Author : Tommy Yionoulis

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Yelp Wrap-up

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On May 7th, we posted a blog What’s the deal with Yelp, the purpose of the blog was to get feedback from the restaurant community on some of the rumors we had heard about Yelp.

We post our blogs through multiple social media outlets, and a lot of them allow comments on the post. Today’s blog post is a wrap-up of the commenter’s sentiments about Yelp. You are welcome to look at the actual blog comments here.

Restauranteur’s Opinions on Yelp:

  • Overly aggressive sales team
  • The perception that Yelp can make your bad reviews filter toward the bottom of review feed if you advertise.
  • The perception that good, 5 Star reviews, often disappear because Yelp’s algorithm’s thinks they are fake.
  • Major distrust of Yelp
  • Only hear from Yelp when they get bad reviews.
  • Drives traffic and customers to restaurant

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We had several Yelp user’s comment as well, and their basic feedback was that they liked the service. One commenter stated that they used Yelp when they traveled & it had never steered them wrong. That has also been my personal experience with the site.

What we would like to see Yelp do:

  1. Consider requiring or giving additional weight to reviews where the user posts a photo of their check. This photo would provide proof that a customer ate at the restaurant.
  2. Additional proof could also be accomplished by using a 3-D barcode to launch a verified review.
  3. Use the available review metadata that you collect to identify false reviewers and ban them from your site.

Yelp suffers from a perceived impropriety issue. If Yelp doesn’t filter bad reviews to the bottom when people advertise there is a perception that they do. Yelp should address these rumors and provide some transparency on how they filter and their ability to affect the placement of reviews in a restaurant’s review feed.

As a Yelp user I don’t want them to filter any reviews, the value of Yelp to me is that I get an honest picture of what people are saying about a restaurant.  If Yelp is filtering advertiser’s bad reviews to the bottom of their feed, then I might make a bad decision.

Thanks to all of you that voiced your opinions on this blog.

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FOH Readiness Checklist

I’m sure you have experienced this a million times….
 
I’m going to share a story from my days at bartending in a very busy mountain town.
 
Spring break was one of the busiest times of the year.  Two-hour waits for dinner and up to an hour wait for lunch. No real break between the shifts because we got the apres ski crowd after a busy day on the mountain. 
 
During March, there would be a lot of cash just burning a hole in our pockets, like most ski town residents we would need to unwind at the end of the night. It could sometimes turn into a 4 or 5 hour process and would inevitably make the next lunch shift pretty rough. 
 
It was always a bad idea when all of us would go out together because now instead of 1 or 2 of the staff operating at 75%, we would have 90% of the staff operating at 50%. 
 
Never failed, every time that happened we’d get an early lunch rush. Side work was half-assed, tables weren’t set, outside heaters weren’t on, umbrellas were down, snow on the front patio. You get the picture.  
 
We’d ingest as much coffee as we could stand and GO TO WAR!
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The service was horrible because you are trying to complete side work while serving guests. Drinks took forever because there weren’t enough glasses at the soft drink stations, not enough lemons cut, it was a disaster. It hurt our tips and certainly hurt lunch sales.  
 
Anyone who has ever managed a restaurant has worked a shift like this.  You walk in the door and your staff looks like the slept in their uniforms and don’t get me started about the smell, like a damp cellar.   
 
Instead of proactively managing your shift, you start your day putting out FIRES.  
 
Instead of walking your dining room and checking it for readiness you are herding CATS.  
 
In the spirit of this story, we’d like to share our FOH Readiness Checklist. Click here to download it for free!
 
Even if you have a FOH Checklist, you should take a minute and check out ours.  
 
We hope you find it helpful. 
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New Data in Restaurants

There’s a great article in Fast Casual By Dipock Das, VP of Technology at HotSchedules about Big Data in restaurants and how slow the industry has been to adopt new technology. But when they do adopt, and they will, it’s going to change the industry.

