(How a restaurant owner continues to delight his clients)
By Barry Cohen 

It is the best and worst of times for the US restaurant industry.. With these words Charles Dickens would summarize the situation. While growth factors — increased sales and demographic trends — are better than ever, fierce competition is even suffocating existing prosperous stores. Nothing shows how challenging the situation is for the restaurant industry than the decision of PepsiCo to put aside your group of restaurants very successful in concentrating on its core business: beverages and snacks.


For those considering entering the industry today, the statistics paint a particularly bleak picture. According to a study carried out by the state universities of Cornell y Michigan; Currently, 60% of the restaurants they go bankrupt within five years. One in four disappears before their first birthday.

A brief introduction to the "surprise" effect

This article will focus on how to thrive in intense market competition, since you have no other choice. This is an imperative for restaurant companies in the 90s, and even more so for those few that have enlisted for the challenge. I will also explain why I think my company, Old San Francisco, has thrived under these same circumstances. Old San Francisco It is a chain with 28 years, with four restaurants high volume Texans, specialized in meat. Founded in 1968, it is widely recognized; an area that is now quite popular, as well as being very crowded. Our style: Gay 90 (1890), full of antiques of the time and the famous "Girl on the red velvet swing", was created to entertain visitors to the World's Fair in San Antonio with a touch of the legendary USA. Now with more than 28 years in the field, it is imprisoned between two large sectors of the food industry, with intense competition: the restaurants meat and specialized.

I think the success of restaurants is due to what I call the effect "surprise". This is a proper term to refer to all the efforts that our group of senior executives collectively make to keep our restaurants renovated and attractive, both for our clients and for our employees. These are the profits we receive from our constant innovation and efforts to delight and exceed the expectations of those who make our business a success: our managers, employees, clients and the communities in which we carry out our activities. Over the years I have developed the effect "surprise" in a series of well-ordered actions that govern every aspect of what we do. This article presents the five aspects that produce this effect: "Be surprised"yourself, "Surprise" To him eployees, "Surprise"to his clients, "Surprise" to the community and "Surprise"to your competition.

I attribute the firm's sustained success over the years to two facts: understanding effect management policies. "surprise" and the inexorable implementation of the principles of the effect "surprise"by our employees.
"Surprise" yourself

En Old San FranciscoWe start by focusing on ourselves. Taking care of others entirely is something that has an inherent rebound effect, which implies that our only task is to respond to the immediate needs and desires of other people.
In any competitive situation, not moving forward means going backwards. So we place great value on our executives' ability to move forward and take strategic productive. In practice, this requires an investment of both time and trust, it requires policies that motivate our executives to think like strategists and futurists, and not only as controllers of costs variables. It requires a set of circumstances in which managers have the time and support to "to be surprised" themselves with their own ideas.

Our main interest in Old San Francisco is that our products and services are excellent permanently, but not necessarily always the same.

To do this, our managers asked themselves “How can we offer something that is surprising? " Through the motivation to innovate from each restaurantWe can be one step ahead of our clients' expectations.

Of course, creating a policy that encourages people to be creative by itself does not ensure success. The secret is to redistribute the tasks of the managers, so that they have as much time as the mood to always think strategically.

 Administrator of Time = Administrator team up

When I became the CEO of Old San Francisco, I knew that our managers couldn't to be surprised themselves, if they continued to spend their time on what I call "nonessential" tasks. Non-essential tasks are those that do not bear fruit in any tangible success: no new areas, no increased profits. The time for managers to focus on high-paying activities in areas in which increased effort will result in increased sales, profit, or both. We borrow and reinterpret a famous equation to illustrate this concept: E = MC2. In our case E stands for Effort, M stands for More and C, Customer or cash.

In the case of our "relativity" equation that guides our work, managers' efforts must focus on high-paying activities. I noticed that our managers had to use their time more effectively in order to create surprises. Our solution was administration of time by "administration team up". To give our managers time, we motivate them to create autonomous work teams capable of performing the tasks of administration not essential. Armed with the magic formula that team means "Together each individual achieves more", as well as the trust of its managers; Our seven teams of employees currently oversee five major activities: facility maintenance, creation of employee recognition programs, scheduling of work schedules, development of new areas, and hiring. Each of these tasks alone would require several hours of work a week from manager time, now these tasks as a whole only take up a few hours a week from manager time, freeing up this person to find ideas Amazing.

Programming of work schedules. One of my favorite examples is the schedule team. Like most operations, we first assigned the general manager of the restaurant Tasked with creating a weekly schedule, this manager would spend several hours pencil in hand, a calculator, and information about employees, in addition to requests for days off; solving the problem of who works, when and how to keep everything within our work cost guidelines. Once he disclosed the schedule, he would inevitably spend even more time serving employees who request more hours, fewer hours, a different schedule, etc.

