says your coworkers have the best knowledge of a product, a topic, or an idea, and you need to democratize that knowledge. You need to extract it from that individual, and share it with not only everyone in your company, but all of your customers.

“Customers prefer self-service. You need to take that knowledge, you need to put it in a knowledge base, and you need to push it out to customers. It’s a process of continuous improvement versus delayed perfection. A lot of people spend time putting together FAQs or knowledge bases or self-service systems. They publish it, and then they never update it again. That’s when it goes stale and customers get upset. So you always have to continue to iterate, iterate, iterate. It’s really, really important.”

3. Build a System

“Obviously, I’m biased. You can use Desk. It’s great. And if you grow, we’ll grow with you, but you need a system. If you’re using Gmail, StickIt notes, or Excel, you need something, some way to track, when a customer contacts you, all the steps in getting back to that customer. I can promise you there’s nothing worse than a customer having a bad experience, then contacting your business, and not hearing back in a timely fashion or ever at all. If you don’t have a system to track it – a process – that’s exactly what will happen.”

Bard notes that every customer inquiry should be given a status and an owner, and that a process needs to be in place to move customer cases from “open” to “resolved” to ensure that no customer falls through the cracks.

4. Measurement

What gets measured, gets done.

Bard says it’s imperative to understand how well you’re doing, to celebrate your wins and of course, identify areas where you can improve. “These are some of the things that we measure at our company. You have to remember we were a small business. We still act like one even though we’re now part of a bigger one.

How many cases are you getting? It helps you understand how many requests are coming in and how you staff against that. What are the people asking you about? This is actually really important because if you understand the questions that people have, you could actually take that feedback back into your product and improve that part of your product so that they never have that question again. That’s preemptive customer service so it’s really important to understand not just how many, but what they are about.”

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared at blogs.salesforce.com.

5 Keys to a Winning Customer Service Team

customer_service_buildingCulture was a popular buzzword at this year’s annual Call Center Week and Marc Bernica, VP Contact Center & Back-up Care Advantage, at Bright Horizons Family Solutions had a few tips on creating a company culture that helps drive customer satisfaction and creates empowered, engaged contact center agents.

Here’s five key customer service takeaways from the session.

Ease up on Regulations and Empower Employees

Bernica notes that too often, we regulate everything in a contact center. There’s two major issues with this strict regulation; 1) you can’t anticipate everything, no matter how hard you try and 2) it’s not very empowering for employees. Empowering employees with a strong, well defined company culture can be a reassuring development for management. The best managers can’t be everywhere, and can’t make every decision. Your company culture provides a compass for real-time decision making. Remember, your contact center will have a culture, with or without your involvement.

Your Common Mission or Purpose Has to be Important

One of Bright Horizon’s core values is communicating the value of what their employees are contributing to the overall mission of the company.

Bernica notes the importance of framing jobs in a way that employees can be proud of them, in order to accomplish that, ask three questions:

  • How does this role contribute to our success?
  • How do you help people?
  • What can you do better than anyone else?

When your service agents are asked what they do for a living, do they say they are a customer service representative? That they “talk on the phone all day”? Or do they say “I help people with _________.” That’s the ideal response you want to see your agents providing. Your employees need to know they are making a real difference for your customers, and they aren’t just a collection of metrics and numbers.

Metrics Matter Because What You Do Matters

Metrics are a part of contact center life, but when approaching metrics, focus on the why. Contact center managers never met a metric they didn’t like, to be sure. But when everything is a number, employees often feel like just another cog in the wheel. The metrics are not the important stuff, it’s the context around the metrics.

Employees need to know why they are striving for quicker handle times, or a better monitoring score. Metrics in this case must absolutely tie back to your core mission.

Engagement Requires Give and Take

Bernica discussed input as a key shaper of company culture. It’s not as simple as asking for input, however, it’s about doing something with it. His team actively solicits input, actively asking for employee opinions, through focus groups or surveys. Once they get it, they make certain to acknowledge it. They may not use every idea but acknowledging their employees’ feedback is crucial, even if it’s to explain why they won’t be using it.

Finally, whenever possible, take action on input received. Crucially, this step isn’t just leadership’s job, it’s everyone’s. Fully empowered employees who care about the company mission will gladly help implement change across the organization, working in tandem with management. Bright Horizons has several employee-led groups focusing on everything from customer experience, to improving the work environment in their offices.

People Matter: Hire for Culture Fit

Many have the skills, fewer have the attitude. The right culture fit is what get’s you hired. It’s worth keeping customer facing positions open a bit longer to find the right person who better fits the company culture rather than rushing to fill available positions. The long-term cost of hiring the wrong person can be much greater than keeping those spots unfilled. Your hiring teams need to take ownership and communicate your company culture from the first interview to ensure the right candidates are found.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared at blogs.salesforce.com.

