Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Zooming in on Service

March 14, 2012

Zoom is one of the long standing restaurants in the popular ski town, Park City, Utah.

Zoom has always been haughty.  Maybe it’s because the owner is a celebrity (Robert Redford) or because it gets lots of star guests, especially during SundanceThen again, maybe they just need a manager who can inspire the team to be more customer focused.

Over the past 20 years I’ve eaten here a LOT.  You can read a review of the food at my Facebook Travel Queen Tips page or on

The food and atmosphere are worth a visit but don’t expect warm, friendly, can-do service.

I’ve never had a friendly server here.  On this most recent visit the hostess was uncharacteristically perky so I was hopeful but at the table our server was the brooding artist type that seems to be Zoom’s typical employee.

So why have I returned time and time again? First there are a couple of signature menu items we’ve always enjoyed. I also LOVE the setting. They’ve always taken reservations and had enough variety in the menu for groups. Plus I usually think “too bad we had such a snooty server ” without realizing we’ve ALWAYS had a snooty server!

This was the first time I was given a comment card. Yes, I filled it out and put it in the mail immediately. Perhaps even Zoom realizes no business can survive on reputation alone.

What about your business? Are your team members encouraged to interact with customers in a warm yet professional manner? Are you sure? Do you use mystery shoppers or comment cards to check? Do you need to “zoom in” on service?

Serving Memories on a Sizzling Plate

January 25, 2012

In an average year, we eat about 950 or more meals.  For me, many of those meals are eaten out from fast food to neighborhood cafes to award-winning restaurants.  To stand out and be memorable is no small feat in itself, but to become synonymous with both good food and good times is amazing.  Yet one brand has done just that:  Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

I still remember that first sizzling Ruth’s Chris steak…Dallas, Texas 1984.  When I close my eyes I can still taste it and my reaction to each first bite of a Ruth’s Chris steak hasn’t changed to this day.

Doesn’t matter which Ruth’s Chris.  I’ve eaten at locations in Phoenix, Seattle, Maui, Portland, Bellevue, Salt Lake City, Pasadena, Washington DC, Hong Kong and most recently, Park City.  Many of these were not one time visits and the experience is consistently memorable.

Ruth’s Chris has become our “special occasion” restaurant.  The day I signed the papers to sell Sleep Country USA I threw a party for a small group of close friends and family in the private dining room of the downtown Seattle restaurant.  Many birthdays have been celebrated at a Ruth’s Chris table.  Ask any of my 3 stepsons to pick a restaurant for their birthday or other special event dinner and it’s always their top pick.

When deciding where to hold the dinner in Washington DC to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday the decision process went like this: “What is everyone most likely to order in any restaurant we go to?  Trevor: steak.  Connor: steak.  John: New York steak.”  and so on with the rest of the party.  “Okay, if we’re all going to order steaks anyway, why take chances?  Let’s just go for the place with great steaks.   That means the dinner will be at Ruth’s Chris.”  The group photo from that night was on our Christmas card.

Even a dinner with friends for “no special reason” becomes special at Ruth’s Chris.  From the fresh from the oven bread to the attentive service of the staff to the wine list with nice selections even in a mid-price range to the signature “sizzling steaks” to the after dinner specialty drinks, the drive for excellence shows.

So how do you become synonymous with your product in a customer’s mind?  It’s really very simple:  Consistently deliver exceptional goods and service.  That’s it.  Of course, I know all too well how difficult it can be to execute that “simple formula” on a day to day basis.  Even more so in a variety of locations.  Yet great companies do so and earn our loyalty to their brands in the process.

There was a quote on a restaurant wall I wrote down years ago that may serve as a good motivating motto for small businesses wanting to become the “Ruth’s Chris” of their product:

“It’s impossible to be 1000% better than every other restaurant (or any other type of business)…so let’s try to be 1% better in 1000 little ways.”

Show Me a Sign

June 15, 2011

While in Kansas City last week, I met longtime friends for dinner and margaritas at On The Border, a Mexican food franchise.  On my way into the restaurant, I noticed a couple of reserved parking spots for their “Employee of the Month”.

In situations where parking is at a premium, employees are typically required to park in out of the way locations to leave spots open for customers.  At Nintendo in Kirkland, WA employees have to park in remote lots and ride a shuttle bus into the facility.  These scenarios require the employee to factor in the additional time needed to get from their vehicle to the time clock to insure they are not “late for work”.  Add in potential wet, cold or blustery weather and you can quickly see how an “up front” parking spot could be a powerful incentive and a welcome perk.