It’s happening now. Just being at the NRA Show you can see technology in all areas of the restaurant business showing up sooner than later. From a plethora of POS systems to communicating ovens to temp monitoring to robots. One of the things that Dipock Das points out correctly in his article is that restaurant systems are so tied down by their outdated and expensive POS solutions. They require an expensive staff of data experts to be able to make the data easily consumable by the business. In this day and age that doesn’t work. You don’t have time to react a week later. If you can’t head the issue off at the pass you at least have to react immediately.

Technology has come to a point now that data can be very easily accessed and manipulated by business users in real time. Also merging various sources of data that before just sat in separate silos, waiting to be used. Being able to draw a correlation between overflowing dumpsters and lower cover counts can be very valuable.

Restaurants have always relied on sales, cost and customer service data, but there’s so much other data captured (typically with pen and paper) on daily basis that winds up in a drawer never to be looked at again. Now that environmental data is also so readily available and consumable it just makes sense to mingle all of this together. Once you do that you get a true, holistic view of your operations right on your tablet.

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I have copied Dipock Das’ Fast Casual article below:

The irony of “smart” technology is its stupidity under the wrong conditions. Smart devices are only as intelligent as the data they rely on, and no industry has had more difficulty capturing data than the restaurant industry. The “Holy Grail” of big data has evaded most restaurants because years ago, software vendors didn’t anticipate its importance. As big data became a big deal, restaurant software became antiquated overnight, yet vendors failed to adapt. They “chose poorly” to quote the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Restaurants are now hamstrung by their inability to collect and use data in a strategic way.

My goal here is to explain why big data has been such a struggle in the restaurant industry, and I will discuss how we can blaze a new trail to the grail. At this point in the quest, the key is that restaurants need to capture as much data as possible from a variety of sources. As restaurants start using artificial intelligence to make sense of data, they won’t just use it to find past mistakes – they will use it to prevent mistakes in the first place.

Jurassic Dark

Restaurants have long relied on legacy software that is expensive, runs on Windows PCs and feels daunting to replace. So, restaurant management and IT staff are trapped — mentally and technologically — within the constraints of that software. Consequently, restaurants are in the dark about what they could do if they weren’t tethered to Jurassic technology.

For instance, most restaurant owners know that Yelp matters. As one Harvard Business professor found in 2011, a one-star increase on Yelp can lead to a 5-to-9 percent increase in revenue for a restaurant. However, there is lack awareness that Yelp data can be correlated with a restaurant’s operational data to identify what managerial choices lead to negative or positive reviews.

The limits of outdated technology shape the mindset of restaurant management. The first step is to stopping asking, “What can our tech do?” Instead,  ask, “What do we want our tech to do?”

20/20 Vision

For the brave restaurants that pursue big data with legacy software, a world of frustration awaits. Integrating data from disparate, ’90s-era software programs is cumbersome at best and a fool’s errand at worst for several reasons. First, collecting data is much trickier that most people realize. It can actually take weeks to get data from old restaurant software to a data warehouse where it can be aggregated and analyzed.

Second, even if a restaurant gets that data under one roof, it still needs data scientists to make any sense of it. To use the same example, finding correlations between Yelp reviews and a restaurant’s operational choices requires a ton of analysis. Among staffing, inventory, menu selection and marketing alone, dozens of variables could influence a Yelp review to various degrees. Only the largest restaurant chains can afford to hire data scientists, and most expect Wall Street salaries.

After a restaurant spends tens of millions of dollars to collect and analyze the data, that’s not the end of the road. How do they push that data to someone who can act on it — immediately —  when the only software at a restaurant’s disposal is stuck on a PC that sits in the back office? Most likely, the data will populate pretty PDF and Excel reports that arrive via email once a month, long after the event when the data could have changed business outcomes. At best, big data with legacy software can provide 20/20 vision looking backwards.

The New Way to the Grail

Adding data scientists and expensive integrations to legacy software is a bit like dropping a Ferrari on an air mattress and claiming you made a speed boat. You can put all the tech you want on top of primitive software, but that won’t change its nature. So today, the restaurant industry is shifting towards mobile technology that is designed to both collect and receive actionable data. The next wave of software will apply artificial intelligence (AI) to big data in order to solve restaurants’ most vexing operational challenges.

