Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hospitality Not Service

I find myself dining more and more often in fast-casual restaurants instead of ones that offers full service (and I use that term loosely). Why? In addition to being more in control of the timing of my experience, I find the level of hospitality in many fast-casual chains equal to or better than many of the casual full-service restaurants - for less money. What can you learn from a CASE (copy and steal everything) study of today's successful concepts? Think hospitality instead of service.

On a recent visit to Pei Wei, PF Chang's fast-casual concept, with a colleague of mine (his first time to eat there), he was impressed with the friendly food delivery and offer to get drink refills for us. Drink refills? Most of us could offer that little dose of hospitality in our restaurants. Heck, at most full-service restaurants today, you're lucky if you get a refill in a timely manner. Will that build your sales? Certainly!

The Golden Corral in my neighborhood has a very Cheers-like atmosphere, where the guests request specific servers and the managers are out front and seem to know everyone. Wonder why they continue to build sales and have long lines? The guests have a better experience for less coin. You certainly have the ability to create an experience like these in your building as well--if you move out front.

Get off the kitchen tiles and spread some smiles working the guests' tiles. Get on the other side of the counter and check your guests' meals. Inject some hospitality into your restaurant. Why do you think so many people go through the drive-thru? They might not want to come inside. Create a better experience and they'll be lining up. Studies have shown that dine-in guests spend more, so give them a reason to come on in!

Hospitality Rally

Add a dose of hospitality to your pre-shift meetings. Teach your people to interact with your diners--and that starts with you. It takes no more time and costs no more money for someone pre-bussing a table to smile, find out how the meal is, and see if they need anything else. Your rally should focus on how the interactions happen, not on a series of steps and tasks the guest doesn't care about.

A recent trip through my local Chick-fil-A drive-thru opened my eyes to the difference between service and hospitality. I ordered a large drink and pulled around to the window. The attendant passed me a straw and told me the total was $1.29. I gave her the money, and she joked that was just for the straw--the soda was an additional $1.29. A little laugh from someone enjoying her job and showing it to the guests. Service is filling the need--in that case, the need being "I'm thirsty"--and can be delivered by a vending machine or any number of places. Hospitality, though, is different. It happens through people. My family dines at this restaurant frequently for this very reason. How can you make the transition in your restaurant?

Cashiers, phone, and drive thru. A good rule of thumb is to greet the guest by name. If you don't recognize them, their name is Welcome. Start their experience off on the right foot. Positive, reassuring responses such as "great choice," "that's my favorite," "it's one of our most popular items," "that also goes well with ___" will ensure the guest feels good about their order. Simply replace the nod, non-acknowledgement, or "okay" with eye contact and a positive response. Watch the sales add up.

On the floor. Lead the charge--get out from behind the counter. Sonic's carhops stop by to ask how the meal is and to see if you need any additional condiments. Offer a drink refill, additional napkins, and ketchup or salsa refills. Find out why the guest is here and inform them of any catering, office packs, and fundraising events you offer. Build your sales by focusing on frequency and marketing opportunities with the minimal investment of only your time. The old expression "don't trip over dollars to pick up pennies" rings true here. Sometimes we focus too much attention on minor items while missing the big-dollar opportunities to build sales.

Think about an encore at a rock concert. It certainly doesn't look impressive if only one lighter is held out, and it won't get the band back. But 20,000 lighters in unison is an impressive sight, and it starts with only one--yours. Don't let the rigors of the shift extinguish it. Keep modeling the behavior and rewarding those on your team who mimic you. Pretty soon you will have an impressive team holding the lighters in the air and a long line of guests waiting to experience your great service.