Five Things Restaurants Need To Do But Probably Won’t

Invest in People

Independents are kicking some major chain bootee and they’re doing it because of culture. Independents are more conducive to the staff being “family” and providing all that that offers. Chains are cold and formulaic and transactional and not conducive to employees desires to be seen as once again “human”.

Also, the recession hasn’t helped operators find better people just more of the same. The nearly 100 million under/unemployed outside the workforce need jobs but operators need people who share their values of service and Hospitality and business. This won’t come from laid-off/downsized corporate types. Hiring bodies just because they seem to be aplenty is still shooting yourself in the foot.

Training is broken. No one learns the same way they did 5 years ago. If you’re not throwing out those asinine manuals and focusing on experiential learning, you’re simply piling on yet another transactional layer that will further divide your intentions from those of your guests.

Ever listen to a conversation between a guest and your employee lately? We desperately need to teach our staff how to engage with real people in real and meaningful ways. People aren’t apps.

Invest in Better Thinking

Maybe this should be ‘Invest in Thinking’ – period? Sameness is killing restaurants (re:casual dining) faster than the economy. Everything from location, design and menu is pretty much indistinguishable from one chain to the next. Corporate, bureaucratic types have been breathing their own exhaust for far too long. What corporate offices need are real restaurateurs not MBAs who play restaurant.

Also, restaurants have become Steak-n-Shake’s nightmare and devolved into workaraunts. Every time I go out to eat I feel like I need to get paid or at least tipped out. Reminding my server of everything I need is not Hospitality.

Whatever happened to fun? Did we decide it costs too much?

Have we learned nothing over time about the fundamentals of the business and how they need to be extrapolated into any new process or concept? Whatever happened to QSCV?

Does your loyalty program fine print demand that guests give up their desire for speed also?

Invest in Different

This is the one I’ve been ranting about for decades and it doesn’t get any plainer than in a severe downturn. The kind of differentiation I’m talking about will require that we take the (entire) guest experience apart and put it back together again and the end result will not even be close to what is going on today in dining rooms everywhere. And please start with that absolutely abhorrent Host stand.

Everything from logos to menus to buildings to uniforms to step-of-service to well…everything. Any of these can be 86’d and replaced with something else and no one would blink. Every brand aspect has become a universal part.

Best practices aren’t. They’re a tool used to drive commodity products and services. Why did you get into the business in the first place? What happened?

And why isn’t the word ‘purpose’ used in our discussions any more? Did we forget we’re all a part of a bigger community? Do you not understand that in order to build real, organic loyalty you have to insert yourself into the lives of your guests in a meaningful and endearing way?

I’ve said it a thousand times but it bears repeating here: “The most critical factor in creating sustainable, long-term success is your ability to continuously innovate your business. Failing to do so is the most critical factor in creating your irrelevance.”

Invest in Experiences

The guest is where all the answers lie. And since complaints about service have risen nearly 50% in the last couple of years, this is as good a place to start as any. The 12-step service manuals need to be burned and training (read experiences) need to teach how to talk and engage with guests in a more meaningful manner. One that pulls the guest in and makes them feel more than a transaction. This is a dining issue.

Food plays a role but is the easier of the two to innovate. Think signature items (and no that doesn’t mean a better plate of nachos).

Loyalty has to move beyond the frequency schemes they are and really understand why the guest is your guest and use that knowledge to personalize the experience – at every touchpoint.

Can you name the best 25 guests that patronize your restaurant? 50? 10? Now name three things about them that stands out to you.

Why are managers no longer engaged during the shift? A woman posted a picture on Facebook the other day, of a manager clearing a table in the restaurant she was a guest in and it got over 200 likes in just a couple days, with several people (guests) commenting that they never see that happen. Get it?

What needs to happen that hasn’t yet? Simply continuing to copy every “Top 10” trend list to use as your strategic development plan is not the answer. And here’s a hint, you won’t find it in a spreadsheet.

And any discussion of ‘experiences’ can’t be legitimate if it doesn’t include an even more serious discussion about the employee experience. I’m not talking about better on-boarding or higher minimum wages, I’m talking about real opportunity for personal and professional growth. Do we truly understand the difference between motivation and inspiration and how it is key to a meaningful employee experience?

Invest in Tech

I love tech but I’ve said for years that tech is for supporting the employee/guest experience, not supplanting it. How we still have host stands and stand-alone POS monstrosities is beyond me.

We need to know who is walking in our door and what they’re likely to order and why they are here before we even make eye contact. The internet has freed countless with nothing more than increased access to information yet we still can’t get calorie information on the special of the day?

Menus need to be digital and offer all the conveniences that guests desire in a digital age. And why do you need to hand me a pager when my smart phone accepts text messages? Why is there still a mosh pit in front of most order counters?

The entire amount of human knowledge is now doubling every 13 months (from an article on Industry Tap written by David Schilling, the host went on to say that not only is human knowledge, on average, doubling every 13 months, we are quickly on our way, with the help of the Internet, to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours) so why can’t we know and understand more about the employees and guests that help us build our success?

There’s a ton more but this could go on forever. Thoughts?

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Digging Deeper

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  • Jeffrey
    I couldn’t agree more with you. Your article could be used as a road map to recovery for full service chain restaurants who are failing and are destined to disappear.
    Decentralizing will eliminate bureaucracy and will allow managing partners the flexibility to act locally and that by applying the elements of your article could indeed save some of them.

  • What would you do in lieu of a hostess stand? A hostess stand/cashier is a point of contact where customers know they can go when they want seated, need help, etc.

    • No, the point of contact is the Host/Cashier themselves not the stand. Here are ten reasons to get rid of your host stand:

      1. It accumulates clutter that is an eyesore.
      2. It does not have any functional utility for the guest.
      3. It allows staff to hide from the guest.
      4. It forces the guest to come to you, and not the other way around.
      5. It becomes a hub for business other than the business of the guest.
      6. It becomes a leaning tool and not a Hosting [verb] tool.
      7. It will force you to talk to your guests and actually Host [verb] the guest experience.
      8. It will force more physical contact with the guest and thereby a more meaningful greeting.
      9. It will allow the guest to take in the whole ‘show’ as they enter and immediately be caught up in the experience more.
      10. Because you don’t have one at your house when you host people there!

      The entire point of Hospitality is the human ideal of real connection, not transactions.

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