Sometimes its not how you start, its how you finish.
We have all visited the restaurant or bar that is in its last hour of service, but it seems they have already mostly closed for the night.
This is frustrating to Guests who come in during those times because their expectations are no different just because the clock is ticking down the last moments of business for the day.
With budgets tightening around labor in almost every business, it seems that everyone is looking for a way to shave even just the tiniest sliver of labor expense from their schedules. And that is a fantastic strategy until it impacts the Guest experience – then it quickly becomes a short-sighted savings mechanism that will end up costing sales and profit in the long run.
While on a recent trip, I visited the hotel restaurant for a quick bite to eat. It was late and the restaurant was 20 minutes away from shutting down for the night. As you can imagine, servers were bustling around clearing flatware from tables and sweeping the floors. The bartender was wrapping up the various garnishes for mixed drinks. In a corner, you could see a manager completing what had to be the end of day paperwork. But when the server came up to the table, she noticed me watching folks closing down. When I asked if everything was available on the menu and from the bar, she said “of course, we are open until 11 and we’ll stay as long as you do.”
That was a nice feeling to know that not only could I get anything from the menu, but that I had all the time I wanted to enjoy my meal.
These tips are not just for restaurants – we’ve all visited grocery stores, cell phone stores, and department stores that might have as well have locked their doors at 15 minutes until closing time, because they had given up.
Here are 5 tips to makes sure your business keeps the service magic alive from open until close.
Set the Expectation of Opening Quality Until Closing: This is important because if you aren’t honest and straightforward about your expectations, your team will never be able to hit them. They need to understand that the last Guest deserves the same great service and product availability that the first Guest received. Be sure your team knows its okay to pre-close and get some things done ahead of closing time – but it should never impact the Guest. Also, just as importantly, they must never give the impression that they are closing early – they have to also manage the perception.
Schedule Unannounced Visits: This one is not my favorite to suggest, but it does get results. Coming in during hours when you have experienced issues or when you suspect the team is mailing it in will keep them on their toes. After all, we all stand up straighter when the boss is around – its human nature. But more impactful and sustainable is to select, train, and inspire a team that serves Guests well even when no one is looking. But until you achieve that service nirvana, stopping in at 15 minutes until closing time will drive short term results.
Don’t Let Your Team Make Excuses: Your team will have 106 excuses why they try to close down early. Some may be valid and some may be nonsense, but you can’t let any of them negatively effect Guests. You will need to address the ones with merit such as not having enough time to properly clean up and shut down the location after closing time. That may require an adjustment in scheduling or you may need to coach your team to use their time more effectively. Don’t assume the excuse is invalid, but never compromise on service.
Set Operating Hours that Make Sense: If your team has enough time to close down 30 minutes before they actually should be closing, that could be an indicator that your hours need adjusting. What’s the point of being open if no one is visiting your business? Look at your Guest counts and see if it is even worth it. Schedule special late hours as a promotion or during peak parts of your year (holidays or summer, depending on your product or service) to build excitement rather than being open when you really don’t need to be.
Never Blame the Guest: I once visited a cell phone store at 10 minutes until closing – and you could tell the sales rep had already punched out mentally while still getting paid. He basically told me that there wasn’t much he could do for me since I had come in so close to closing time. “That will take longer to complete than we are open – you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” This kind of attitude will breed a culture of poor service toward the end of the shift.
So keep in mind that Guests visiting your business expect a great service experience from the time you open until the time you close. They expect you to ready when you open your doors and to keep everything available to them until you lock up at night.
That takes discipline and a commitment to caring for your Guests – so set expectations and validate regularly to ensure you deliver on your promise of great service.
Because we always have time to serve cherished friends!
-Tony Johnson- Guest Experience Leader
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