WHAT YOU’VE GOT: A French restaurant inspired by the Roaring Twenties, is opening this winter at 214 King West (at Simcoe) in the former home of Lee Chen.
WHAT YOU WANT: A curated experience that is as warm as it is unforgettable.
All the best things in life are like a good recipe - a perfect combination of little things that when added together make something extraordinary. Your restaurant experience should be like that too. Both for the staff as well as for the diners.
Below you’ll find my key ingredients for the perfect staff recipe and the perfect customer experience. Feel free to add your own spices to the mix, but essentially, these should ensure that every part of this wonderful endeavour goes off with a bang.
One of the toughest things while working in the service industry is staff retention. Let’s face it, the turnover rate is high in hospitality, but that doesn’t mean it has to be high for us. Using the three part retention formula or ‘recipe’ I can guarantee you’ll retain a significantly larger portion of your staff, with just a little extra effort.
1st INGREDIENT: MONEY
Let’s be real, money talks. People will stay where the pay is good. Ensure your servers & staff are being compensated well and they will pay it forward in spades.
Pay higher - even paying an extra .25 or .50 cents an hour can help a server feel more valued than others at other jobs - to be able to mentally know that you formally make more than the average server, even if it’s only by pennies is enough to give them that confidence boost, which, in turn, will make them much more likely to stick around - as anywhere else they’d go, they’d technically have to go down in rate as most other places only pay servers minimum server wage.
Have monetary incentives - have the opportunity for your staff to make a little extra by doing nightly or weekly contests - ex. if they can up-sell 30 drinks a night, they get a $50 bonus - or something like that. The key is to make it tough but not impossible. Aspirationally attainable.
Do Autograt on Parties. This is kind of a given, but when restaurants do autogratuity on parties of 6 or more they can guarantee that their servers make at least a minimum of 18% on tips from that party that night. A big part of why servers often don’t like large parties is because it’s hard to always. get good tips, and nothing is guaranteed. Add the auto-grat on there and you’ll ensure your staff are automatically well taken care of.
Suggested Tips - On the topic of autograt, one thing I’ve seen at some restaurants is having a suggested tip section on the bill or at checkout. While most restaurants give the option of 10%, 15%, or 20%, consider having the prompts say something like 18%, 20%, or 25%. There’s obviously always an option for the customer to put in their own amount, but most people just push buttons, and if the prompts are given, they’ll likely choose one of the three just to keep things simple. This ensures your staff make AT LEAST 18% on any table, and will likely perform better knowing that they have to live up to that tip expectation at the end.
Say Thank You. I once worked at a restaurant where the manager would put a little $10 or $20 gift card to Starbucks or Davids tea in our mailboxes randomly with a note to say “Just because you’re awesome. Next coffee to work is on me.” just to say thank you. It didn’t cost much but it made us way more grateful to be there. (Bonus - you can often find gift cards half price if you buy them in bulk off sites like “Groupon” - so you really only end up paying half of what is given.
2nd INGREDIENT: OPPORTUNITY
Let’s face it - actors are always looking for a way to get noticed. Make a point to not only provide opportunities for your staff with the job itself but by offering the opportunity for more jobs. No one expects to be a server forever, and all actors are always looking for their big break. Peak their opportunity interest and feed into their ego a bit by inviting well known casting directors, agents, and directors to dine at your restaurant.
(It’s kind of like telling a chef that a food critic is coming - except they don’t know when)
Stardust Diner in New York is notorious for having amazing performing staff who always give their all every day all because they know that casting agents walk through their doors regularly and have famously plucked servers out of the restaurant and cast them on the spot for big broadway shows.
Bonus: They don’t have to be super big name directors or agents either. I myself cast a lot of smaller productions in town and would be happy to come in regularly to meet new potentials for upcoming opportunities.
3rd INGREDIENT: VALUE
Next to financial security, and opportunity, the key ingredient to anyone staying anywhere is if they feel valued. We need to create a community where people not only feel welcome, they need to feel like they’re family. Staff appreciation, valuing, and acknowledgement are so key, not just for server retention, but just for making a great happy working environment for everyone.
My personal favourites of quick and easy ways to make people feel valued:
Have a nightly family dinner. Let’s be real. It’s hard to be a great server serving other people food when all you can think about is how bad you want some yourself. Hangry servers don’t help anyone, and they turn into grouches. Solve this problem by having a nightly pre-dinner rush family style meal with all your staff together. It wouldn't cost much, it fills their bellies, and it builds ridiculous social cohesion super fast (there are so many studies on this). You know what they say, the family that eats together stays together (which while might not totally be true in real families, is definitely true in restaurant families).
