It’s been said that in life, the journey is more important than the destination. But these days, with mounting challenges to contend with, operators are often feeling a little lost on the road to success and are increasingly being forced to check their compasses and change directions on a regular basis.
Operating a restaurant within today’s ever-changing and complex environment where consumers are demanding more is a daunting proposition — one that can lead to frustration. Given that competition is stiffer than ever, and growth elusive, operators are being forced to steal market share from each other (see Hospitality Market Report story on p. 24).
Amidst this altered state, operators are scrambling to stay on top of changing trends (especially technology) while trying to be all things to all people. But, many are losing sight of the core tenets of their business, ignoring the essential small details of running a successful restaurant, and, in the process, risking guest loyalty. Ironically, more often than not, after a bad restaurant experience, the natural inclination is to complain to our friends or family or opt not to return. As someone who covers the foodservice industry, I try to keep each experience in perspective. But a few weeks ago, in a matter of days, I faced several frustrating situations leading me to question what’s going on.
First, I ventured for lunch at a QSR operation that promotes itself as a purveyor of healthy food — despite the fact the restaurant’s prep methods are questionable (the “cooks” use the same utensils to prepare chicken, seafood and veggies, leading to the possibility of cross contamination). In fact, even though I ordered a veggie dish, it contained pieces of chicken.
Then, a few days later, while out for dinner at a high-end restaurant, our party’s introduction to the restaurant came via a stale bread basket. A small detail, perhaps, but an important one nonetheless, as it sets the tone for what’s to come. But the greatest frustration happened at a local, neighbourhood restaurant where we were left to wait for almost an hour before our entrée arrived. What made the experience particularly frustrating was that after serving us our appetizers, our waitress was MIA for the rest of the night. Not only did she not clear our appetizer dishes, or check back to see if we needed anything, but she never let us know there was a problem with our order.
We later discovered, through another server, who we had to flag down to find out what was happening, that the kitchen had actually produced the dish in a timely fashion, but that our waitress had been too busy with others to notice. Eventually, she did return to apologize — and to blame the kitchen for the long wait — then disappeared for another 15 minutes before finally delivering our food.
Needless to say, by this point the frustration level, and the hunger pangs, were way beyond repair. And an offer for a free coffee or dessert to make up for the lapse in service did little more than leave a bad taste in our mouths. As in any business, mistakes are bound to happen, but it’s how they’re dealt with that makes the difference between success and failure.