A sign is an inexpensive way to give recognition to your valued employees.  The perk of a close parking spot is a daily reminder of how much their contributions are appreciated.  The actual sign can be purchased on line for under $20.  If you have a wall where it can be posted, a tube of adhesive from Home Depot and you are good to go!  If you need to put it on a post, the costs are a little more but are still a one time investment that pays off month after month.

Note I saw these signs at a restaurant so there were actually 2 signs, one for the “Front of the House” and the other for the kitchen staff.  In particular, what caught my eye and prompted this post was not just the sign, but the wording of the sign for the kitchen staff.  You might expect it to read “Back of the House” since the other one read “Front of the House”.  No, it read “Heart of the House”.

Think about this for a moment, the “front of the house” gets all sorts of recognition – usually in the form of tips from diners.  What does the kitchen staff get in terms of recognition?  The wording of this sign elevates what they do to it’s appropriate status – after all, what restaurant would you regularly visit if the food weren’t good?

A sign with wording such as this doesn’t just give recognition to the actual employee who gets the privilege of parking there on any given month.  It pays homage to ALL the team members.   I suspect it helps to influence the culture of the restaurant as well.  When the manager or owner refers to the kitchen staff as the “Heart” of the house, it sets the tone for the other team members.

If you have a challenging situation for parking at your business, consider designating a spot for your “Employee of the Month” – even if it means giving up YOUR spot to do so.  This small gesture will do a lot to earn respect and long-term loyalty while giving well-deserved recognition to your valued team.


Tried and True or Something New?

February 18, 2011

Earlier this week, USA Today had an article on the record number of sequels coming to movie theaters in 2011.  Points were made that sequels are “safe” for studios because consumers have already shown an affection for the characters, themes and story lines.   There was also a caution that there are only so many lives to a story or characters and that the heavy emphasis on sequels  at the expense of developing future franchises will cost the industry in the years ahead.

This particular point made me think how true this is for business in general.  Right now, in tough ecomonic times, businesses are making the “safe” decision, leaning on what has worked for them in the past.  Sure, it’s important to ring the cash register today but it’s also critical that we continue to develop new products, new services and new team members.

As a professional speaker, I have to develop new material on an ongoing basis.  Without new material, the number of groups I could speak to would be limited and there would be no reason for organizations or companies to have me back to speak over and over again.  Writing this blog twice a week has kept me attuned to changes in the marketplace and has helped me refine examples I use when speaking on various business topics. 

Successful fashion stores such as Ann Taylor have styles which are their bread and butter.  They offer pants each season in current fabrics but with their  “fit” clearly on the label.  Women who know they wear “Signature”, “Modern” or “Curvy” can always find a “sequel” in a new color or fabric.  This allows the manufacturer to recoup more of the “R & D” costs and streamline the production process while giving the customer a “safe” purchase.  Then Ann Taylor sprinkles in new styles, colors and patterns throughout the store to enhance their consistent offerings.

This is a great model for every business.  Continue to give customers the items you are known for whether it’s a dish on your menu or pants on a rack.  At the same time, offer new products, new services, new ways to do business with you.  New offerings will keep your business “fresh” to customers and will continue to attract new customers to sustain your business over the long haul.

This same principle applies to your team of employees and vendors too.  Right now, you are likely relying heavily on those who have a proven track record with your business or industry.  That’s prudent, but you also need to continue to develop new resources, new suppliers and new team members to insure your business is able to respond to the marketplace not just today, but years into the future.

The Devil is in the Details

January 14, 2011

A few months ago I did a blog citing the clever names and signage of two pizza places, one in Washington DC and the other in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.  While in Washington DC we ate at “Flippin’ Pizza” because of the name and since we are often in LA, we were anxious to try “Lucifers Damned Good Pizza”.

Last night, we did just that.  Kudos to Adam the owner of Lucifers for the consistency throughout.  Lucifers is a small place with only a few tables, but the rectangular tables are painted a glossy black and the edges are cut at an angle to create a “coffin” look. 

The wallpaper above the wainscoating is right out of a haunted house as are the iron light fixtures, window covering and candleholders.  The gargoyles and bats are not overdone and the flowers are black roses. 

The bottled water sold from a cooler set in the wall has black screw caps and black/silver Lucifers logo bottles called “extinguishing mineral water”. 

Wall signs tout “providing oral pleasure” , salads are called “Seven deadly sides” and the back of the staff shirts read “The horniest pizza place in the west” (Think devil horns…).

