Voice of the Restaurant Industry
Recently I was having a conversation with my son who just happens to be a server. He’s been serving for 3 or 4 years and has experienced decent success (enough to live on his own, pay his bills and enjoy a few beers with his friends now and then). Because I have a passion for customer service and for my son’s success, I was interested in his perspective on the job and what motivates him to provide great customer service. I’m certain he represents the vast majority of servers when he tells me, “Dad, it’s all about the money”!
I have a theory about this mentality that I am determined to prove. Making it “all about the money” prevents us from maximizing our ability to make money. I believe this is true in every field of endeavor and especially in the customer service business.
Here’s today’s reality. We hire kids to provide service to our customers. They receive tips based on the quality of the experience. Unfortunately it’s human nature to predetermine who is capable of tipping big and who is not. Consciously or unconsciously our servers get more enthused about serving 4 gentlemen wearing ties than they do serving 4 college kids in sneakers and t-shirts. Much to my dismay this was validated by my son. I guess if it’s “all about the money” I can understand this attitude.
So what if it was about something more than the money? What if their job as a server was tied to a “higher purpose”? When I posed this question to my son he wasn’t buying it. He couldn’t get beyond the money. Don’t get me wrong he could see my point of view but he is convinced I wouldn’t be able to sell a group of servers on this higher purpose concept. I’m convinced I can.
So, what do I mean by higher purpose? Of course there are different levels. When you work with a higher purpose the work you do is meaningful. You are inspired to exceed someone’s expectations just because it’s the right thing to do. When you work with a higher purpose you are not motivated you are inspired. Your drive comes from within. I’m sure this sounds idealistic, but I believe it’s the key to a brand’s success.
The mantra forever in the restaurant business has been, “Let’s have fun and make some money”! If I’ve heard that expression once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. To this day that expression makes me cringe. It reinforces the mentality that money is the only thing.
Here’s the challenge... This mentally is ingrained in the restaurant business. While few have gone out of business because of it, I believe in many have failed to maximize their potential.
How do we get (in many cases) a bunch of college kids some of whom have a higher purpose beyond the restaurant business to approach their serving with this mentality. A tough assignment without a doubt. The issue is most of our servers have a difficult time seeing past their shift. Their mentality is how much money am I going to make in this section tonight. For many reasons it’s difficult for them to see beyond that. Even though the typical server isn’t in it for the long term, certainly they are in it for more than one shift! Somehow we have to convince them that a higher purpose mentality will make them more money during their time with us whether that’s six weeks, six months or 6 years.
Realizing what I’m about to say is idealistic, allow me to suggest the following scenario...
The manager brings her team of servers together and announces:
“From this moment forward we are going stop making what we do everyday about the money. Instead we are going to shift our mentality to make what we do all about the customer. We are not going to talk about the money, we aren’t going to complain about not making good tips, we are not going think about the section we are assigned. Instead we are going place our entire focus on doing all the little things that customers appreciate. We aren’t going to put blinders on and worry just about our section but we are going to see the whole restaurant as our responsibility. We are going to work on making every customer happy regardless of what section they are in. In essence we are going to make the money a secondary consideration.”
Once the manager has established this vision she then asks the group to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of running the business this way. This is a critical component. We cannot “command and control” our teams into doing this. They must buy in. They must sell themselves. Chances are if the stage is set properly and the manager allows the conversation to flow, the sell-through will take care of itself. Once the vision has been established and the manager is confident that the team has bought in, next is the hard part. Making sure this cultural shift gets traction every day in the restaurant.
Getting traction requires one-on-one follow up. The manager has to rearrange her time so that she can have quality, uninterrupted time with each member of the team. During those one-on-ones the manager does not preach the vision. Instead she asks a series of open-ended questions. The objective is to gauge the level of buy-in and to continue to allow the individual team members to sell themselves on the value of this higher purpose approach.
The key after that is to stay with it. The natural tendency in any change effort is to do it for a while then gradually slip back into the way it used to be. This requires what I refer to as “creative reinforcement”. Remember we can’t command and control this. We have to make it fun and inspirational. It can’t be systematized. We have to allow the team to come up their own ideas on how to keep it flowing. We have to keep the focus on the intrinsic rewards. When we do this I’m convinced the money will flow for everyone.
I’d love to hear your comments. Can we change this mentality? Does what I’m saying make sense or is this just “pie in the sky idealism”? Let me know what you are thinking!