You could say Andrew Carlson grew up in the hospitality industry. He has worked in restaurants in some form or another since he was 12, starting as a server and moving through several management positions. He is now the director of training at Carlson Hospitality Group, where he helps restaurants that want to expand streamline their business processes.
I picked Andrew's brain on common restaurant struggles, establishing a company culture, and going the extra mile for customers.
What kind of challenges are restaurants facing that call for your help?
Mainly putting new policies in place that weren’t set in place because it was a mom and pop shop when they first started, so they didn’t know what they were doing. Then when they’re franchising they have to have all these processes written out, so you’re giving them everything they didn’t have to do, and saying: this is the policy, this is how you enforce it, and these are the training manuals that’ll help you train all new people.
What are some key things hospitality owners should focus on when they want to improve their company culture?
A lot of restaurants don’t have a culture in itself, but it’s very important to know what you stand for as a restaurant, as owners, and as employees. If you don’t have a culture or even a mission statement, the employees won’t know how to treat each other or how to treat customers. You really have to find that culture and what you stand for, what values you want to bring to your community.
"The best way to make sure people stay happy is
to make appreciation a daily habit."
Some companies I work for focus on servant leadership, which means the owners are in service to the employees as much as the employees are in service of the owners. It’s like, we’re all in this together, we’re all equal, we all have different sets of responsibilities. But how we talk to each other and customers, everything boils down to the culture. That’s why I think servant leadership is a cool way to instil a culture in your company.
Do you find that there’s a disconnection between different staff areas?
I feel like a lot of times the front of house has a disconnect to management and the back of house has a disconnect with everything else. The back of house often just feel like they’re being worked, worked, worked, and they’re never seeing any appreciation for it. A lot of times they’re just out in the back and people don’t take the time to appreciate the grueling and tough work they do.
The disconnect happens when there is not a company culture that supports everyone as a collective, and the way to fix that is to just bring them all together. You can have lunches, bring pizza or do something to show your appreciation. You could do a company trip or close the shop for a couple of hours and have a few drinks.
Every single day the management has to say “Hey, you’re doing an awesome job, thank you so much”, just to show that appreciation. And the same thing goes with front of house to the back of house and vice versa. The best way to make sure people stay happy is to make appreciation a daily habit.
What do you teach people who want to improve their customer service?
If you want to improve your customer service, first of all you have to properly train your staff on how you want them to help every customer and empower your employees to feel like they can go out of their way to make sure the customer feels satisfied.
I’m working with a company right now who do sweet and savory pies, and they’ve empowered the employees by telling them if they see someone is kind of having a bad day or they seem frazzled, they can give that customer a free scoop of ice cream. As they set it down they’ll say “Hey, you look like you’ve had a stressful day” or “I just wanted to make you smile, here you go, have a nice day.”
That is something that’s going to set you apart from every other restaurant, that little extra oomph that you give to your employees. That empowerment is what’s going to bring customers back time and time again.
So it’s all about appreciation amongst your staff…
Yeah, and also just following up with every customer after their meal, figuring out what it is they enjoyed about the place. What would they like to see improved? As a manager, you could go up to a table and say “what is one thing we could have done to improve your experience?”
If it’s a regular, you could say “what would it take to bring you back one more time every week?” You can then take those learnings and implement them into your training.
Follow Andrew Carlson on Twitter: @andrew1110