This week I have been in Melbourne visiting a list of cafes that people are talking about. I’ve spoken many times about the importance of stepping out of your business and seeing what industry leaders are delivering to their customers. It honestly is the easiest way to innovate. Take what people love and are talking about and find a way to make it better.
What I found this week rather surprised me. I found it was actually the little touches that people were noticing and remarking on.
A café or restaurant could put in a hundred hours perfecting the best ever menu, but if they haven’t taken care of the finer details, people will find it hard to remember their experience. Charming your customers is as important as ever. Nobody wants to be treated to a forgettable dining experience, no matter how good the coffee or food is.
If you’re a restaurant or cafe owner, you probably know how important the food can be. Many operators used to be baristas or chefs, so that comes easy to them. Here’s one thing employees-turned-owners forget more easily than you’d think – it’s not all about the food. Yes, it’s important, but so is EVERYTHING else.
People expect good food, and that’s not all they go out to coffee or dinner for. They go out for the experience. Being treated well. That’s what counts. And if you nail the finer details, you’ll be on to a winner.
Remember people’s names
It’s a personal touch that’s hard to beat. Call people by their name. Even if they’ve only booked with you once and you’ve never even met them before. When someone hears their name, they feel familiarity. Familiarity builds loyalty – and loyalty is what you want.
People like to be remembered and they like to feel part of something. If you can perfect the trick of remembering your regulars, you’ll probably start to see them even more often. Make it an expectation that your staff master this skill.
Be genuine and welcoming
You’d be surprised how far a genuine hello and goodbye can go. I once took over a cafe that had been falling on hard times. When I arrived, I wasn’t sure how I was going to turn things around and start making a profit again. This wasn’t a fine dining experience, just a simple cafe in a busy business area. You’d think the busy local area would translate to people through the door, but it didn’t. What had once been a successful little operation now needed a sharp turnaround or it was going to go out of business.
When I looked at how things were organised on an operational level, I realised a few changes needed to be made. All the staff members stayed behind the counter (which was quite a distance from the entrance) and simply acted as order takers. They had almost become robots. I knew there was some personality in there somewhere, but morale had taken a bashing from previous mis-management. The old boss liked to talk to customers, but didn’t like anyone else doing so. This meant that when he wasn’t around (more often than not), nobody was talking to customers.
I needed to change the atmosphere in the workplace, so I made all my staff members come on a team building paintball day. It sounds cheesy, but it really worked wonders. It seemed like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders. New staff members bonding with old, it was great to see. I made sure that everyone knew just how I wanted things. That same range of outgoing personalities that I had seen for the first time when paintballing, i wanted to see that in the workplace.
My staff members were now actively encouraged to make conversation with customers. Actually, I didn’t want them to be known as customers anymore: they’re guests. I even moved one staff member out onto the floor as a kind of roaming-friendly person – away from the counter and out asking people if they need help or just simply saying hello and goodbye. You’d be surprised how much genuine touches like that can make a difference. But make sure it is genuine. Business soon started to pick up, and I had a happier workforce in the process. So it was a win-win situation.
Go above and beyond people’s expectations
You don’t simply want to just “deliver”. You want to over-deliver. Give people everything they expected, and MORE. Give people what they didn’t even know they wanted. I know it sounds like throwaway management speak, but over-delivering is important. And it doesn’t need to be expensive, either.
Some people think that over-delivering means spending more money on stock. This simply isn’t the case. I once had a staff member who I had to leave looking after a site for a while. When I went back there, I noticed that stock levels were at an all-time low and profits were down. When I asked my manager about it, they replied “well, you always say about over-delivering – so I increased portion sizes”. People were now getting almost double what they should have. Yes, the place sure had become popular, but gross profits were understandably lower.
That’s when I had to explain, you don’t simply have to give them more food to be over-delivering. Sometimes, little touches can go a long way, and cost your business far less.
I’ll always remember a local business that used to send Christmas cards to everyone on their mailing list. That’s when I decided to send some to my customers. Not only that, but I included discount vouchers. It was a double incentive – people were being remembered and rewarded. The Christmas cards were a nice touch, but you can’t beat a good discount voucher. People continued to come back, even though I had to make the portions smaller again.
One important way of over-delivering is to make sure all complaints are thoroughly dealt with. Sadly, bad rumours travel fast in our industry. Someone’s bad experience at your establishment is going to spread round friends and family far more than any good experience. That’s why any legitimate complaint needs to be nipped in the bud, ASAP.
If someone complains about a meal, don’t simply give them a fresh one. Give them a fresh one AND take it off the bill. And offer free drinks and desserts as well. You need to look out for career complainers who are just trying to get something for free, though. The good thing is, not only are they quite easy to spot, they’re also less likely to spread rumours about your place. If someone’s got a legitimate complaint and it was your fault, make sure you do everything you can to send them away happy. Even if that costs you a little in the short-term.
Getting someone back after a complaint is so important. If you manage to do that, then you can make sure they have a great time and convert them into a loyal customer. I like to give my legitimate complainers a voucher for next time they visit. This gives them an incentive to come back. One trick I like to use is by colour coding the voucher. I give them a bright purple one. To them this means nothing, just the colour of the voucher. However, the voucher tells the recipient to notify a member of staff that they’ll be using it when they arrive. When one of my staff members sees the purple voucher, they know that this was someone who had a bad experience previously, so it’s CRUCIAL that they go out of their way to give them a PERFECT time. It really works well, and hopefully converts quite a few disgruntled customers into happy and loyal ones.
People like to see the boss (or the chef)
Here’s one personal touch that works every time. Get the chef to come out onto the floor after a busy shift to meet with guests. You’d be surprised how much of an impression it makes, and people like to make that link in their mind between the great meal they had and where it came from. It’s an extra layer in a perfect experience you’re trying to let people have, and it reminds them that their meal wasn’t cooked by a robot, but a real person.
The same is true for the restaurant owner. In some cases, the owner becomes a brand. Getting out and walking around your establishment is important. Not only does it let people see you and build a personal relationship (which leads to loyal customers), but it helps you keep your finger on the pulse of your business.
Far too many bosses simply stay in the office or out in the kitchen. But they’re neglecting how important it is to be visible in this industry. Get out onto the floor and mingle with your guests. Make them feel appreciated and they’ll keep coming back for more. Everyone likes to think they know the boss. Make them feel like each and every one of them is your special guest.
Sponsor local events
Nothing says “important member of the community” like having your name or logo on a popular local event. People want to know that you’re here to stay and that you’re willing to give to the community as much as possible. Establish yourself not only in your site, but also in the local area around you. Sponsor a local sports team or help a local festival.
Another great touch is to fund a local charity or help organise an event for them at your premises. It gives something back, but it builds your brand as well. It’s also great advertising.
It’s the small things that go the furthest. People want to feel part of something, not just like they are simply spending money somewhere. Improving customer loyalty is important, but it’s also not as difficult as you might think. Make sure your guests have a thoroughly charming experience, every time.