I recently met with a customer (Mr. Peppery, not his real name, read further to see how he got that name) that I have been working with for several weeks and I want to share some of his feedback from our most recent meeting. Mr. Peppery has been in business for over thirty five years in an iconic downtown location and like many restaurants has been rebounding from a pretty serious drop in business since the start of the economic crisis. Over the last couple of years they have seen some rebound but not at the levels it had been before the economic meltdown that essentially started in the fall of 2008.
In my discussion with Mr. Peppery, he reminded me that from the outset of our meetings that I encouraged him and his staff to focus on the internals of the restaurant and not become distracted with online reviews, marketing gimmicks, or to become overly reliant on external factors to drive business. I assured he and his staff that if they could work to become “picture perfect” in all facets of their business that they could build the business back if they worked together as a team. I encouraged his staff to become “brand ambassadors” and to treat every encounter with customers as an opportunity to build relationships. Mr. Peppery told me that his staff has become “passionately engaged” in building the brand and recently the chef encouraged a business customer to “give him a shot”. That business customer had habitually entertained Fortune 500 customers in the bar before heading off to a well known chain nearby. The customer agreed to bring their next group of clients to the restaurant and after spending a great evening and a whole lot of money the client announced that they would be back on their next visit. After all, they could have eaten in that chain in virtually any of the cities that they routinely visited but now they had a local favorite that was unique.
Another member of the team recently secured a $8,000 party on a weeknight and made 80 people very happy. That same staff member has recently engaged with concierges, bell hops, and local businesses and invited them to encourage their guests to come visit and they are coming.
The point of all of this is that my customer made it pretty simple for me to understand. What had originally started as a request to help them in the online world has turned into good old fashioned hospitality and teamwork. Earlier this year we had done a pretty comprehensive analysis of the online reputation of the restaurant and found some relatively unflattering reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon. Many were eye openers and I encouraged the restaurant to treat this feedback as if all of it was completely true. I told them that “Feedback was a Gift, whether it comes wrapped in velvet or wrapped around a brick.” There was an almost natural tendency to treat all of the reviews with skepticism but I encouraged the team to focus on learning from the reviews and get back to building relationships. We didn’t dismiss the reviews and we also discovered that many of the sites for the reviews had not been claimed including Google Places. We have since claimed the major sites to ensure that the restaurant information was correct.
Interestingly, within days of that first meeting the owner of the restaurant was outside tending to the petunias, you know sprucing up the curb appeal when a lady walked up and asked him about a good place to have lunch, Mr. Peppery as she called him told her about several other restaurants in the area before modestly admitting that he was the proprietor of this restaurant and suggested she try his restaurant. The lady took him up on the invitation and almost immediately posted a five star review on Yelp. We now refer to that review as the Mr. Peppery review.
Later in my discussion with Mr. Peppery we discussed an announcement by another area restaurant that they were closing after being an established brand since 1993. This particular restaurant had closed another location a few years ago and posted on their Facebook page that they were closing this location at the end of the month. The story had special significance for both us since we were both familiar with the restaurant and in previous discussions with him I had talked about independent restaurants that closed, some of which had been in business for over twenty and thirty years. I explained to him that I often conducted an online post mortem of others that I had seen close and in most cases I found that they generally have subordinated their brand, they are liberal discounters, and the reviews that they have are generally not great. Unfortunately, in a quick look at this particular restaurant all of the above is prevalent.
What is significant about this story is that Mr. Peppery and his team are now experiencing record sales increases at the restaurant which is reinforcing and reinvigorating the entire team. Mr. Peppery’s team are turning into “Leadagers” instead of managers. They are learning to lead in promoting a positive culture that is focused on providing “picture perfect” experiences for each and every guest. They are no longer content to simply “make the donuts”, they have grown from perfunctory performers to brand ambassadors. This team is learning that real engagement at the guest level will create real “buzz” that will spread through the social media channels as well as the water cooler. They are building their brand from the inside out and it’s working.
To read more about becoming a Leadager be sure to check out “High Impact Hospitality” by Chase LeBlanc
Three rules for restaurants:
- Build your brand from the inside out.
- Don’t subordinate your brand with that of someone elses.
- Never, ever, ever discount.