One of the biggest challenges we face when it comes to remaining competitive, fresh and relevant, is seeing through our guests’ eyes. Too much of what seems important accumulates. Real priorities get cloaked or forgotten.
The chef only sees food presented under the kitchen’s fluorescent lights in the rush (or boredom) of each day. Servers only taste the food while sparing against fifteen other forks for a bite during tasting panels. And the goal there is to make up for a lost lunch. Bartenders sip their creation through a thin black straw (or gulp one down for lost weekend therapy). Subtle apathy from team members goes undetected by ownership or management – yet remains instantly detectable by those we ask to remember us.
The naked walk-through requires not your time, but your attention
With repetition the cloaking becomes the norm. It affects the team’s perception of the restaurant’s master vision. A good rule of thumb is to reset the big picture in harmony with nature’s seasonal changes.
There’s a natural rhythm here. Menus will change, music selections should change, our guests’ attire will change, even modes of transportation, communication and what they’re willing to spend will fluxuate. We can use seasonal changes as a reminder it’s time to stay relevant.
At an appropriate time, head across the street. Go one or two blocks away. What’s the place look like when it’s closed? Watch how people arrive, how they leave. Has their countenance changed from the before to the after? As they get into their car to leave, there’s already a pending review on display. What’s it say? How many staff members, including ownership and management, would be able to read this review on the spot (and be accountable for what it will say)?
How do you feel about what they’ll say? Will they write about the paint, the landscaping or the roof? What would they say about where the trash goes? Observe every detail from their Pulitzer Prize winning review. Find something that’s going to make it out into the world that shouldn’t.
Walk back to the restaurant. What’s across the street? Who are your neighbors? Do things fit the concept, the time of year, and what the market desires?
On the way to the front door, how’s the curb, the gutter, the parking lot? Reaching the front door, are windows smudged or so clean someone could walk right through?
With nothing on, it’s possible to see and feel what’s really there
Inside, how does the restaurant look, smell, sound and feel? Find something else that wasn’t noticed before that’s going to be pointed out for the world to see. Guaranteed it’s there. Find it. Is there something you’ll wish stayed covered?
What’s something the world doesn’t know about yet that you’re proud of? Find something that makes the restaurant unique and desireable. Search the menu. How’s the variety? Pricing? Think about the cumulative experience. What’s memorable coming out of the bathroom(s) back into the dining room? Spot anything forgettable? If answers aren’t showing up, you’re not naked.
Get naked (figuratively, of course) and return to the fabric of the restaurant’s concept. We don’t often know what’s under the “appealing” surface until a layer or two is peeled back. What is sometimes the hardest, is when we see things how they used to be (oh, our youth!), but things have changed when we weren’t looking, and the outside world looks back at us differently.
Ensure everybody, from the dishwasher to the meat-delivery guy, to the hostess to the general manager, understands what we do and why we do it- and what we really look like while we’re doing it. We all must all be believers. There’s got to be a why that’s bigger than the job, the paycheck or future personal advancement. This why is us in our most honest form. Only when we’re naked can we see what shapes each guest’s most personal, even subconcious moments, when they’re with us.
Now that you know what you look like naked, everybody on the team needs to join in
At this point, there should be new things worth sharing. In this seasonal change, bring everybody you can into the dining room and share. Share what’s been seen with utmost honesty. A few days or hours before this meeting, have a few, or all, of your team members walk down the street (at an appropriate time) and observe. Get a few of them to observe the things mentioned above. Then let them share their truth. Listen to what they see, smell or hear. The observations of a dishwasher, busser or even a purveyor can be as valuable as a six figure consultant. Use this exercise in your efforts to create a collective passion that moves everybody toward the ultimate mission of the restaurant.
It’s tending to the unseen that shapes what we become
As a result, daily micro-actions keep us true to what we’re trying to be for our guests. This form is found in the passion of a bartender while mixing drinks. That slight, extra moment of care in a smile, a listening ear, a subtle pause to make sure it’s done right. It’s found in the fleeting seconds a sous chef takes when placing the nightly food order, double checking the freshness of what could be tomorrow’s fish or vegetables before moving on.
During these small moments a true brand emerges. There is no zing-bang-bam or holy-cow. It’s quiet, subtle and driven by mindfulness, awareness and discipline.
Split seconds of observations, usually when nobody is looking, make all the difference. There’s a knowing that an invisible impact is on the way, heading toward the guests arriving at the restaurant loaded with their expectations. It’s seeing what they will see with the same joy and excitement, each and every time, just as if it was the first time (figuratively, of course).