FREE EBOOK: 20 Customer Service Best Practices

customer_service_best_practicesIt can be easy for customer service departments to continue doing what they’ve always done. CSAT scores and overall cost are the same, so why change? This mindset neglects the fact that today’s consumer has many options in terms of how they connect with a company for customer support.

Based on feedback from our customers, product experts, and service industry thought leaders, we’ve pulled together 20 customer service best practices and compiled them into one handy (and free) ebook, the appropriately titled 20 Customer Service Best Practices. Here’s the rundown:

  1. Know your customer across all channels
  2. Leverage the information your customers are volunteering
  3. Use the channels your customers prefer
  4. Make the move toward mobile customer service
  5. Train your agents on all channels
  6. Share helpful content
  7. Keep it real
  8. Turn setbacks into solutions
  9. Remember your regulations when adding support channels
  10. Leverage the experts
  11. Start with the interview
  12. Hire for culture fit
  13. Think beyond the cubicle
  14. Implement gamification
  15. Leverage multiple channels to reduce monotony
  16. Allow for flexibility in scheduling
  17. Frame the job in a meaningful way
  18. Reward, reward, reward
  19. Give regular feedback and acknowledgement
  20. Provide opportunities for career growth

To get the more in-depth look into all 20 of the above-noted best practices, be sure to download the ebook at the button below.

ebook_customer_service

 

 

NOTE: A version of this post (and the promoted ebook) appeared at blogs.Salesforce.com.

Create a Great Restaurant Customer Service Experience

Restaurant_Customer_ServiceThe cost of bad restaurant customer service can be bigger than some restaurateurs assume. Many foodservice businesses are still only meeting the minimum standards of guest experience. For an industry that so depends on repeat customers, that’s simply not good enough.

Even those restaurants with the tastiest dishes in town can’t afford to let their service be subpar. The Soup Nazi may be an indelible television character, but in the real world, restaurant customers won’t stand for bad treatment, no matter how addictive your Crab Bisque may be.

We’ve done you the service of collecting a few best practices for creating a truly welcoming guest experience for your restaurant.

1. Service Starts Before They Walk Through the Door

Service expert Jeff Toister advises restaurant owners to pay attention to their establishment’s signage. He notes an experience he had walking past a local restaurant with a rather off-putting amount of rules posted at their entrance. Toister feels the amount of signs “suggested the restaurant focuses more on making sure guests are well-behaved than providing a great experience.” Do an audit of your signage; are you as welcoming as you could be?

2. Don’t Rush to Hire 

Restaurants face employee turnover like any other service business, but that doesn’t mean you must always be in a hurry to hire. Customer Care VP Marc Bernica reminds businesses that “the long-term cost of hiring the wrong person can be much greater than keeping those spots unfilled.” In restaurants aiming for head-of-class guest experience, even one discourteous dining room team member can have an effect on guest loyalty and word-of-mouth. This is particularly key for new establishments, when word-of-mouth is so very crucial.

3. Listen Effectively Online

We’re big on leveraging digital technology for the benefit of today’s restaurants. Today’s consumers are sharing their latest restaurant experience (good and bad) on their social media channels, writing about them on their blogs, and detailing their experiences on a growing number of review sites. Be aware of the major sites like YelpUrbanSpoon.com and Trip Advisor, and find review sites that may focus on local establishments. You can never collect too much feedback from customers, and the negative feedback is typically the most valuable.

4. Policies are Good, but be Flexible

It’s fine to have policies, but make sure your team knows they can break the rules in the name of good customer service. Consider this example from acclaimed service guru Shep Hyken. The main takeaway from Hyken’s experience: “The employee was just doing her job. She was probably told by a boss not to seat incomplete parties.” Processes need to be designed to be customer-centric, rather than simply focusing on what makes life easier for restaurant staff.

5. Back-of-House is Part of the Service Team

The service in foodservice doesn’t begin and end with your waitstaff. Kitchen staff are part of the complete experience and can’t be left out of service discussions. Too many times, I’ve watched servers and cooks bickering about who’s at fault for a mixed up or forgotten order. And the person suffering the most from this in-house squabbling is the customer.

Consider regular staff meetings with both back and front-of-house teams focused solely on guest experience. Any service training literature given to new waitstaff should be read by new kitchen staff members as well. Everyone is on the same team!

6. Know Your Customers

Keeping with the idea of being flexible, author Ron Kaufman says the best restaurants will modify their actions (and processes) according to their customers. He writes:

“..if you have three types of customers come in – business people, tourists and a family with kids – each wants something different. One group wants privacy; one wants to be engaged and hear about the locality; and the other needs lots of attention because it’s a family. To create an uplifting experience, you modify your actions to provide value. You need to educate the waiter that the purpose of their job is – to take action to create value for whoever comes in.”

