This month marks two years since I left the wonderful world of the restaurant industry. Since restaurants played a core role in shaping how I interact with customers, I’m updating a previous article I had written about lessons I learned from my customers there.
Out of the many lessons I learned over the years, here’s my favorite ones.
Keep It Simple and Clean
Short and simple will always win. Always. The current menu at the deli has over 50 different selections you can choose from. Unless you have 15 minutes to study (and I mean study) the menu, you’ll get lost on your first visit. And don’t forget to factor in training the restaurant staff on all those choices. It’s a nightmare where things can go wrong easily.
For your dream, product, service, etc., keep it simple and clean. Too many choices overwhelm. Focus on selectivity and then making those selections the best ones possible.
Systems vs Talent
Once you get past the Mom and Pop restaurant level, you have to develop systems and make sure everyone does them the same way every time. You make this dish this way every time you make it. You open/close the restaurant this way every time. You create checklists, flowcharts, etc. and penalize anyone who steps outside the bounds of them. Each of your restaurants run the same way at the same time every day. This allows you to talk about things like productivity, efficiency, and maximizing returns on whatever. If something’s wrong, your first question is, “Did we follow the system?”
Systems turn people into cogs and offer up only machines that can be easily replaced. When people are treated this way, forget about getting any kind of fresh ideas or innovative thinking from them; they’ll clock-in, do the work, and clock-out.
Talent on the other hand requires people to think, stretch the boundaries, and challenge the system. Trust your people to do the right thing. Sure, we’ve made that dish the same way for the past 10 years. How can we make it better?
Every Win is a Win
Working in a restaurant is tough work and the pay isn’t that great. They spill their blood, sweat, and tears to make the shift run smoothly while you pay them minimum wage or slightly above it. This leads into high turnover, low morale, and high training costs. So how do you keep the great staff you have? Celebrate every win. Because only happy people can make people happy.
Take those surveys most restaurants have now. (Side note: They’re unreliable and a waste of time, especially when done poorly like most are. Don’t make me answer 15 questions for a free drink or a “chance” at $25,000.) Whenever a survey mentioned a specific staffer, we made a big deal out of it and gave them cold, hard cash as a reward for great service. When a guest raved about a certain dish, we stopped the line and made a big deal out of their talent (not the system). When we continued to break records every month for sales, profits, etc, we made sure the staff knew what they were doing right.
No matter how big or small, every win is a win.
The Customer is Not Always Right
We’ve all heard that phrase. Customers seem to think that it’s the 11th Commandment. But it’s just not true. One customer wanted us to carry this relatively unknown type of sweetener because of its “healing benefits.” Of course, those benefits came at the price of $9.99 for a pack the size of a small sugar pack. No. I won’t carry that expensive product for one person. One customer wanted us to add spices to our tomato basil soup. Not happening. We know that recipe is great and that’s how we want it.
Don’t let one customer dictate your recipes, what you stock, or what feature/services you provide. The more chefs in the kitchen the more messy everything gets. And you want it clean and simple.
In the End
Was it all worth it? Absolutely.
Everyone needs to work at least 2 jobs in their younger years: retail (specifically around the holidays) and restaurants. It’s a challenge but the things you learn and the talent you develop is worth every minute of it.