Operating Policy Lessons from Restaurant Stakeout

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I don’t feel like cooking dinner tonight. It’s been a long day and I don’t feel like dealing with the mess. I just want to sit down with my Lovely Bride and have some pizza and beer. Mmm, Chicago-style pizza, that sounds yummy!

But I live in New Hampshire and most people here wouldn’t know Chicago-style from lasagna. But there is a new Italian place in town, Joe’s Italian Eatery, and we figure we’ll give them a shot. I call to place an order for take-away.

Ring…ring…”Joe’s”, a young woman answers.

Me: “Yes, I’d like to place an order for take-away.”

Her: “Sure, what would you like?”

“I’d like to get a large pizza, with sausage and mushroom. May I also have green peppers and black olives on half?”

“Um, you mean half green pepper and half black olives?”

“Yes, please, and can you do that Chicago-style, with cheese on the bottom and sauce on top? It’s my favorite.”

“I don’t know if we can do that.”

“Well, if you can, that would be great. How much will that be? Oh, and can you add a Root Beer to go?”

“Sure, with the soda that’ll be $23.93. Your order should be ready in about 30 minutes. Your name and phone number?”

We love to watch the Food Network show, “Restaurant Stakeout” (and I don’t care if it’s got some staged scenes for added drama, it’s entertaining and has good lessons for business people). Both of us have been in the hospitality business a long time and it always amazes us how people can run a restaurant business with any sort of success when they don’t have proper procedures in place. Staged or not, I have seen every example of bad behavior at one time or another in my career.

The latest episode featured a New Jersey Italian restaurant and an owner who felt he had to put in 90+ hours a week just to keep things running smoothly. The sample conversation above is inspired by this episode as well as plenty of real-life telephone encounters.

How many times have you called a business and heard the person answer with just the business name, or even worse just “Hello”? If not every day, certainly more often than we would like. Having a basic policy in place for customer interactions, whether you are a B2C or B2B is essential. When someone answers the phone it should be a friendly and upbeat greeting that includes the name of the person answering the phone. You would think everyone knows this.

Sadly, they do not.

Every Customer Interaction is a Moment of Truth

customer service telephone answering

“XYZ Corp Sales Department, this is Jane, how may I help you today?”

The person, or people, that answer the phone at your place of business are the front line of your business. The reception desk and outside sales people are out there making first impressions, but a back-office employee can be the first point of contact for a customer as well. They need to have the training and support to be able to help a customer that reaches them on the phone, or have a script handy to be able to re-direct that caller to the proper place. As a last resort, your staff should all know to take down a caller’s name and phone number then assure the caller they will personally see to it the appropriate person calls them back.

Training, Training and More Training

Call one of your back office employees on their direct line right now.

  • How do they answer the phone?
  • Did they say their name and department?
  • Did they sound like they were smiling?

I always coach my staff that have access to an outside phone that they need to pause and intentionally smile just before they answer the phone. It really does make a difference.

Once you have them on the line, ask for Sales.

  • Do they have a basic company directory handy?
  • Can they transfer you to the Sales department?
  • Does every phone in your company have a “Transfer” button (you’d be surprised)?

Now, here is your real Moment of Truth. It is likely that an in-house call has a different ring that an outside call. How does your salesperson answer when they get a call they think is from the warehouse?

Every call. Every time. You never know when one of your staff may have the CEO of your biggest customer on the line.

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About Stephen Smith

About the author: Stephen Smith writes about Productivity and Social Media Literacy at the In Context Blog. He has published a compilation of best practices for personal and business development, learn more at Work.Smarter!. You can follow him on Twitter at @hdbbstephen.

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3 Comments to “Operating Policy Lessons from Restaurant Stakeout”

  1. Bill Welter says:

    Good post — you hit a very important nail on the head.

  2. Thanks Bill, I appreciate your feedback. It’s almost funny how often important things like this get left unaddressed because of the “Urgent” things and the “fires” that have to be put out.

  3. Heidi Thorne says:

    I’m also a huge fan of Restaurant Stakeout (as well as Restaurant Impossible). Yep, it’s the little things. Great post, Stephen!