At present, three categories of data can feed smart devices and eventually AI: 1. in-store, 2. above store and 3. near-store data.

In-store data is every byte (pun intended) you can pull from the restaurant —  data from your POS system, drive through, labor management and inventory system, to name a few sources. Above store data is cumulative in-store data viewed at different scales. It could compare data on a store-to-store, city, state, regional, franchisee, national or perhaps international scale. Last, near-store data, includes weather, traffic, demographics and of course Yelp. It’s about the environment in which restaurants operate.

The true Holy Grail is AI technology that can look at all this data, learn from it and make recommendations that influence a restaurant manager’s decisions in the moment, when there’s opportunity to change business outcomes. AI could learn that there is a correlation between the Wednesday evening shifts and low Yelp ratings. Perhaps it finds that the restaurant schedules two less servers than usual since guest traffic is lower at that time. The AI calculates that on a two-year scale, the cost of two additional staff members is ten times cheaper than the negative effect if these low star ratings, projecting that Wednesdays continue to generate them. Problem solved.  Having learned from one restaurants experience (using in-store and above-store data) the robot now pushes this insight to other restaurants (above-store) before they suffer the same mistake.

Stealing Bases

Although it seems strange that an industry run on paper and PCs could soon rely on artificial intelligence to make decisions, this isn’t farfetched. The restaurant industry hasn’t progressed incrementally from “dumb” to smart tech, like many others industries. Restaurants will instead benefit from years of innovation in other industries to steal a few technological bases. If restaurant tech can deliver data-driven recommendations to a smartphone resting in the pocket of a person who takes action immediately, the technology is indeed “smart.”

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Cool Stuff From the NRA Show

We are having a great time at the NRA Show in Chicago.

Below is a picture of the booth with the food service robot.  The cost is 25K, and it can be trained to do one function. It was cool and just imagine where this tech will be in a couple of years.

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Below is a picture of me on the left, Keith Jones, Executive Chef for Honey Smoked Salmon in the middle and Erik Tversland my business partner at OpsAnalitica.  I worked for Keith in 1994 and 95 at the Metropolitan Club in Denver.  He is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever worked for in the industry.  Wonderful to see him.

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Below is a video of a new Budweiser merchandising cooler.  It projects the images from the bottom of the door. It is WiFi connected and will even alert a repair person if it breaks down.  Apparently in a market test it increased sales by 11%.

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Making the Most of Your 30-Day Free Trial – Part 2

This is part II, click here to read part I.

Real World Testing(RWT) is the time to start doing more configuration and adding real data to your test. Keep it to a minimum at the beginning because you aren’t sure if you are going to be using this app in 25 days. If it’s a CRM app bring a couple of contacts in and then work those contacts in your test system and your old system simultaneously. If you are using the OpsAnalitica Inspector you should import your restaurant checklist and inspections into the Inspector.

I told you that nothing is free and for parts of this test you could be spending more time doing things in the old system and the new system simultaneously. It is in your best interest to move fast in evaluating.

As you start your RWT it is a good idea to make a list of Use Cases that your current system does or that you would like your new app to do. Check off those use cases as you go. It adds a little discipline to your test and will help you sell your app and evaluation process to the rest of the team if you choose to move forward.

As your test moves on, and you are more confident that you like what you are seeing you can slowly ramp up your commitment to the new tool by adding more data to it and continuing to configure advanced functionality.

Remember, the goal of the initial evaluation was to move fast and make a quick determination if this tool had a snow balls chance in hell of working for you.  The RWT is about putting the app through it’s paces.

Make sure you are testing with real world scenarios.  Large data sets can expose issues in a tool.  For example when I worked for a large sandwich franchisor we had over 4,000 restaurants. Managing 4,000 locations is more complicated than managing 20 locations. With 20 locations, you could go into each record and update something if there were a change. When you are dealing with 4,000 locations, you need the ability to do bulk uploads.  Look for those types of scenarios in your business and start testing those use cases as your trial continues.

