It's time to stop moaning about the stuff we can fix, such as the perennial problem of no-shows, says Neil Rankin
I had a chef who worked with me for years. Let's call him Marvin. Marvin was one of the most dedicated chefs I had, and the relationships he had with our customers and suppliers made him almost indispensable. He never wanted any more responsibility, he just wanted to do his job perfectly, which suited me fine. I knew that his job, which was the most important job I had to give, was always taken care of. This bought me a peace of mind that was invaluable.
The only problem I had with this chef was that every time I changed the menu – even slightly – Marvin would threaten to quit. It was always the same. First of all, I would announce a change, then he would walk out, we would persuade him to come back, he'd spend a day sulking like a irritable child, moan a bit the day after, then he'd eventually just forget about it and everything would return to normal. Only then would he start to see the benefits of the new menu. Marvin just didn't like change.
Every business survives on customer loyalty, but the relationship between restaurants, pubs and bars and their customers is something that feels more intimate than most. Prices in retail, banking and other entertainment areas may change like the wind, but for restaurants it can feel like you're offending a friend or a loved one every time you increase the price of a dish.
Look at air travel. You prepay for a flight which some people paid more for and some less. Then when take-off is delayed we have to wait, and if it is cancelled it's our problem. In the restaurant business we're so scrutinised and critiqued and obsessed with keeping the customer happy that even when we know we need to change something we procrastinate, fearing a backlash. This means we are painfully slow at fixing the things that we know need fixing.
No-shows is one of those things. I can't count the number of posts I've seen over the years from restaurants and chefs (myself included, more than once) who have been driven mad by the insensitivity of people who don't turn up and fail to tell you in advance.
I agree with all the anger and I agree these people are despicable human beings, but I don't agree that blaming them is working or will ever work. As fun as it is to shout at these people and call then names it's not going to help because it's not their problem to fix. It's ours. And the only way to fix something is to change the system and prevent it from happening. This probably means taking card details and a decent pre-payment, like every other business in the world.
We need to stop procrastinating and worrying about what will happen, because it's clear what will happen and even clearer what will happen if we don't. Some customers will walk out, have a moan for a bit, probably spend a day or two acting like an irritable child, then eventually accept the change and all will be normal again.
We're all Marvin in some ways, but as a business you can't sit around fearing losing Marvins at the expense of making the changes you know you need, because then your business slows to a stop and you lose control. All you need to know is how people are likely to react and then plan for that reaction, but delaying it is only doing harm to you. Marvin will calm down and get over it, as he always does.
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