As I was having a conversation with someone recently about one of the city’s best restaurants, ‘Best’ according to us loyal fans who know how spectacular the food AND the service is, it became clear to me that this particular establishment had fallen into the trap of being labelled ‘Pretentious’ and not (necessarily) their own fault.
What, exactly, do I mean by pretentious? The word is defined, in part, as follows: exaggerated importance, worth, or stature. Yes, indeed. That’s not hard to understand, we have all been to establishments that behave in such a manner, but we have also been around customers that behave in such a manner.
There is a Japanese restaurant that I frequent on special occasions, even just to treat myself, when I can remember to book ahead. Rarely does one get in on a moment’s notice. The food is expert, a fusion of asian with texan flair, and the sushi is the best in town. Just my humble opinion. The staff are bright and cheerful and very gracious when you are greeted, everyone is treated the same, and by now you know what that means to me. It is a very open place so they really are ‘up front’. The servers are equally kind and very intuitive to how much you know about the menu and, of personal importance, are well versed and helpful on it. Wow. No wonder its hard to get a last minute table. Why, then, is their name found in the same sentence as the word pretentious?
Clientele can play a very big part of your reputation, but that concept should not be foreign to you. How THEY conduct themselves is also a reflection on your establishment. Yes, they are able to shut you down with one foul swoop on social media, but they are also capable of determining how customers feel in your environment. Happy and content and well-cared for? Or uncomfortable and challenged and crowded? By ‘crowded’ I am not referring to how close the tables are set together, but how boisterous and imperious the fellow patrons are.
Lets look again here. The tables really are placed close together, and the wait staff has to slide in between to address the customers. Their backside at table level is usually not my favourite part of this type of dining. Its noisy, naturally, but the dishes are quick and always exactly what you wish no matter what your preference. But what about the ‘air’? What about the feeling that fellow patrons are behaving just this side of ‘snooty’? What about the fact that they are pointedly not making eye contact, for simply that you are not someone that should be recognized?
I smile anyway, I mean we are literally dining together here. I also tend to keep my elbows in and my voice turned down to a respectful level, but thats just me. Many, too many, sit wide open as I call it. They ‘belong’, they display a ‘knowingness’ to the wait staff, they have a higher level of "Importance, worth, or stature". All right, you get the picture. But they are all part of the dining experience and this place is expensive. Now, when someone suggests going I slightly pause whereas it used to be an instant Yes!
How does an Establishment handle it? Trust me they know. Yes, some endorse it, that’s their goal, but how does this NOT become them? First of all maintaining your core values throughout your rise to stardom as it were, it critically essential. In my work with others starting out, no matter what type of business they are in, I make sure they first have, or start with, their business philosophy, then we move to strategy. That philosophy, the necessary core values, is key here.
Treating the last customer of the day like the first one, treating all customers with equal respect, properly and extensively preparing your staff on your business philosophy are all examples. Susan is a small business owner but you wouldn't think so based on how many people show up in a day at her fabulous cafe. Like everyone else, Susan put in a lot of hard work over time to build her reputation. Never compromising on quality and service, and yes sticking to all elements of her business plan, her establishment at the four year mark, quite literally hums. Her first patrons are still there, lining up alongside the new ones. Naturally they want to be known as her “originals” as in “I know its great here, I’ve been coming since it opened” or “Oh yes, I’ve known Susan a long time” or “Sue, I’ll just grab a spoon from behind the counter” sort of thing. Any chance they get they say hello to her and they know each other by first name, but how does Susan handle that? How does she manage to treat ALL her customers that way?
Simple. She has a plan for this. She is aware and prepared. Her focus is methodical, it is pointed. Why? Because she is always aware of how life unfolds in her corner of the cafe world, and simply chooses not to dismiss it. Susan is very gracious to those ‘regulars’ who seek her out or want her attention, always a smile, a wink, a laugh, perhaps an inside joke, yes. But as she turns to even the newest of the customers she gives them her full attention as well, being sure to address in the same open friendly manner. Further, she is consciously aware of how her staff are addressing the customers. Believe me, they all stay on the same page. Oh, and she strictly does NOT allow anyone to get behind the counter, old or new, and will never be afraid to say so.
Your staff should be well versed on your business philosophy including how you present yourself to your customer, but how far do you go? Are you visible to both your staff and your customers, the best way to show how you wish your employees to conduct themselves? Now, if you want to be known in the High Society of Pretentiousness then please do. Roll away. But if you really want to leave that strictly to how your clients behave, rock on. Do your thing, to the best of your ability, making ALL your clients feel important. Its really not that hard, trust me, just don't ignore it. And, likely, they will know and they will give back.
Back to the Japanese restaurant. The staff are beginning to speak by rote. It’s creeping in and I’m catching it, as I always do. Change-up needed? Absolutely. This is one of the pitfalls. Don’t let anyone in your organization fall into that trap. Especially if you don't actually want to become ‘pretentious’. You are responsible for your reputation. If your staff are behaving like your customers and not like you then time to address it.
There’s a new sushi place right across the street from this one. The tables are not crowded, the atmosphere is appropriately friendly, and the food is fantastic. It’s inventive and fun. Just like the staff. My friends feel the food is better, but that just may be a combinations of things they aren't even aware of. The funny thing about your customers is they ALL want to be taken care of well, and they will find someone who will. That you can count on.