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If at any time during your test you realize that this isn’t going to work for you. Then you should cut your losses and move on. Not to beat a dead horse, cancel as soon as you make the determination that you are pulling the plug.

If you are happy with your results and you are starting to see some benefits of the app in time savings, for instance, you may want to calculate a simple ROI on the app.

A Simple Time Savings ROI can be calculated like this:

  1. Break down the average employee cost to the company per hour.  (you can tack on 20% overhead to their annual salary for taxes and benefits)
  2. Calculate how much projected time is this going to save you in a week or a month.
  3. Then extrapolate that out to all of the people in your organization that are going to be using the app.
  4. Then compare that to the cost of the app and implementation. (this amount might be $360 annually per license multiplied by 20 users + $10,000 for implementation)
  5. Figure out how many months it will take you to start getting a return on your investment.

You can click here and use our busy work calculator to figure out how much time something is costing you.

Here is a Simple ROI example:

Employee Annual Salary $50,000
20 % Employee Overhead $10,000
Total Annual Employee Cost $60,000
Cost Per Hour* $31
Time Savings in Hours Per Week 3
Time Savings in Dollars Per Week $92
Number of employees using app per week 20
Total Annual Savings* $90,000
Total Monthly Savings $7,500
Cost of App per Employee Per Year $360
App Implementation and Training Cost $10,000
Total 1st-year cost of App $17,200
ROI 523.26%
Payback period in Months 2.29
* (based off 49 weeks @ 40 hrs per week)

I will be the first to tell you that this is an incredibly simple ROI calc, if you are a finance person and you want to spend a week building a hyper accurate one, be my guest.

Quick Tip:  If the ROI that you calculate is horrible then you need to factor that into your decision.  Something that makes your life easier but doesn’t add true financial value should be evaluated fairly.  There are other things besides ROI and ease of use to consider, this may be a long-term play to free up resources so they can be directed to other projects or higher ROI generating activities.

Real World Testing(RWT) Decision Time: 

You have tested the app under real world conditions, you have determined that you can or cannot live without certain pieces of functionality or you have found work arounds.  You have calculated an ROI.  Now it is time to decide if you want to move to a limited pilot or cancel the app.

Congratulations, hopefully, this blog helped you make the most of your 30-Day Free Trial. Click here to get our consolidated one page of this blog.

Click here to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss our upcoming posts on Piloting your new App and Questions to ask your Cloud App Provider.

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Making the Most of Your 30-Day Free Trial – Part 1

As more and more cloud apps are being designed for business consumers, the 30-Day Free Trial is becoming more and more common in the corporate setting. OpsAnalitica, my company, offers a 30-Day Free Trial for our Inspector App.

The Free Trial is not a new concept; it is one of the best sales models for the manufacturer and the customer. The Free Trial thrives in the app economy because there are minimal costs to the app maker for adding one additional customer to their app for 30-days.

The benefit to the customer is you can cut through the marketing hype and use the tool in the real world. It is one thing to see a demo video and in our case it is another to walk around your restaurant with our app on your tablet inspecting your restaurant and recording temperatures.

Quick Tip: Demo Videos, most app companies have a demo video of their software on their site. When watching a demo video be leery of highly produced videos with lots of editing and cuts. A great screen capture video that shows the app working in the real world is better because you see the real user experience.

The first concept I want to cover in Free Trials is: Nothing is ever Free. A 30-Day Free trial isn’t free because your time and attention cost money. When you commit to doing a trial and you put your credit card down the clock is ticking. So you should go in with a plan and an idea of how you would use this tool in your world.

Quick Tip: Set a calendar reminder for 28 days on the day you purchase the free trial. At OpsAnalitica, we email you twice in the week when your card is going to be charged for the first time to alert you to the upcoming charge. Notifying the customer about an impending charge isn’t a law or requirement. Just remember 30 days at work goes by so fast, and we see a ton of our free trials wait until the reminder emails before they even start using the tool.

Quick Tip: Don’t sign-up for more licenses than you need to conduct your free trial. We have people sign-up for ten licenses and then on Day 30 they get billed for ten licenses when they only needed one.