7. Send Them Home on a High Note

Micah Solomon says the exit experience is every bit as crucial to a guest’s perception of your restaurant. He advises that “even the slightest hint that a server is “over” one party and on to the next toward the end of a meal dampens the entire dining experience.” Are the guests obviously tourists? Perhaps they’d like entertainment recommendations, or even a cab. Service doesn’t stop when the credit card slip has been signed.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.

Restaurants: Stop Losing Good Employees

Restaurant_TurnoverLike many businesses in the service industry, you likely deal with the challenge of restaurant staff turnover. While the exact expense of it isn’t always easy to measure, reducing staff turnover should always be part of your restaurant’s overall cost-saving strategy.

Finding great restaurant employees can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor. Making every effort to keep your best staff members around for the long haul will give you peace of mind that your business is always in good hands, and frees up more of your time and energy.

Let’s dig into a few ways (beyond pay raises which are always good if you can afford them) to cut down on employee turnover, starting with a big one.

Stand up for Your Staff

There’s an oft-cited quote that says “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” Part of being a successful and respected manager is knowing when to take another common phrase – “the customer is always right” – with a grain of salt. Management willing to support their team in the face of unreasonable guests will earn staff loyalty and keep top talent on the payroll.

North Carolina restaurateur Scott Maitland agrees:

“Conventional wisdom is that the customer is always right. I don’t believe that, and I think anyone who’s been in the restaurant business has a story where the customer was wrong. But you definitely have to go in with that bias, that the customer is right […] But at some point, we have to think about the staff, or we have to think about investors. And I think anybody who is worth having as a customer will appreciate and respect that as well.”

Keep in mind that yours customers will notice when management is caving to the whims of obnoxious patrons as well. Take this experience from blogger “ViolentAcres” as a good example. (Warning: that post contains some sharp language)

Think about the message you want to communicate to your team; will you have their back when they are clearly in the right?

Lead by Example and Get Your Hands Dirty 

It’s time to get in the habit of getting out of the office. Few things inspire your staff like a manager willing to jump in and help with any task at the drop of a hat.

Kitchen managers: hop on the salad station if need be. Or help out the prep cooks. Or roll up your sleeves and start racking dishes in the dish pit.

Dining room managers: get out there and bus dirty tables. Don’t spend five minutes tracking down a host to ask them to bus. Assume your staff are busy and take the initiative yourself.

Seeing the bosses jump into the fray not only encourages everyone else to step up their game, it earns management plenty of loyalty and respect.

Empower Through Training 

If you’re looking to set employees up for success and hopefully keep them on board for the long haul, putting together an effective training plan is absolutely essential. An insufficiently-trained employee will feel less empowered, overwhelmed, and far more likely to quickly move on. Maintaining a halfhearted training process shows a lack of commitment to employee success and your turnover rates will reflect this.

Whenever possible, your training process should include a degree of cross-training. Cross-training not only helps reduce your labour costs, it helps employees get a better feel for what a shift is like from a different perspective. A server that knows how hectic the bar can be is less inclined to get into arguments with bartenders. A line cook who’s spent time in the dish pit is less likely to come into conflict with a busy dishwasher. Reduce employee conflicts (tempers can flare during a rush) and reduce staff turnover in the process.

Hire Only the Right Fit

We sound like a broken record on this, but it really is one of the most important things to keep in mind when operating a service establishment. Many have the skills, fewer have the attitude.

You have to resist the urge to fill available positions with the first semi-acceptable applicant that walks in. Whenever possible, hold out for the right person. A quick hire of the wrong candidate means a quick exit, and you’re back to square one.

Recognition and Incentivization 

Do not wait until your monthly team meeting or annual performance reviews to tell employees they’re doing a good (or great) job. And don’t simply praise someone’s hard work; do it in front of their fellow staff. Not only is this encouraging to the employee, it tends to motivate everyone else as well. Everybody loves to be recognized.

Incentivize your employees with tangible recognition. Offer them discounts on food or free staff meals; whatever your budget allows. For the front-of-house, hold nightly contests for things like highest gross sales, or most specials sold for the shift, most large drafts sold, etc. Recognize the winners with both verbal and physical rewards. Praise and incentives work hand-in-hand to keep a highly motivated staff ready to work hard for you.

The Product Makes a Difference

All of the above tips are fine, but the best employees – the ones that take the most pride in a job well done – won’t stick around if they don’t believe in the product you’re plating. Restaurant employees will grow frustrated if guests are consistently sending back dishes, and complaining of poor food quality.

