The Japanese have a word, omoiyari, which has no English word equivalent, but it means to anticipate the customer’s needs and meet those needs before the customer has to ask, or even before the customer realizes they have that need. Taking care of the customer is the most important element to consider when building a restaurant brand, but it’s not the only thing to consider.
Over the past 20 years working with high-growth, early-stage restaurant concepts, I’ve narrowed down the three essential ‘take cares’ entrepreneurs need to consider when building a brand, “take care of the customer, take care of the restaurant and take care of each other.” These ‘take cares’ are essential because they encompass what I think are building blocks for developing a successful restaurant brand: customer service, employee culture and community service. Here’s an overview of each take care:
First, take care of the customer. As I mentioned, taking care of the customer is the most important item to focus on from day one. When you open a restaurant, you’re not just opening doors in the food service business, but the hospitality business. Every customer provides an opportunity for ingratiation. They are going to leave the restaurant with an impression and it’s up to you to ensure that it is the impression you want them to have — the one you hope they share with their friends and family.
There is a common phrase used in business: the customer is always right. The first thing we say when we train new employees is this is nonsense. Nobody is always right, but our business has nothing to do with being right or wrong. It’s about taking care of people. So if it is within our ability, we will go to vast extremes to satisfy the need or concern of a customer.
Engaging the customer allows you to demonstrate your values and address customer needs on a real time basis. Genuine customer service is more than just a smiling face, it requires commitment and intent. To maximize its impact, it must be approached as a primary objective, not the byproduct of another experience or a second-tier priority.
Second, take care of the restaurant. If it’s dirty, clean it. If it’s broken, get it fixed. It doesn’t matter who dirtied something or how it got broken. If you see it in that condition it’s your responsibility to either address the problem or bring it to the attention of someone who can. It’s important all employees take pride in the restaurant and understand the importance of teamwork when it comes to operations. The term deferred maintenance is not in our collective lexicon and our “corner clean” standard means every nook and cranny, no matter how challenging to access, should receive attention to ensure it always remains immaculate.
Lastly, take care of each other. Your employees are all extensions of your brand so it’s essential to make the right hires and provide proper training, mentorship and access to company executives. You’ll want to ingrain employees with the brand values from day one.
Typically there is high turnover in the hospitality business, but at Meatheads, we have managed to keep our rate relatively low. We promote from within — we’ve had several dishwashers and POS employees advance to general and regional managers — and if an employee isn’t a fit with our brand, we let them go immediately. In our case, it’s easier to hire someone without experience in the restaurant industry because we can mold them with our values. We look for individuals who are eager to learn and happy to be a part of a team.
We have a program, Meathead of the Game, which honors local athletes who show determination, hustle and hard work. Embracing these qualities, along with the three take cares about the customer, restaurant and each other, will help entrepreneurs as they build their brand.
Tom Jednorowicz is a Chicago-based restaurant and real estate entrepreneur with an interest in early stage, high-growth companies. For the past 20 years, he has focused on developing and executing strategic, large-scale retail expansions, including Meatheads, a fast casual family restaurant serving fresh experiences.
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