Anticipating the customer

I am reminded frequently that foodservice succeeds when people know their customers.

Most foodservice professionals understand that, at its core, foodservice is a people business. Not every company understands, or embraces, the fact that people are the most important asset any foodservice operation has. But those that do are the most successful in the business, and the people who embody that philosophy are often the faces to watch in the industry.

I was reminded of this early this week while on a business trip to Wisconsin. I spent Wednesday night in a hotel just outside of Madison—a hotel where, speaking of customer service, the TV wasn’t working. (The front desk clerk explained that they were upgrading the cable system and that someone would be around to make some final adjustments to the TV so that the channels would once again be received. No one ever did.)

This hotel did not have a restaurant attached, so for dinner I got in my car and drove down the road a bit to a shopping plaza where I could have my choice of Red Robin, Buffalo Wild Wings or Fat Jack’s Barbecue. Fat Jack’s might have been an excellent restaurant, but I don’t usually buy local unless I’ve had some sort of recommendation, so I opted for Red Robin.

My server was Jessica; she looked to be a college student at the University of Wisconsin—which, subsequent conversation revealed, she was. I was in the mood for beer, so she rattled off the current list of craft beers on tap, and I settled for a 22-ounce Sam Adams Cold Snap.

Dinner arrived, and it went well with the beer. Jessica was an efficient server; she earned points in my book by not returning 30 seconds after delivering my meal to ask me how everything was.

At some point, when I had about a mouthful of beer left in my tall glass, Jessica appeared and asked if I wanted another beer. I had already decided that the next time I saw her I was going to ask for a 16-ounce glass this time, so when she returned with my refill I gave her props for reading my mind.

“Oh, I’m also a bartender,” she explained. “I’ve learned that customers are more likely to order another beer when they still have some left in their glass. If the glass is empty, they’ve usually decided not to get another one.”

That gave me something to think about; I’ll have to watch my bartender next time to see if he or she employs that same tactic. I don’t know whether Jessica is right, but I realized later that it doesn’t really matter. All that mattered was that this server pays attention to her customers and tries, at least, to guide them in a direction that benefits her and the restaurant. That’s the sign of a good employee.

Of course, she also has the makings of a good sociologist—which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad skill to have in the foodservice industry, either.

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