Living in California means that every two years you have to spend two hours and $80 to get your car "smogged." This is a clean air test that involves sticking a metal hose in your car's exhaust tailpipe to measure the smog, pollutants, etc. that come out.
As I sat down in the waiting room to write my blog, another customer saw my computer and asked what I do for a living, so I briefly described the wholesale food industry, pizza operations and promotions. After five minutes he said, "Sounds like a lot of effort for a simple thing, my family goes to pizzerias where the service is good, the food is enjoyable and the price is fair. There is not enough incentive, even for a free meal, to make us waste our time to visit a restaurant that can't take care of those three basic things."
What a revelation, all the time and effort of coupons, groupons, two-for-one books. etc ... This regular guy told the simple truth, families choose meals out based on good food, good service and fair prices.
Friday night I met a friend for a quick glass of wine on our way home from work. We choose a really nice place, beautifully appointed, the "right crowd," etc. We waited 10 minutes before anyone even acknowledge us. Finally, a poorly trained kitchen helper asked if we wanted a drink. My friend said, "Just bring me the house Zinfandel." Since time was short and I did not want to wait for the wine list, I said, "make it two."
Twenty minutes later, we were ready to go, so we asked for our bill and had a check for $24 brought to our table. We were stunned, the wine was lousy, the service worse and we overpaid. We will never go back, even though this restaurant receives high ratings and the owner spent $3 million to build it.
Good service, good food, fair prices – this particular restaurant went zero for three, and that is the end of my friend and me as customers.
So I got to thinking about marketing companies like mine. We recommend; the processes, the promotions, the clever LTO's, all on a strict schedule, vetted with the executive level leadership on time and on budget. My experience this weekend made me think that none of that matters; good food, good service, fair prices.
Gas prices are back on the rise, so consumers will be extra mindful in the next few months where they spend their money. This is a good time to go back to basics and ensure that your front line servers are really taking care of your guests. In addition, double-check your kitchen procedures and purchasing. Food cost is important, but not if you drive customers away trying to hit a magic metric. Finally look at your prices, are they fair? Do they convey the worth and encourage your guests to come back because they experience your value?
Restaurant customers do not need us, we need them. Mid-winter, between holidays, is a good time to review and re-calibrate. Answer the simple question posed by my seatmate, does your restaurant offer good food, good service and fair prices? Have you allowed other priorities to creep in? My experience above at the nice restaurant is not uncommon. This operator runs a classy joint in a nice neighborhood. Did they have a bad night or did they drop the ball on the basics? In our highly competitive industry, neither can be true.
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.