Music that fit the mood, chain divider between the counter and the kitchen, you name it – the details were right on and kept with the theme without being too “theme park”.   Even the parking – which was a “nightmare” fit the brand!

They were doing a nice business for a Thursday evening; a couple of small groups, several take-out orders, some deliveries and a phone ringing consistently just during the hour we were there.

Here’s a photo from our visit, “Two Dead Pizzas” as dubbed by my hubby, John Murphy.  Oh, and it wasn’t false advertising, Lucifers really was “damned good pizza”.

How clearly are YOU communicating YOUR brand?  Is your brand reflected throughout your business?  How consistent are you with the message?  When it comes to successful branding, remember, the devil is in the details! 

Perception vs. Reality

September 17, 2010

While businesses long perceived as “bargain” or “discount” options have been doing well during our current recession, many other businesses typically perceived as “upscale” have been suffering.  In response to the consumer’s change in spending habits, most businesses have begun to offer specials, discounts and less expensive options.  The question is, does your target market know this?

While dining at Dragonfish restaurant earlier this week, I took advantage of one of their tempting $10 entrée offerings.  I also brought in my parking ticket and got $5 off my check to cover the cost of parking.  Both of these items address perceptions; one is that it’s too expensive to eat out, the other is that it’s expensive to park in downtown Seattle.  These values are communicated not only once you arrive and are handed a menu, but on their website and Facebook Fan Pages as well as Tweeted to followers.

Lots of businesses have to deal with the differences between consumerperception and the new reality.  When I say “upscale downtown salon” you probably think “expensive”.  If I mention the cozy waiting area, fresh coffee, tea and iced water, fresh flowers, fireplace and beautiful glass mosaic floor in the restroom; now you are likely thinking “I can’t afford THAT!”

So what is a reasonable price for a stylish haircut,particularly for ladies?  What is the “value” of looking professional to your career?   The downtown Gene Juarez salon has tackled the perception up front with their front window signage:

What discounts, bargains, specials or values are you offering in response to the change in spending habits of your customers?  How are you letting people know?  Don’t wait for customers to wander in to learn about your promotions or even the everyday value you offer, address perceptions boldly so your reality isn’t a “going out of business” sign!

Naughty can be Nice

September 1, 2010

“Share of mind = Share of market”.  When asked to guest lecture at  area university marketing classes, this is the “formula” I write on the board to start the class.  A large part of the way successful businesses gain “share of mind” is through advertising but it takes more than just spending money on a host of advertising vehicles to reach the important “share of mind” and with it, “share of market”.

A catchy name – one that states what you offer AND sticks in your mind is good.  If it is also clever – even fun – people will repeat it to their friends. Recently I’ve seen 2 examples of just this and have already shared them with friends giving these 2 businesses word of mouth advertising.  I’ve already spent money with one and plan to with the other in the near future.

The 2 examples are both pizza restaurants.  One in the DuPont Circle area of Washington D.C., the other in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California.

The first is “Flippin’ Pizza” in Washington D.C. The arms tossing the pizza make the two “i”s of Flippin’ says the pizza is hand tossed.  It also clarifies the intent of the use of the word “Flippin'” to mean to flip a pizza rather than as a substitute for an inappropriate word.  It is this “slightly naughty” element though which brings the chuckle and makes it memorable.

We walked by the storefront one day and I had my husband, John Murphy, snap the photo on his iPhone for me because I like businesses with clever names.  Then on Saturday, after walking over 10 miles during the 828 Rally, we got back to our hotel room hot and tired.  Showered and in our pajamas, we didn’t want to venture back out for dinner and opted to order from Flippin’ Pizza over room service.   It was pretty good pizza and they have a number of locations if you want to try them for yourself.

A week or so ago, while driving down Hillcrest Ave. in Los Angeles, the next example, Lucifers Pizza,  caught my eye.  The building was painted black with colorful flames across the front over the entrance.  The name:  Lucifers.  The “i” is a pitchfork.  Their slogan “Damned Good Pizza” is right under the name.  The overhang ring beneath the flames says “Flame cooked gourmet pizza”.  This is excellent marketing on so many levels; the paint of the building is both eye-catching and relevant.  The name with the pitchfork in place of a letter is clever.  The “Damned Good Pizza” is genius.  Much like the “Flippin” Pizza”, Lucifers Pizza name, slogan and motif carries the naughty appeal as well.

Lucifers Pizza is top of the list to try next time we are in town, which is our case, is nearly every month.

