SERVICE: A cell phone can be a swell phone when used creatively

Feb. 20, 2006

Paul Paz is a "career waiter" turned hospitality consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the author of "Service at Its Best: Waiter Waitress Training—A Guide to Becoming a Successful Server" (Prentice-Hall), and operates the hospitality information Web site

No so many years ago I bought my first cell phone. (I had to have my children show me how to use it, but that's another story.) In and of themselves, cell phones are merely communication tools, but rude misuse—yes, I'm from the "old school" when it comes to manners—has turned

Paul Paz

them into a nuisance in many situations. I've learned, however, to view them uniquely, and see multiple service and management opportunities for them.

Though I always kept my phone on me, I turned it off during my shifts. But one day I had a customer who became anxious about the lateness of a lunch guest, and that caused me to have an "Ah-ha!" moment. I retrieved my cell phone and offered it to my customer to call the tardy guest. You should have seen his jaw drop at my offer. The last thing in the world he expected was to have his waiter present him a cell phone for tableside use.

I saw the occasion as an opportunity to cut a competitive edge beyond other restaurants vying for the same customer base. And the extra service was so simple!

Another popular and extensive use of cell phone is text messaging. Usually this is thought of as an activity for only the young and the hip to send meaningless communications, but it can have a positive use in your pizzeria. Consider these text-messaging opportunities for your sales staff:

* Instead off having you or a manager spend an hour of valuable time making phone calls and leaving voice messages for staff members, send a single text message to all of them at once to make them aware know you need a shift covered.

* Contact selected staff to come in sooner to cover an early reservation or later for a cancelled reservation.

This works for customers, too:

* Contact customers to confirm reservation details. In the case of pizza delivery, technology currently being tested sends text messages to cell phones to let customers know their order is only 5 minutes away.

* Send "Happy Birthday" greetings.

* Use text messaging to drive customers to your Web site for special Internet promotions.

Cell-phone text messages also can be sent to an e-mail address.

Imagine this seemingly other-worldly service scenario: Your staff is serving a traveler in Portland, Ore. (where I live) who is supposed to drive south to San Francisco at the end of his meal. The weather report says snow is likely, so he wonders how the roads are. With a Web-enabled cell phone, you can pull up the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) online Trip Check and see a map of all the live ODOT road cameras around the state. Then click on the camera monitor at I-5 and the Siskiyou Mountain Pass—a crucial part of his journey southward—and voila, he sees a live camera shot that includes the time, temperature, and elevation. If it's snowing in the picture, your traveler can decide to stay in Ashland, Ore., for the night, and the server can make the hotel reservation for him on his cell phone tableside.

Even Dick Tracy, with his advanced telephone-TV wristwatch, could have never imagined how far technology would advance. As foodservice providers, we have an immense level of technology that we already pay for that is so under-utilized. Cell phones, viewed, more often than not, as a curse in a restaurant setting, are a signal that it's time to start thinking "outside the box" to find a way to use them in our customer service—both inside and outside the four walls of our businesses.

In the meantime, Make It Fun ... Make It Easy ... Make Some Money !

Read other Paul Paz commentaries ...

* SERVICE: Smile, even when customers are rude * SERVICE: Motion studies * SERVICE: 'Anchovies ... are they any good?' * SERVICE: The 'psychic benefits' of creative customer service  * SERVICE: Diffuse the stress bomb before it blows * SERVICE: The goal of customer service is to bring 'em back * SERVICE: The gift of gab * SERVICE: Does your pizzeria staff know the basic steps of service? * SERVICE: Wise pizza operators know catering to kids isn't child's play * SERVICE: We're only as good as our last performance  * SERVICE: Separation anxiety * SERVICE: 'Bad-apple' trainers will never bear good fruit * SERVICE: Super Bowl, Valentine's and Mardi Gras present many promotional opportunities * SERVICE: Boost beverage sales with these simple table-side tactics.  * SERVICE: Whether the holidays are happy depends on your attitude  * SERVICE: It takes a desire to please the customer to deliver exceptional service * SERVICE: Schedule flexibility is a benefit -- not an entitlement -- of this industry * SERVICE: Promote the pizza industry as a career choice * SERVICE: Cheaters never prosper, especially in restaurants * SERVICE: Say hello or they'll say goodbye * SERVICE: Treat coworkers as courteously as customers * SERVICE: What's There to Smile About?

Topics: Service

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