Friday, January 13, 2012

How Do You React When Customers Say They See No Value?

If you're lucky, the customers and guests of your dining, catering and conference services will tell you candidly what they like and don't like; what they'd like to see on the menu; whether your hours of service are convenient; whether your staff is courteous and efficient, and much else.

It's something to encourage, because it's your best tool for ensuring your operation is satisfying employees or students and learning what you need to do to ensure your service is of greater value to them than their other alternatives.

Here are some comments from among 214 in a customer satisfaction survey we're currently running for a corporate client.

"Prices are too high. Too few choice [sic]."

"I am quite dissatisfied with the food quality, variety [and] vegetarian options. The price is quite high for what we receive."

"Clear deterioration in the price/value ratio."

"Staff are nice and very efficient. Managers are useless."

There were more than 100 comments along these lines (as well as some saying the opposite about food quality). Clearly, the dining service has a problem with its customers' perception of value.

How would you respond to this type of complaint? Send us your suggestions at and we'll publish them here and in the Spring issue of Dining Insights.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

'I have no problems, only complicated situations.'

That's what George Kuzmich, then VP of Operations for my former food service company, T J Mac Dermott Corp., told me many years ago when I asked, "What's the problem?"

George, a Ukranian whom the Soviets sent to Siberia for something at the outbreak of World War II, escaped to Afganistan, joined and fought with the British Army and was among the last British soldiers to leave Palestine as their mandate expired and the Israeli War of Independence started, certainly knew something about complicated situations.

It seemed to me then - and still seems - a pretty good way to deal with difficulties. Problems can be thorny and knotty. Complicated situations can be unraveled, simplified and settled.

Virtually anything that can go wrong in a food service operation - except equipment or power failures - involve people. Someone didn't show up, someone did the wrong thing or nothing, folks working at cross-purposes, quareling, grumbling, offending customers, you name it. Even equipment and power failures require human beings to fix them.

This means anything from poor food to high cost to customer dissatisfaction can only be solved by dealing with the individuals involved: complicated situtations.

Your solution can be a blunt-instrument command: "Don't do that again, or else."

Or, you can start to find out by using the magic word, Why. "Why did that happen?" The answer you get may be unsatisfying. Asked why something went wrong, most people become defensive and blame dark forces outside their control. There are an infinite variety of versions of "the dog ate my homework."

But, if you press on a little further to ask about how those dark forces affected the work or spoiled the soup or insulted the customer or caused the big discrepancy in the cash drawer, you'll eventually find the answer, unravel the complicated situation and see the solution. That works better than just, "Don't do that again," which usually causes fear or resentment and reluctant compliance, but doesn't really solve anything.

Your solution can be a simple change in work procedures or schedules, training or retraining or shifting an employee out of a job he/she can't perform well, up to, if necessary as a last resort, termination.

Sometimes, it's hard not to get angry or blow up in frustration when things go wrong or folks are obstinate or seem obtuse. That's human, but not productive and may create more difficulties for you, and certainly solves nothing.

If saintly patience isn't your style, try the old "count to ten" remedy and then, in as calm a voice as possible, ask "why." It will work.

This article also appears in the Consultants Corner section of the Society for Food Service Management's website,