Hang their headshots on the wall. I love how you mentioned you were going to have a professional photographer come in to take headshots. I think this is a fantastic idea as not only will it provide your staff with a fun little bonus treat (a headshot they would otherwise have to pay for as actors) if you put it up on the wall it can act as an added form of visual reward, making them feel valued and appreciated. ** Extra idea here: have them sign the photos you take before you hang them (like you would get a real celebrity to do who visits a restaurant). Guaranteed this will make them feel extra valued, give them something to bring their friends and family to see, and who knows, could prove to be actually valuable if any of them take off.
Put it into Perspective. One of the big ways you can make people want to work for you and in turn make them stay, is by showing them how exclusive the opportunity is. Me to We used to tell us all the time that the chances of getting a job at that company were tougher than getting into Harvard. That was based off of the number of applicants they had vs. how many they accepted. It made us feel like the job was really coveted (which it was) and we were all much more reluctant to give it up because of that. Having little anecdotes like that would be great to toss around just as a little ear worm for the staff to help them appreciate the opportunity.
Make Working there a “thing”. Starlets, a strip club in NY, and Exchange Miami, a club in Miami, do an amazing job at branding their servers/dancers/and bottle services girls so that they each feel like little celebrities in themselves. They have a separate instagram account for their employees where they highlight a few key ones every day, they take professional shots of them (which you’re already planning to do), they have a professional makeup artist come in to do their makeup every night before work, and they have a reputation like no other. It’s kind of like being on the Raptors Dance Pack, you just want to. Make it a thing where Toronto actors or servers just want to be one of your staff. Where just being known as one of yours adds to their resume, feeds their ego, and increases their industry clout.
OTHER GREAT TIPS
- Model What you Want to See - People are like kids, and kids are like monkeys… and you know what they say about monkeys. Monkey see, monkey do. Real talk though. Studies show that the best way to teach anyone anything is to model it, so do as you would like them to do. Whether that’s coming in early, giving top notch customer service, being professional, loosening up, or buying into the family culture of the restaurant to build social cohesion. They’re going to do what you do, so make sure you’re on the ball when you’re on the floor.
-Have Fun at Your Staff Meeting. Let’s be real. Meetings tend to be boring. They’re long, people talk a lot, and often it’s hard to really feel engaged when all that’s happening is that you’re being “talked at” instead of with. That’s why it’s so important to do icebreakers, games, raffles, jokes, and all that fun stuff that seems silly but is actually super valuable. It engages the team, it makes them feel valued, and most importantly, it keeps them awake.
- Ask Their Opinion. Nothing makes staff feel more valued than if they’re opinions actually matter. Have a suggestion box, ask their input on menu options, or have them try out and name new drinks on the menu. Allowing them to have a part of the creation process will allow for more of a sense of ownership from them, which will make them much more likely to stay. (And to bring their friends to try the drink they felt they had a part in making).
For bonus incentive/inspiration, have staff read this article of a women who made an absolute killing by simply giving the experience you’re aspiring to give all your customers. If they see just how much it could pay off for them there’s a high chance they’ll at least give it a proper shot.
GIVE BACK. Don’t underestimate the power of give back endorphins. Look good in the community’s eyes and feel great while doing it. Having staff outings where you all serve dinner at Ronald McDonald House together or make beds at Evangeline Hall is a great way to team build, give back, and feel great. Staff will see you as an employer with a heart and the community will be much more likely to come out and help support you if you support them.
USE INFLUENCE. STK does a fantastic job at enlisting the help of local influencers to show off their restaurant. Every week they offer 5-10 hot influencers in the city the chance to come into the restaurant with their best friends and dine on them, for free. They do this in exchange for posts, and use the platform that the influencers have already established as an additional advertising platform to draw eyes (and wallets) to their establishment. It costs a little up front but pays off in spades.
WORK WITH WRANGLERS. For every club in town that brings in a hot act, there is a dope promoter or celebrity wrangler whose only job is to make sure they have a great night. They schedule appearances for the celebrity, dinners, and hookups. Find out who the wranglers are in the city (there are like 3-4 key ones) and offer to host the celebrities on the nights they’re in. This is one of those ones that you’d probably only want to do in the beginning to get your name out there as it would cost you more money than it would make immediately, but in the long term, it would pay off as it would guarantee your reputation goes up quickly. Especially. once people find out Drake eats here, or Post Malone had a private karaoke-off in the back room.
You’ve mentioned before you’re looking for things that will shock and awe. We’re talking provocative but not pornographic. The key to this fine art form, I believe, is to toe the sensual line. Below you’ll find some great artists that I think do a great job at that.
