Internal Service: You Are What You Charge For

Your image, your concept and your brand are what define you. Do you have these defined with a plan to succeed?

If you want to be bigger than everyone else, you’ve got to be better than everyone else, too.

What characterizes a restaurant’s identity from a customer’s point-of-view? More than your “concept”, more than your menu, more than your décor, and more than your brand, you are what you charge for. And so the big questions become: what are customers willing to pay for, and maybe just as importantly, what are your employees willing to stay for?

The best customer-driven restaurateurs don’t design their operations by first engineering a menu built around a 33% food cost. They ask themselves: “what do we want to famous for with customers?” Then they determine value (and pricing) by what their target customers are willing to pay for relative to the meal and experience they receive in return.

Conversely, the best employee-driven operators ask themselves “what do we want to be famous for with our employees?” Is it favoritism, mercurial moods, daily doubles, endless closing/opening shifts? Or do you offer moral leadership, fairness, energy, equity, balance, challenge and fun? The best operators know that they’re not just selling food and beverage, they’re selling the server’s smile, energy, knowledge, attitude and empathy. The care and maintenance of both your internal and external customers is the key to both guest and employee retention. “A company that is bleeding people,” says restaurant consultant Curt Coffey, “is bleeding value.”

The best operators don’t recruit to “fill an opening”, they recruit to add equity to both the company and the employee’s experience. They know the importance of managing their human capital as appreciating assets instead of “labor”. The best managers source, recruit and interview new employees to maximize retention, not minimize time. During an interview, the worst managers think, “this is not a good fit, but they can start today.” The best ask themselves “what am I offering this person besides money?”

So to add more value to your customer’s experience and more longevity to your employee’s tenure, consider these strategies and tactics:

Stick to the basics

Joe Vaccarino, a Sales Manager at the Olive Garden for the last 11 years in Port Charlotte, Florida writes to say, “Our store was recently recognized as having the lowest employee turnover out of the 460-plus Olive Gardens. Our philosophy is to simply stick to the basics; take care of your employees and recognize them for a job well done in front of their peers. On busy days, we might buy lunch for the staff, or have breakfast ready for the morning crew. We stage fun and creative sales contests and rewards for the servers. Most importantly, the manager focuses on retention daily by staying positive, upbeat and helpful throughout the shift. Word gets around that you care and then everybody wants to work for you.”

Make sure you’re emphasizing the right issues

Lisa McDowell, VP of Performance Development at the Cheesecake Factory restaurants suggests this simple exercise. Take your current training manuals apart by topic. Literally stack up the paper in different piles according to subject (rules and regulations, customer service, uniform policy, selling, sanitation, etc.) Which pile is biggest? What are you emphasizing the most? Now ask yourselves what’s most important to the success of the restaurant? In what order? Rearrange and re-write your materials to reflect what your customers (both internal and external) value the most.

To manage Customer Service first understand Customer Sacrifice

A recent Fast Company article defined Customer Sacrifice as “what the customer wants exactly, minus what the customer settles for.” This awareness could significantly shift the way we manage our service delivery and service training. If we begin to focus first on eliminating Customer Sacrifice instead of “providing” customer service, we arguably build a happier guest.

All behavior is controlled by consequences

I’ve had the pleasure of designing and executing dozens of successful employee incentive and reward programs for restaurant chains. My philosophy is simple: you get what you reward. And it doesn’t have to cost you a bundle. Think of no-cost and low-cost recognition and rewards you can share with your team. What about e-mail praise, handwritten thank-you notes, pass-around trophies, two-dollar bills? One company I heard of in Livonia Michigan gives an infant car seat to employees when they become new parents. Another offers monthly professional housecleaning service as a sales incentive. One Best Western franchisee in San Francisco brings Cokes to his housekeepers, another provides pizza as a surprise treat for them. Oh, and don’t forget the simple “thank you”. If you’re still unsure of what to do, ask your employees to make a list of ten ways they would like to be rewarded for a job well done.

Assess your service from your “other” customers

“Talk to your vendors and distributor’s delivery people and drivers, your bookkeepers, custodians, security guards, and maintenance crews,” says Joe Norton, a partner in the Charleston Crab House restaurants in South Carolina. “These folks always seem to have strong feelings about what’s good and bad about your company, but rarely are they asked their opinions. They often hear or overhear feedback from upset customers, they see how careful and respectful employees are with your restaurant’s property—in some ways, they’re closer to the action than you are.”

Create Expectant Learners

And finally, remember that teaching your team to be expectant, eager learners (by teaching them something new everyday) is the one of the most effective retention tools you have. A knowledgeable employee creates value for the guest and more profits for you.

Remember if you want to be bigger than everyone else, you’ve got to be better than everyone else, too.