Service by Numbers

The restaurant world is filled with various idioms.  I’m sure everyone has heard them; phrases like “Can I tempt you with our hot peanut fudge quadruple scoop sundae?” delivered by the server in a rushed, robotic manner.  As diners, we can almost anticipate them we hear them so often.  But that may be about to change.


Last week, I read an article in The Globe and Mail newspaper that examined the latest service trend in the restaurant industry.  Restaurants, the ultimate service business, are recognizing that they need to move beyond scripts to stay competitive.  With so many restaurants to choose from, quality of service can be a distinguishing factor.  As an Applebee’s executive so eloquently put it, “Food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy, but it’s not easy to copy our people”.


So what are they doing instead?  Teaching human observation skills.  Or, in other words, asking servers to pay attention to their clientele.  Some examples?  “Customers who arrive early and well-dressed are likely on the way to the theatre and need fast service” and “chatty tables are more likely to respond to suggestive food and beverage selling”, among others.  Similar insights could be applied to the retail industry as a whole.


As a consumer, I can attest that what I find to be “good service” is never scripted.  It’s real human interaction that is timely, and relevant.  It’s when I feel the salesperson is speaking to me, and not saying something because they were told to in an attempt to upsell.  If scripts are not the answer, is teaching observation skills the new magic bullet?


Personally, I think that good servers already do this intuitively.  And I think that’s why part of me remains skeptical about this new trend.  I am fully behind the idea of investing in one’s employees, but I wonder, is good service something that can be taught at all?  Sure, you can teach someone the mechanics of painting, but can you teach them to produce art?  It may be a case of “you’ve got it or you don’t”.  Many businesses believe they can hire any warm body and train them.  What’s the result?  Poor performance.  High turnover.  The feeling that anyone can work retail, and the resulting undervaluing of retail employees.


I propose retail businesses adopt a new approach:  hire the right people – the ones with a talent for service – and invest to keep them there.  The right people will do an amazing job, and if you treat them well, and pay them well, they will stay.  Some level of training is always required, but starting from the right place is a smarter return on investment.  So start by hiring the right people.  You’d be well served.


Is truly “good service” something that can be taught?  How do you invest in your employees?



Posted on February 28, 2012, in 'We Get Retail' Business Tips, State of the Industry and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Meagan:

    Even in the hiring process, you can’t be sure how a person will actually treat your cusromers. Customer service and customer care is somewhat subjective. So you never know for sure if you hired correctly.

    The best way to instill excellent service in employees is by demonstration and not by fiat.
    You can’t just “train” good service though. I have always found, with most of my employees, that they will pick up the attitude for excellent service instinctively if they see someone else providing it. They must see it to believe it. The bad ones are rare. But the onus is on the employer.

    You just have to stress how important great service is to you, make them observe as often as they can, and always come to you for help with problems. This process doesn’t take long. Most people really do want to help others.

    The key here is for the business to have a positive service culture, and that is not the responsibility of your employees to establish!

  2. Meagan:

    Applebee’s will be successful as long as this approach emphasizes real service and not just a way to squeeze more money out of customers. Upselling can be tricky sometimes and when not done right causes customer dissatisfaction.

    If you give good service with a caring attitude, and this attitude is deeply inbedded in the business’s culture, the sales will take care of themselves.

    Approaching this change from the standpoint of extra money ONLY, can easily lead them in a circle right back to where they are; but for different reasons.

    Upselling is overrated and if not handled like walking on eggshells it causes more customer dissatisfaction than businesses realize. It also can sound scripted!

    Have A nice day and I appoligize for the typos on my last comment.

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