Recently, while I was at a busy restaurant waiting for my breakfast to be served, I was struck by a valuable lesson amidst the seemingly chaotic kitchen which was mostly hidden out of customers’ sight.
So what does all of this have to do with your business? There’s a lot you can learn from the food service industry, both positive and negative, about how to run a business. But if there’s one thing a restaurant has to do well to stay in business, it’s to create an excellent customer experience, from the taste of the food to the level of service.
Now, if you’ve ever worked in food service or even watched one of those Food Network shows, you likely know that the kitchen at a busy restaurant—the “backstage,” if you will—is often a much different picture from what things look like from the customer’s end, sitting in the dining room. While the dining area is relaxed and well-decorated to give a pleasant atmosphere, the kitchen is often chaotic, noisy, and cluttered.
To the outside eye, a kitchen may seem disorganized, but the mess is often necessary and part of an extremely organized process that includes specialized procedures and chains of actions. The people involved each play an important role and are highly skilled in their unique jobs. These workers understand how to navigate the kitchen, its processes, and even its dangers. The systems in place allow them to operate efficiently, even though the process might be messy. The creative stages of any project require some organized chaos.
The trick that restaurants are excellent at pulling off is taking all of that behind-the-scenes mess and creating a beautiful, easy-looking meal to present to the customer.
Every business has messy behind-the-scenes processes. How you handle those processes affect what you ultimately show to the customer. Here are a few ways you can ensure the “kitchen” of your business runs smoothly to create an excellent customer experience.
- Ensure everyone understands and follows standard practices, from safety to technique.
Do you have a restaurant you frequent where you always order the same thing, knowing it never fails to be a satisfying meal? How do you think a restaurant manages to produce the same quality dish that tastes nearly identical every time? After all, if you’ve ever handed a family member a favorite recipe and found it didn’t taste at all the same when they made it, you doubtless understand that every cook will make the same dish differently. A recipe only counts for so much.
Restaurants put in a significant amount of training to ensure their cooks produce the dish the same way every time. It all comes down to processes, standard practices everyone is taught to follow. In your business, this might look like an SOP. This doesn’t mean an SOP has to eliminate creativity, either, especially in a creative industry—it’s just there to ensure the same steps are always followed and the same quality of product or service is presented every time.
Ensuring everyone understands and follows standard practices is also an important part of keeping everyone safe. In a kitchen, this means following health and safety guidelines to protect both customers and workers. In some other service industries, this may mean safety guidelines to prevent injury. And in some businesses, it could mean protecting your business from other issues, like liability issues such as copyright infringement or having your website penalized for poor SEO practices. These guidelines should be written into the processes and emphasized during training to ensure everyone understands the risks and the steps they should take to mitigate them.
- Communication is vital.
Communication is one of the most important aspects of any organization, and kitchens are particularly good at creating methods and processes of communication that help streamline production and keep things running smoothly. The waiter communicates with the customer, and then relays that information to the cooks, who then communicate with each other to produce the ordered meal quickly and accurately, and then inform the waiter when it is ready to be taken back to the correct table and placed in front of the correct people at said table, all without error. It’s like a complex rendition of the old fashioned game of telephone. Additionally, people working in the kitchen have to communicate about other matters, such as safety—they use standard language to quickly tell their coworkers when they’re moving with something dangerous, such as a knife or a hot pan.
Streamlining communication in your own business can greatly improve your processes and performance. It’s a good idea to create standard means of communication for certain types of issues, as well as chains of command and responsibility. If someone knows exactly who to speak to regarding an issue, it can be resolved much more quickly than if they have to ask around. Similarly, if certain types of communication tend to take longer than necessary, standardizing how that information is relayed may cut down on time. One common area businesses often need to increase communication efficiency is in meetings—having a strong agenda and sticking to it can be a challenge, but if everyone is trained on how to communicate during a meeting, it can save a great deal of time.
- A little mess is okay, as long as you have a process for cleaning it up.
Closing a restaurant at the end of the night is a massive undertaking, as there is always a great deal of cleanup needed. But restaurants have processes in place to streamline this and handle the mess. The mess is an inevitable part of creating excellent food.
Similarly, there’s always some messy behind-the-scenes action in every business. Maybe that mess is in testing new products—you’ll have a few ideas you have to discard, and you’ll need to make adjustments to others. If you’re creating a digital marketing strategy, you’ll inevitably need to do some messy work to create a website and strategy that works for your business. What’s important is ensuring your team knows how to clean up the mess so it doesn’t get in the way of future work and the customer has a clean and enjoyable experience.
- Presentation matters. Keep your messy processes hidden.
In a way, all work is messy. You want your customers to know you’ve put effort and skill into what you’re presenting them, but the most skilled people always make their jobs look the easiest. That trick is part of what makes for great customer experience. If customers can see the messy parts of the process, they may have a more difficult time trusting what you provide. You want to appear to be an expert. If your plate came out with sauce splattered all over the edges, you probably wouldn’t feel particularly good about the cook. If the restaurant had an open kitchen and you saw a giant mess all over the place, that likely wouldn’t give you confidence, either. Whatever the messy parts of your business are, ensure that’s not presented to your customer—give them the polished, finished product or service and don’t let them peek behind the curtain unless your kitchen or backstage area is scrubbed clean, both physically and metaphorically.
- Customer experience is just as important as the product or service you provide.
When you want to go out to celebrate an occasion and you choose a fancy restaurant, you likely have two considerations in mind: the food and the atmosphere. Sometimes the best food comes from a food truck, but that’s not the experience you want. Similarly, if a restaurant has excellent food but poor service, you’re unlikely to visit again. As a business, it’s important to remember the quality of your service will often make or break your relationship with a customer. There are many ways to provide excellent service, but hiring for and training service skills can go a long way.
No matter what kind of business you have, you inevitably have messy-looking processes you don’t want your customers to see. There’s plenty to be learned from the food service industry in finding ways to streamline those processes to run efficiently and present a polished product or service to your customer. So the next time you’re waiting for your meal to be served in a restaurant, sneak a peek at the operations of the kitchen to glean your next business leadership lesson.