Restaurant managers need to realize that lack of effective quality control in the kitchen will have detrimental effects not only in terms of customer loss, but employee loss as well.

Exit Interview

The exit interview isn’t just for office jobs. This doesn’t need to be an overly formal affair, but conduct a quick interview with any employee that decides to leave the business. Ask for as much feedback as possible and see if you can pinpoint any changes in policy or procedure that could help reduce employee turnover.

Got any other tips for reducing staff turnaround? Share them in the comments. And be sure to download the free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

  Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices


NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.

7 Tips for Cutting Restaurant Labour Costs

Restaurant_labour_costsAccording to the latest Outlook Survey conducted by Restaurants Canada, restaurant labour costs are now the number one issue affecting restaurant operators across the country (for the industry overall).

Food and beverage costs can be controlled through a number of adjustments to your establishment’s processes; but what about the cost of labour?  The foodservice industry can be wildly unpredictable. Scheduling isn’t always easy, and can involve a certain amount of guesswork.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few best practices for reducing the cost of restaurant labour.

Watch the Clock

Your restaurant’s management have tough jobs. They’ve got to keep the restaurant focused on the guest experience, make certain that products aren’t running low, deal with customer concerns as they arise, create and maintain the schedule, etc.

And one of their most important duties has to involve watching the clock like a hawk. After every shift, they need to be certain that all employees have signed/punched out according to the day’s schedule. Most point of sale (POS) systems now allow you to monitor this information whenever necessary, take advantage of that functionality on a daily basis.

Cross-Train Your Team

Cross-training is one of the most commonly cited labour cost-saving methods, and for good reason. Cross-training restaurant staffers is of great benefit to both your employees and your business. Train your serving staff so they can easily shift to the host stand if need be on a slow night, or after their shift has ended. Train your bussers to be food expeditors. Train your bartenders so they can step in and serve tables. Train prep cooks to be able to hop on the grill station, etc. This allows management to schedule fewer staff while still keeping your service standards where they should be.

Cross-training allows your staff to not only develop new skills for themselves, but to see what a shift looks like from their teammates’ perspectives.

Side Duties Made Simple

Look at the layout and flow of your restaurant’s key work and storage areas. Are your labour dollars being wasted on servers and hosts lugging items from a storage closet in the basement to the server hutch on the main floor? Exactly how much time is spent by these staffers finishing up their side duties after a shift? Does it take too much time to restock things because your storage areas are a disaster?

Side work is a part of every server’s responsibilities, so make sure you’ve made it possible for these duties to be done quickly and efficiently. Improve the organization of your key work areas and watch productivity skyrocket. After a hectic shift, many staffers want to finish up quickly and head home. Help them do just that!

No Copying and Pasting the Schedule

If you’re in the habit of simply copying and pasting your schedule from week to week to save time and effort, stop it. Stop it right now.

It’s crucial to spend time with your schedule and be certain it’s prepared based on anticipated sales and customer head counts. Staff members have to know from day one that hours will need to be adjusted as business ebbs and flows. Again, having a cross-trained staff can help reduce employee frustration as a server with reduced hours could pick up a bar shift, or host shift.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse 

Maintaining a watchful eye on your own schedule is important, but make it a point to be aware of what’s happening outside your own walls as well. Be sure to keep up with any events in your local area that could have unexpected effects on that day’s traffic.

Don’t be the family restaurant fully staffed on a Saturday evening only to be left standing around with nothing to do as most of your target clientele sits across town at the Christmas parade. Track anything that could negatively impact the number of customers walking into your restaurant and help take some of the guesswork out of scheduling.

Build a Roster of Part-Timers

RSG Magazine recommends maintaining at least a third of your staffers as part-time employees. They note that “retail businesses rely on the availability of part-time workers so that peak periods can have maximum staffing while allowing for staff levels to be reduced as demand wanes. Having additional staff to take up the slack when full-time workers are absent or approaching overtime is also a great way to avoid excessive overtime.”

No Hiring in a Rush

Resist the urge to fill open positions with the first passable applicant. Whenever possible, hold out for the right person. By waiting for the best possible candidate you save yourself potential labour costs in two ways.

  1. The wrong candidate may not stick, forcing you to quickly train yet another new team member. As well, think of the potential customer service problems that could come with a quick panic hire.
  2. A more highly experienced worker may need less time than you think in terms of shadowing time. Say your usual process involves a new server shadowing for two shifts before going off on their own. Holding out for that more experienced worker may cut that shadow time in half, saving you time and money.

Have any tips of your own on reducing labour costs in the restaurant? Share them with us in the comments. And be sure to download our free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices


NOTE: A Version of this post originally appeared at FoodTender.com’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.