TINA MARIA ELAINA
Tarot Card Reader
Couple in the midst of a fight who hilariously bring people in on it
Drag Queen Performer
Personal Flare Bartender
Poker Table (with Candy)
OTHER FUN STUFF
Other techniques to make people feel excited and on edge, as if they’ve done something fun but bad, without actually breaking any laws…
Hand out shots - but of things that aren’t liquor. Ex. Lemon Juice Shots. Tabasco. Mouth Wash (with a fancy something to spit it into after).
A fancy old fashioned wheel to spin where they could play roulette to win a free dessert.
Pass out free appetizer samples for no reason every day at like 5:30pm ( it will get people coming in a little earlier thus easing your dinner rush)
Have a table where people can pick up teaspoons of cinnamon for a “cinnamon challenge” - if they can swallow it whole without choking they get a free drink.
Have staff do the mannequin challenge and just freeze in place once a night - or every other. Ex. when a certain song comes on they stay completely frozen for one whole minute - once the song or jingle finishes they can resume moving. No one talks about it after it happens. It will leave guests feeling really confused.
Have the staff drinking blue gatorade out of Windex bottles that are left behind the bar. It wouldn’t be a big part of the act, but something fun they can do and if clients see it it will make them do a double take.
Have the chef come out and ask a customer to come to the back for a tasting (this was one of your original ideas I believe) :)
Have servers enlist the help of fun, easy going customers to help them balance trays to other tables. Ex. “I’ll trade you a piece of cake if you can help me take this to the next table”. Customer gets enticed and will go and help, they have a memorable experience, and feel like they’re doing something special and being rewarded for it.
Drop off fun or dirty colouring sheets to customers who look like they have a sense of humour.
Have a snapchat or instagram filter designed so that when people are in your venue they can use it in your location and make things more fun. Double bonus is it adds additional advertising for your spot, as the name will be all over it.
fits small business such as quick service restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, cafes, bars, liquor shops, food trucks and other retail businesslooking for a consolidated solution to simplify their business operations and customer service.
LIGHTSPEED offers a 20% revenue increase within the first year - we need to beat that. A toi can be the first case study.
FEATURES YOU’VE GOTTA INCLUDE
The ability to customized floor plan
The ability to make online reservations
Member tracking - to see who comes and goes and when, track customer preference, track server preferences/history,
Inventory tracking abilities
The tech to give electric receipts, split checks, and give eparate checks
Tip management for staff (ex. If they tip the house a % it can calculate and auto extract from their pay so they don’t have to worry about doing the mental math or losing hard cash at the end of the night)
Text message capabilities *ex. to be used as a buzzer when a table’s ready, or to text specials that are on at the establishment - bonus could also be used to automatically remind servers of upcoming shifts or changes in hours
Should be cloud based (or something similar) if we can in case there are system crashes.
FEATURES THAT WOULD BE NEAT TO INCLUDE:
A SKILLS section, where management could give real time and measurable performance evaluations for staff, document examples of great behaviour, log efforts made, and log areas they see might need improvement.
An PRO STAR LIBRARY that is full of great examples of how other restaurants or establishments are using the program in effective and innovative ways.
HIT THE BIG ONES
While I honestly think this service is going to be a total game changer for smaller independently owned businesses and social clubs, I definitely think there’s also a giant market to potentially market a tweaked and tailored “no frills” version to a bunch of industry giants.
For the customers it’s great because: It would allow customers to “repeat their favourite order” (ex. A Double Double with a shot of expresso) by tapping a loyalty card, enable point collection like at Starbucks, redeem rewards, and mobilize specified chain specific “cards” that act as a User ID and reloadable store gift card. With services like UberEats, Ritual, and SkipTheDishes already offering a “saved favourites” option, it’s only a matter of time before actual brick and mortar restaurants start doing the same.
For the restaurant it’s great because they can actively track item sales and popularity, increase brand loyalty ——————- In addition, It could also act as a really interesting internal server for them. As an industry that is renowned for exceptionally high multi-level turnover rates, the fast food industry is desperately in need of some long-standing innovation that can help them maintain some of the knowledge that is so often lost.
Allow managers to track specific tactics and strategies that work for specific employees
Allow employees to track specific preferences and strategies that appeal for specific managers
Ensure a more seamless transition for employees and management when turnover does occur
ROUND THE CLOCK SUPPORT
While we know that good customer service and strong support are key things to have in any business, when it comes to tech, it’s so beyond key.
Having a 24/hr chatbot assigned to your server base to help with any direct questions or concerns a client, or potential client, might have is so key to help increase customer trust and appreciation.
The 24/hr support is esp. vital for the restaurant industry who can run into problems or glitches at all hours of the night.
Also great tool to help you identify any bugs or glitches and nip them in the bud early on!
Same day in person support in major hub spots would also be awesome if possible.
Same goes for in person rep-training from an account manager