Improving Customer Service

Issue # 59 of 70 




John T. Self, Ph.D.
By: Dr. John T. Self


Same old, same old


Alas, the concept of a whole new millennium and all it entails should be starting to dawn on the restaurant business just as it is on other service industries, with the glow of bright and wonderful prospects. But, for the restaurant industry, it will most likely be just the start of another year. "Same old, same old," as they say--and never more appropriately put. Y2K? What's that? Pass the ketchup, it's business as usual.

Looking back on just the last couple of decades has, for the most part, been painful for the restaurant industry. Painful in the sense that some of the negative images that the public has always had continue to linger. It is as though some things never change. The momentum of 20 years of negative feeling on the part of the public gives the impression that our employees and managers were:

  • Low paid
  • Working way too many hours per day and week
  • Much more susceptible to robberies than most other businesses
  • Under-appreciated
  • Often led to believe in promises that were soon broken--honor anyone?

Why would the public still get the impression that the above is true? Because, for the most part, it is true. There are glimmers of improvement by companies that are starting to do good things, outside of the stereotypical, but we need more companies to get on board to have any chance of redirecting the momentum. I get hordes of letters from employees, managers, and parents assuring me that all of the points above are still very much in evidence. And, as if their word wasn't enough, the following are more points illustrating just how far we still have to go:

The National Restaurant Association continually goes on record to lobby to keep minimum wage bills from passing--every time. They are consistent, if nothing else. Why do they try to block these bills when they could be passed overwhelmingly? The only thing that they accomplish by this blind, bull-headed strategy is to confirm, in the public's mind, that they have always been right about the restaurant industry being cheap. Sometimes the best strategy is to look at the long-term goals and pick your battles from there. After all, it's nice to be on the side of the winner sometimes, especially when the winner deserves to win.

Boston Chicken or Boston Market (or whatever they call themselves) talk about the grand schemes of salvaging a marketing-born and driven concept. But, while they were coming up with multi-million dollar refinancing and bankruptcy plans, everyone forgot about the managers. And then--SURPRISE!--many decided to abandon ship before the ship abandoned them. Amazing, but guess what? Restaurants need managers. When they realized that managers were starting to leave on a dramatic scale, then and only then, did they come up with a bonus plan designed to stabilize their management turnover. Incredible. Communication--simple and abundant communication was called for, PRIOR to letting it out publicly.

The dilemma facing the restaurant industry is that on the one hand, we have so much to offer, but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. We simply refuse to let the past go. If we could just shed the old paradigms of high turnover, autocratic management and an absolute paranoia for change, we could finally show our true colors. Colors that include great career opportunities coupled with working in an absolutely, incredibly positive, lively environment that should be the envy of every industry in America, let alone the world. When was the last time you saw a restaurant chain in a "most admired" company list? Never, you say? Why not, I ask?

John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academia, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including Chili's and Steak and Ale, and as vice president of a regional restaurant chain overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants, including a comedy club.
Dr. Self has also been involved in the development of international hospitality programs. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.


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Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.