Get Out Of The Kitchen!

I’m starting to sound like an old man because I find myself saying things only old men say. Things like, “Get off my lawn!”, “Slow down you little punk!” and “If you can’t do something well, why are you doing it at all?”

Case in point: my recent lunch at Buca di Beppo. Buca is a chain of very colorful, slighly irreverant, highly tasty Italian restaurants. For a chain, the food is really pretty good. But this isn’t about the food.

One of the fun, quirky things Buca has always done is parade you through the kitchen as they escort you to your table — it’s part of the experience. It’s intended to be fun and interactive, and probably keeps the kitchen staff from swearing like a bunch of drunken sailors. I absolutely love this idea. In addition to the good food and interesting decor, this single act really made Buca stand out from the crowd.

But not this past Sunday. Yes, it was Easter Sunday. Yes, they were busier than normal. And I also heard the hostess say they were short-staffed. Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised when our server sped thorugh the kitchen like a hard-core mall walker. She stayed about 4 steps ahead of us and never really looked back as she pointed out the bread station, the cooking area, the “owners table” (not really the owners eating there, just plain folk like us), and about three other kitchen highlights that I missed because I was breathing too hard from trying to catch up to her. My 7 & 9 year old kids looked like they had just fallen down the rabbit hole with Alice and they were desperately trying to understand what the rabbit was trying to tell them.

When we reached our table, we were a bit dazed & confused. My wife shot me a look that said, “Was that as bad as I think it was?” I shot her a look back that said, “No, it was worse.” When you’ve been married for 19 years, you develop the ability to communicate without words. It’s one of perks of being married a really long time to somebody you love with all your heart.

Hey, we’re all short-staffed right now. We’re all trying to do more with less. And that’s the problem. We literally cannot do everything we used to do, but we keep trying. The result is a rapid decline in our level of service because we don’t have the time, money, or people to provide all the things we used to. Why are we doing this to ourselves?

More importantly, why are we doing this to our customers?

Seriously, as much as I love the idea of the kitchen tour, I would rather NOT have it than to chase the rabbit down the rabbit hole like we did. Something that was meant to be unique and fun instead became bewildering and the subject of an article on customer service.

At sparkspace, we’re forced to do more with less right now just like you are. We love, live, and breath customer service. We work daily to invent new ways to serve you. But right now, we can’t do everything we want to do, so we’ve had to (temporarily) let a few things go in order to have enough time, energy, and resources to do the things we still do, and to do them really well.

Here’s how we’re avoiding creating customer service failures right now. You can do the same things.

1. We’ve developed a list of the various components of our business that are critical to our success. For us, it’s reservations, operations, programs, catering, finance, and marketing. Your list should be specific to your business.

2. Under each area, we’ve listed FIVE OR FEWER things that we need to be really, really good at right now. For instance, under reservations, we listed that we need to be uber-good at responsiveness and we need to answer the phone every time in two rings or less. You’ll probably notice that your lists are not much more than the basics.

3. We read and re-read our lists. Then we allow ourselves to forget (temporarily) all those other cool things we used to do and focus on this list while our resources are limited. It helps to understand that this will not last forever.

Even when things are going great and we have all the money and resources that we need, we should never, ever forget to focus on the basics. If we don’t get the basics right, even the world’s best kitchen tour won’t be enough to create the kind of customer loyalty that we all desire.

So the moral of today’s article is: If you don’t have the resources you need right now, get out of the kitchen! And go back to doing the basics, really, really, REALLY well.

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