The personal touch

April 28, 2014 | by Ed Zimmerman

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with some business colleagues in a restaurant near their office. It was a nice Italian place with an authentic menu in a strip shopping center. The wait staff brought the menus; typical large format menus in a plastic cover. There on the front was the restaurant name, address, phone number and in 24-point type: Owner — George, with his cell number.

I commented to the manager how unusual it was to see the owner's personal number so prominent, he said instantly, "George wants to hear from customers if they aren't happy."

What a departure from the corporate restaurant mentality that pervades our industry. So many chains and even single-store operators hide the ownership from patrons. Maybe it is fear of liability or a desire for privacy or maybe they just do not want that level of accountability. Whatever the motivation, it is not the way most businesses run. George is ultimately accountable and accessible and that is refreshing.

There is a winery in Northern California called Row Eleven that has a typical wine country heritage. A winemaker, disaffected with his previous engagement, finds some investors and goes to work to create a specialty offer, in this case Pinot Noir. There is a saying among winemakers, only a fool makes wine, but only a damn fool makes Pinot. This varietal is the most temperamental and difficult to control, especially year over year.

This challenge does not stop our hero winemaker, Richard de los Reyes, from putting his home phone on EVERY cork. Ricardo believes that when the cork pops out of the bottle, that is the moment of truth and the customer had BETTER be happy. If not, he wants you to grab your cell phone and call him at home to let him know. Imagine this, "Daddy, daddy, another angry customer is on the phone..." My guess is that all the accountable results in very few calls, except in praise.

Today's consumer wants information regarding food origin, food safety, country of origin, American Humane and host of certifications like organic, gluten-free etc. All of the information in the world is useless unless backed by integrity. Any operator can put the word organic on a menu; it is only the public's belief and trust that the word is accurate. That takes accountability.

Look at your operation, how accountable and accessible are you?

I don't suggest that you publically display your cell number; that rarity is what earns the call out in this piece. I do think that people that feed people have an awesome responsibility and that accountability is paramount. If you want to earn the public's trust and their business, you have to be transparent. I hope this story inspires you to dig deep and discover better ways for customers to connect with you and your company. When you reach that level of trust, your authenticity and integrity will earn new and repeat business.

Topics: Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Operations Management

Ed Zimmerman
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. View Ed Zimmerman's profile on LinkedIn

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