Now this manager simply estimates each day's sales and delivers it to the scheduling team, which creates the schedules using the template that our managers created. The template is based on numerical rules, similar to a spreadsheet. As an example, for every 20 covers we anticipate per night, we need one person to attend. Thus if we anticipate 400 covers, we need 20 people. The team follows the rules that are noted in the template until all spaces are covered: waiters, valets, dishwashers, etc. When the team is formed, the scheduling is completed, the manager reviews and approves it. On the other hand, because the same employees created the schedule, eventually, there are far fewer requests for changes.

Acknowledgments.Sometimes the benefits of a team lie in their ability to do things that a manager would never have time to do as one of their priorities. Recently, I stumbled across an example of this in our restaurant from San Antonio. The recognition team of that restaurant he had dressed the staff in party hats, and they all gathered around a cake and gifts for one of the waiters. One of the team members had reviewed some files and found that the anniversary of his stay with this waiter was very close. So the team had organized an anniversary party that completely surprised him.

The goal of our recognition team is to make sure that each of our employees feels valuable, and that recognition is handled in such a way that the manager alone could never achieve it. This keeps our employees motivated and our staff losses zero. Last year for the first time, due to workforce deficits in our Texas markets, our restaurants exceeded 1005 staff casualties.

One thing we have learned about the team management is that when we delegate responsibilities we must maintain our people to high standards. We do not allow delays and we demand a positive attitude and total integrity. By building teams, we free up our managers' time to create more areas, while also giving our employees the opportunity to to be surprised themselves and their coworkers.
Surprise your employees

Much has been written about motivation. In the 90s the buzzword is training. We firmly believe in training our employees. We also believe that training is a fee that gives our employees a sense of belonging, and not an end in itself. The sense of belonging is the purchase of shares in the company by the employee, their financial and psychological investment in the business.

The sense of financial belonging. The sense of financial belonging occurs when employees are financially investing in the company. In some industries (high-tech firms) investing by employees is a rule. However, it is extremely rare in the restaurant industry, where employees on average are paid much less than those in the high-tech industry. A notable exception is Starbucks Coffee, whose program "Penny stocks" It has done wonders for the firm's success. The actions of pennies They allow employees to truly "invest" in their jobs by purchasing company stock at a discount. The longer an employee works for the company, the more shares they will own.

Psychological sense of belonging. The other type of sense of belonging is psychological: Because most restaurants are not public companies, psychological sense of belonging is extremely important in motivating employees. As long as we do not offer all our employees financial support in the company, we give our employees a sense of psychological belonging to Old San Francisco. We start by treating them as if they were going to be with us tomorrow, because we want them to be. We know them, we are interested in them and we make them an integral part of everything that happens in the company.

Creating a sense of psychological belonging goes beyond simple benefits and recognition programs, even though we offer them widely. For example, every morning before the shift change we divide our servers into teams of three, and we ask each one in front of their colleagues about their percentage of physical and mental concentration. In this way, we know if a waiter has an additional load of mental or physical tension that night. If that happens, the other members of your team don't bother taking a little more responsibility for tending tables that are not their proper role. They don't get any additional rewards, but they do get a psychological reward for doing the right thing, and we never hear "so and so is not doing his job." They share the sense of belonging with all our experience in dealing with clients. 
Surprise your customers

This is the turning point, a point due to which many service provider companies simply fail. According to the theory, because they have already trained their employees, in time to sit comfortably and wait for great things to happen. It is a very nice theory, but it doesn't work. As I stated earlier, we believe that training is a dividend not the end, or even a means to the end. Training in effect surprise it is the result of each person working together with the others in every aspect of the concept; and not just the people on the front line while the manager sits comfortably. Our customer service creed is called CCEH which means: quality, quantity, excellence and humor. We hope to surprise in all these areas.

Quality.Many chains confuse consistency with quality. A ready-to-eat and serve appetizer may, in fact, taste exactly the same from one establishment to another, but that doesn't make it high-quality. Furthermore, I have not found a restaurant operator who does not explain to her customers that they "only use the highest quality ingredients." In fact, in Old San FranciscoWe pay attention to the quality of the ingredients, but we accompany it with an original presentation and an unusual menu. For example, we use only beef Angus for all our cuts, except one. When we decided to introduce duck, it took us years to find a supplier that met our standards. The quality of the ingredients is only the beginning, however, we link the quality of each new dish on the menu to its originality. We want to serve products that you simply cannot get anywhere else. Fill your menu with dishes that customers may find on the street, at an occasional food chain, and it might satisfy their appetite, but it probably won't get them back, and rest assured it won't benefit from the effect. surprise.

Quantity.Quantity is another important aspect — and not just the amount of food. In the 90s, many restaurants offered large portions to increase customer perception of value. Chains like Cheescake Factory They owe their success to offering large portions at reasonable prices. In Old San Franciscowant to surprise people with large portions, but also with the amount of service they receive. That when they leave our establishment they feel that they are leaving a restaurant where the dishes are worth more than they have spent.