With the current economic and employment situation, more people than ever are electing to be self-employed.  If you don’t have a lot of money to spend advertising, you will have to gain your “Share of Mind” other ways.  Hopefully something in these examples will serve as inspiration for your new business.

Cookin’ Up Success

August 11, 2010

Yesterday was National S’mores Day.  Across from the entrance to Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles, there is a restaurant which has fire pits out front and signs which say the servers will be happy to help you if you want to make your own s’mores.  This is a normal event, not something special for the national holiday.  They even offer s’more kits on the dessert menu.

Only problem is, you can’t find a server to help you. I realize it’s primary a night spot, but it advertises “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Late Dinner” all in neon on the building.  To my mind, you should then be staffed for each of those meals.

On my visit there on Monday afternoon, table after table of guest were not served and then, when told they would have to go to the bar to order, table after table left and went elsewhere.

My husband, John Murphy and I went along with the program and ordered at the bar.  I had to move to 2 different place at the bar to avoid both the stench of garbage and the dozen plus bees. The bees were feasting on the generous overflow of sticky, sweet drinks and stale beer on the bar mat – obviously left from the night before.

When I did finally find someone to take our order, he was great.  We got our food quickly and it was really good.  Of course, then I had to go wait back with the bees for the bartender to return so I could ask for and pay our check.

Last bit of insult, as we left, we were offered a 20% off coupon by a sidewalk staff member who was trying to encourage customers into the restaurant…a discount we were never told about or offered.

The moral of the story?  Good food, convenient location and even discounts won’t make up for lack of staffing or lack of cleanliness.  Pay attention to the details and you can cook up success for your business.

Your Table is Ready

July 28, 2010

I love to sit outside to eat.  In the Pacific Northwest, the days when we can comfortably do so are limited but on those days, I’m on the lookout for patio seating.  Often I see tables but there are not yet guests there and the tables are not set with serving ware or salt/pepper.  As a result, I’m not really sure they are serving on the patio.  Rather than park and go in to ask, or worse, ask to sit there only to find there is no server assigned to that area – I will often pass.

On the other hand, seeing tables set and ready for me is like a flashing neon welcome sign.  Case in point, on a recent trip to Beverly Hills, my husband, John Murphy and I were walking to a recommended restaurant for breakfast when we spied this patio at Parq “dressed and ready to go”.  We quickly detoured and enjoyed a very nice – and very pricey – breakfast at the Montage.

Looking open and ready for business is the first step to getting business.    When tables are already set up with settings, customers are more likely to take that as an invitation and choose to join you.
If you are concerned about wind or foot traffic costing you stemware, you might try the clever solution used by Asia Blue in the Blue Palace Resort on Crete.  They lay the glasses down on the placemats using the slats of the wooden tables to keep them from moving.  When they seat a guest, they simply stand up the glassware and they are ready to go.

As business people we need to do everything we can to entice and invite customers to our door…or tables.   Do you look open and ready for business from the moment you arrive until the time you close? Many businesses do internal tasks first and then turn on the open sign, put out the sandwich board or make up the outdoor table.

Make the outward signs and signals your first priority each and every day, remind your staff to do the same. The customer is your focus, the e-mail and paperwork can wait!

Supply and Demand

June 25, 2010

For those of us who live in the gray, overcast Pacific Northwest, a day of sunshine is treated as a “get out of jail free” card.  The moment blue skies and temperatures venture into the high 60’s, we go in search of places to soak up some sun and replenish our diminished vitamin D levels.  You can find us on balconies, patios and patches of grass everywhere!

Does your restaurant, cafe, pizza joint, coffee shop, sports bar, neighborhood pub or wine bar have a patio?  If so, this becomes a HUGE competitive advantage when the sun finally shines.

How do you let people know? Some patios are in back and not easily visible from the street.  Plus, if it’s been a long time (as it has in Seattle) since the last time the weather was conducive to using a patio, your customers may have forgotten you have one!

You can take advantage of the free social media network and Tweet to your followers “Our patio is open!  Get your vitamin D refill here.” You can have a banner, window sign or sandwich board like this one used by Sip in downtown Seattle that you put out on sunny days to serve as a lighthouse beacon to the sun deprived residents and workers in your neighborhood.

What else do you offer that is in short supply? Free parking for customers?  Complimentary valet parking in hard to park areas?  New or exclusive products that are hard to find?  Even in times of economic uncertainty, the rules of supply and demand still apply.  If you have something desirable that is in short supply – customers will come but it’s up to you to let them know you have it!

Now, come up with a way to give us sunshine on a more predictable basis and you will be very rich….

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