Yaneek Page | Restaurateurs, here are 3 best practices customers love
Last year I had a restaurant experience that would probably shock most Jamaicans and local restaurateurs.
Enticed by rave food reviews from close family members, I decided to buy lunch at one of the fastest growing quick service restaurant franchises in the US. After being in the states for several weeks I was desperately missing the taste of home and welcomed anything with rice, beans, and some well-seasoned protein.
Although the outlet was almost at maximum capacity for guests, and there were at least 15 people ahead of me in line, it took under five minutes for me to reach the counter to select my custom meal.
That speed was a shocker, but then came another surprise, my server moved at lightning speed and still managed to smile warmly at me as I fumbled through the myriad of meat, vegetable, rice and condiment options. I was clearly slowing down the fast pace of the line, yet I did not sense the slightest hint of annoyance.
It was refreshing to have a server make me feel valued as a customer even though she was clearly under pressure. But that wasn’t the biggest shocker. It happened when I moved to the cash register and took out US$20 to pay for the two meals.
Despite the lunch time chaos the cashier apparently noticed I was dazed and asked if I “everything was okay”. When I explained it was my first visit and the food service moved quicker than I could fully process she said: “Please hold just a minute”. She then called her manager and spoke to him in a hushed tone before turning to me to explain: “You’re good, the manager got you”.
I wasn’t sure I heard correctly and asked her to repeat for clarification. That’s when she said: “We covered the cost of your lunch today. We hope you enjoy and will come back.”
As young people say these days — I was shook.
That experience is forever etched in my mind as one of the best ever with a restaurant chain. Which brings me to Jamaica and the culture every well thinking person would like to see and experience in our food service industry.
EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE
Excellent customer service is a best practice we desperately need but rarely experience.
Whether it’s patties, soup, bun and cheese, ‘box food’, jerk chicken, hamburgers, sandwiches or fried chicken, we have become accustomed to poor treatment by those who are supposed to welcome our business and be happy to serve us.
It’s the norm to be greeted by scowling faces, lethargy, the absence of basic pleasantries such as welcome, please, thank you, you’re welcome, or being ignored entirely as servers talk among themselves.
I’ve seen customers hesitate to change their orders or do so very timidly for fear of annoying the servers. Food businesses need to make excellent customer service a culture.
EXCEPTIONAL FOOD QUALITY, SAFETY
Consistent taste, texture, serving size and quality are key factors that the average restaurant struggles with constantly in Jamaica. For example, practically every day restaurants that specialise in chicken will run out of chicken, patty shops will run out of patties during peak periods.
Then there is the culture of nonchalance when it comes to food safety.
A few years ago I got very ill and ended up in the emergency room after consuming contaminated food. In March this year I had an allergic reaction from food at a popular fish restaurant because of cross contamination with shell fish.
The government through the Jamaica Bureau of Standards and other agencies, constantly encourages businesses to implement better food safety procedures and practices in their enterprises. And still, the average consumer with no food safety training can identify several breaches and health risks in the average food establishment.
Jamaican restaurants need to treat food safety and the health of their customers and staff as a priority.
MEMORABLE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
Finally, there’s the overall experience that the customer will leave with. Few restaurants adopt and create a ‘guest first’ or customer-centred approach to their operations, systems and environment.
Too few are concerned with the total brand experience or promise that’s served to customers from they find a business online or make contact via phone or email, to when they actually receive, consume, and pay for their meals.
Not enough effort is placed on convenient and safe parking, comfortable and welcoming layout, ideal temperature, welcoming hosts and servers, process flows, wait period and so on. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of information, ideas, and resources that are free and just a click away for business operators to get started.
Knowledge through research and study is the first critical step. For example the US National Association of Restaurateurs website www.restaurant.org is a rich source for articles, videos, and information on best practices in managing front of house, back of house, back office, food and nutrition, workforce engagement, marketing and sales and much more.
- Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer, and creator/executive producer of The Innovators TV series.