To carry out our mission to be “the most memorable culinary experience in the world”, we had to create different recipes to be successful with one that surprised. This recipe only requires three ingredients: the unexpected, surprise moments and a touch of good taste.

The unexpected. The greater the amount of each ingredient that we bring to the table, the greater the surprise that we provide. One of my favorite manifestations of our recipe surprise It is the “waiting party”. Whenever the manager or servers feel that a table has had to wait a long time for their order, servers, waiters, and the manager come to the table with free drinks and snacks, including party hats and blowouts. So they start a party while the customers wait. We do not wait for our customers to complain about the service that has been very slow, we want them to realize that we care about them. The party responds to our recipe for failures: it is totally unexpected and increases the number of moments surprise among our spirited staff, in addition to to surprise to our customers and add a good amount of good taste (that's personal interaction) and attention.

Excellence.Excellence simply means doing things the right way, and this implies to the same degree: service and food. Whenever an employee joins the team, before serving a single customer, they must be educated to understand what “the right way” means in the company. Our rules are simple: good manners, cleanliness, etc; but we make them explicit. Today's workforce is incredibly diverse. We can no longer assume that people already know the right way, or that the rules of etiquette will go through osmosis from managers to employees. Training people in the proper way is necessary so as not to entangle your workers, nor the needs of your company.

Humor.The main and final component of our customer service creed is humor. The edition of Costumer Reports August 1996 revealed that the mood of a restaurant was the third most important factor, immediately after the meal and the price, customers want a restaurant that breathes a positive atmosphere. Nothing drives people away more than an environment that smells of deficiency. Humor is essential in our restaurants because we have many outside visitors who visit us for the first time. We want to surprise to our clients before they arrive at their tables; preferably even before they enter. We want to show you a positive attitude that determines your entire experience from the beginning. 

Surprise your community

Your restaurant should be involved in your community not as a matter of public relations, but because it is the right thing to do. Last summer an event occurred that illustrates this point. A number of teens in the San Antonio area were promised work at the Atlanta Olympics. The only impediment was that they had to pay for their trip to Atlanta. So when they left many spent all their savings on the single plane or bus ticket. The problem was that when they got to Atlanta there was no work. They were extremely puzzled, as many of these boys hoped that Atlanta would be provided with a home and paid enough to pay for their trip home. The event was so egregious that it made the evening news in San Antonio. It also created a great opportunity for local businesses to come to the aid of the community. We in Old San FranciscoWe offered a great party, which was in the news because the community wanted it, that generated an invaluable amount of goodwill and publicity. The cost? Less than what a large newspaper ad costs.

Reverse cocoon syndrome. The success of this example of community participation illustrates a new paradigm. As Faith Popcorn predicted a few years ago, we have become a nation of cocoon makers eager for spaces where we feel safe and easily gratified. This challenges restaurateurs to act in reverse, creating spaces where our customers want to be. Of course this means creating environments that are comfortable, but it also means reaching out to the community where a lot of help is also required.

There are no better examples of how to reverse cocoon syndrome than when businesses help the community in times of crisis. 

Surprise your competition

None of us can afford to ignore our competitors, but sometimes "being aware" turns into "being alike." We copy every new idea or product that is successful no matter how modest it may be, even if it comes from who knows where. As a result, restaurants become increasingly similar to each other, and that similarity means that the foods offered in restaurants are converted into merchandise to be sold at the lowest price. Competition based on cost alone is a surefire recipe for failure. To avoid being considered a cookie-cutter establishment, they have to be a rebel and do the unexpected. 

How to increase the “surprise” dividend

To Tilman Fertitta, President of Landry´s RestaurantsHe likes to say that "there are no substitutes for customers." I go further and say: today, there are no substitutes even for potential customers. As restaurant owners and managers, we must take advantage of market challenges and work hard to achieve higher levels of performance. Our clients ask for it. Once we focus on doing the exceptional rather than the predictable, we will have the effect surprise.

I consider the effect surprise As a constant investment process, the dividends of which have kept our company buoyant for 28 years, much longer than most restaurants can expect to survive. Every customer who enters Old San Francisco It is a close dividend either for a positive comment or a good previous experience Ñun dividend surprise-. If we can reinvest these dividends wisely, if we exceed customer expectations as they enter — be it their first visit or number one hundred — our future success is potentially greater than our present success. Needless to say, if you were the only one in our company interested in increasing the dividend surprise, would have failed. We have been successful because our employees are investing in the effect surprise every day, and dividends continue to rise.
Translation: Ángel Reyes
Barry Cohen is Executive Chef of Old San Francisco
Cohen, Barry, 1997, The WOW Effect, Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, April, Vol.38, No.2. pp-74-81.

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I am a dreamer and in my dreams I believe that a better world is possible, that no one knows more than anyone, we all learn from everyone. I love gastronomy, numbers, teaching and sharing all the little I know, because by sharing I also learn. "Let's all go together from foundation to success"
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