I was among the lakhs of people who left our homes last Saturday as the long Christmas weekend and Christmas holidays began. Reports from all over the country in major cities mentioned long traffic snarls at the Toll booths located just outside the city. At Chengelpet Toll booth which is about 70 kms from where I live in Chennai, the queue of vehicles was for almost a kilometer with over 300 vehicles standing to pass through. We managed to cross in about 20 mins but that was just the start. For the next 100 kms all the way up to Villupuram, I was driving at an average speed of 70 kmph. Perhaps the slowest I have ever driven on this highway that I traverse once a month, at least.
Almost every notable restaurant on the way was filled to the brim with vehicles and people who were piling up like there was some major catastrophe coming up in Chennai. Almost all of us, like really, thought leaving before 6 am would help. Alas. Just that too many of us thought the same thing and ended up crowding toll booths, roads and restaurants. When I finally managed to stop at 9am for breakfast, there were about 70 vehicles and at least 200 people in the restaurant where we ended up. We were informed 30 mins waiting time to get a table. So, I preferred to walk up to the adjacent restaurant which is self-service, hoping things would be faster. When I finished breakfast with family, it took us almost the same time as it would have at the other restaurant. Murphy’s Law. We left after an hour plus break and drove for 3 hours and ended up at India’s top Restaurant Chain for South Indian food and glee, things were not better. This place was even more crowded than we had anticipated. Table service again and it took almost an hour plus for us to finish the grub and leave.
I asked Murugan (name changed), a waiter at the restaurant whether they expected such large turnouts and he replied in the negative. Yelling customers were a norm at most of these places who perhaps didn’t realise that some of the staff haven’t even had their breakfast, forget their lunch. As a Retail guy for 20 years, I truly empathized for the staff but I could do nothing more than wait patiently. Kamala (name changed) was frying fresh Vadas at the restaurant where we had breakfast in the morning and she said she’s been at it since 5.30am. Felt bad for the thankless staff members who ensured we, the customers got out food on time, fresh and tasty.
What could have been done differently was a bit of planning. Here’s my short list;
- · Make a simpler, lighter menu. Keep just the basics available so customers don’t have to think too hard to order, and at the same time, the kitchen staff are quick to prepare the stuff ready. Items like Idli and Vada, French Fies, Samosas and so on must be prepared almost continuously so it acts as a filler when patrons order
- · Add more temporary tables and chairs, plastic ones or metal or whatever. Most customers wouldn’t really care the quality of your furniture when their main motive is to rush out of the restaurants
- · At one restaurant where they profess self-service, I saw that the staff were adding accompaniments like chutney and sambhar to each plate along with the main dish. I suggest this could just be done away with. Focus on the main dish and leave the add-ons to the guests. Keep the chutney and sambhar on the tables and let the customers take as much as they want. Yes, there would be a bit of wastage but we all save time together. Also, avoid four varieties of chutneys, no one just cares, just one would do. Ensure you give less choice to guests but what just matters.
- · Hire local boys and girls temporarily to clean the tables & toilets faster. Use good quality cleaning liquids so the tables don’t stink for the next guest. Toilets must be spic and span. Efficiency and speed are the key.
- · Restaurants with larger spaces and staff can perhaps have someone to usher or a sort of token system or tables assigned against request. This would ensure guests don’t pile up at each table and keep staring at those dining, instead wait patiently till their table is ready.
- · Kids – the biggest challenge to be addressed. Keep them engaged. Have a magician or a story teller or folk art. Nothing free to be offered but something to keep them engaged. Have some crayons and paint books at bay, so the kids can keep coloring and be a bit more engaged. Tried and tested is a large Tv screen with cartoon channels. Be sure the kids would be glued in. But ensure there is no remote around, so there is no flipping of channels and fighting amongst young ones.
- · Men – keep them engaged as well. Set-up boys who can wash the windscreens and bumpers. A good driver always likes his Car clean. Well, almost. A tie-up with local shops to sell additives, car cleaning fluids etc. will ensure the boys and men spend more time there than waiting impatiently at the tables.
- · Ensure your staff are taken care well. Meet each one of them personally and ask if they had breakfast, coffee or tea, lunch, snacks and dinner. And their medicines, if any for some may be diabetic or have other ailments. Show empathy, they need it now more than ever. They are, after all your Brand Ambassadors. Shower them love and they will pass it on to the Guests. Ignore them and that’s what the customers will get as well.
- · At the end of the weekend, if your cash registers ring more than usual, send them home with small gestures such as gift packs of sweets. Make them feel proud that your guys achieved ever-highest sales during this weekend and motivate them. Remember, most people don’t work just for money, they need recognition.
These are some very simple hacks but can go a long way in Guest satisfaction. Holidays are always about memories and we as Retailers, especially the F&B guys make a dent on the memories that guests carry. If there is a delay more than usual time, people fret. But when you throw in something extra, customers mostly remember only that “extra” whether it is “extra happiness” or “extra irritation”. With increasing mobility these days, people are travelling more than ever and they will continue to remember what you offered.
Once again during the upcoming New Year weekend, the restaurants and highways are going to get full. I really hope some changes are undertaken by Restaurant owners small and big to ensure better handling of customers and of course, their own staff. Happy New Year!