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Free Trial Phases:
You should break your free trial into two phases. Initial Evaluation and Real World Test(RWT). You don’t move into the RWT if the platform doesn’t pass your Initial Evaluation.

Initial Evaluation:

  • The goal is to use all of the functionality of the app with the minimal time investment
  • Don’t be concerned with data quality, look and feel, in this phase.
  • You should try to get through your Initial Evaluation in two to four hours if possible.

I see people making a huge mistake all the time, which is they won’t start testing an app unless they have it configured perfectly with real world data. Configuring takes time.

What I’m saying here is against my self-interest as an app maker. The more time a customer invests in the tool during a free trial correlates to their purchase behavior. A customer puts a psychological value on their time and is less likely to cancel the trial, even if they aren’t happy with the tool because it will look and feel like they made a mistake.

So much of selling is playing on the pride and laziness of the customer.  That is why they will let you mail back the Bowflex for a refund because they know no one is going to pack that bitch back up, and it get it shipped. So as soon as you unpack the Bowflex, it is never going back. The only way you are getting it out of your house is when you sell it for 1/3rd of what you paid for it on Craigslist.

Investing too much time configuring in the Initial Evaluation, is unpacking the Bowflex, and it plays into the hands of the seller.

Using our app as an example, I have test inspections I can load into the Inspector for you. They are full of questions that may apply to your business but more than likely they won’t cover everything you might want to inspect. That is OK. You need to use your imagination, use my preloaded test questions, walk around your restaurant inspecting it and determine if the app and reports could work for you.  There will be plenty of time to conduct real world tests with real data if you proceed to RWT.

The same is true for any other app you are testing, ask the company if they have preloaded data for you to use. Your time is money so don’t waste it data entering when you aren’t sure that you are going to be using this thing tomorrow.

Other Apps:

  • Task Management apps – add two fake tasks to the app and work them to completion before you invest 5 hours moving every task from your current app into that platform.
  • CRM App – Put in your personal contact info and then work yourself through the system on a fake deal before you invest the time to move your entire contact list into the tool.
  • Restaurant Scheduling – Make a fake schedule with a couple of employees and see how it works.

As you are testing make a bullet point list of questions and concerns. If you like the App, then you can contact your sales rep or support and get the questions answered before moving to RWT.

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Quick Tip: In programming going from one to two is harder than two to 1,000. What that means is, if you are testing something always use at least two items in your test. If it works for two test items than it should work similarly for 100 items.

Quick Tip: There is no app that is going to 100% conform to how you do stuff today. The point of bringing in apps is to speed things up and make data more available. Just know that you are going to have to change how you do things a little to work with an app.

When you have gone as far as you can or need to go in your Initial Evaluation, look at the list of questions you have generated and categorize them as Must-haves and Nice-to-Haves. Must-have’s are deal breakers, Nice-to-have’s are “it would be cool if your app did it like this.”

Let’s break the Must-haves concept down a little bit more, because this is probably the biggest barrier I see companies stumbling over. When evaluating functionality you have to clear your mind and focus on the end goal.

As an example: The business requirement is that a customer gets a notification email when a certain action is taken, if there is no way to make that happen within the app. That is a Must-have that is not being met.

If the email notification is sent, but not the way you would ideally like it to happen. For instance: you have to click a button, or it doesn’t go out immediately; then that is a Nice-to-have issue. The business requirement is met just not the way you would have preferred it.

Initial Evaluation Decision Time: You have your list of questions and concerns; you have rated it by Must-haves and Nice-to-haves. You have gotten clarification from the app maker that your list is accurate. Now you have to decide if it’s worth investing more time into testing or should you look for another solution.

There is no formula for the percentage of Must-haves to Nice-to-haves when deciding. It comes down to how many Must-haves are on your list and is the pain of your current system enough that you can live without that functionality.

Quick Tip: Don’t get caught up in the personalities of your company and what you think people will do or won’t do. If there is a strong business case around implementing technology and you can prove ROI, people will adapt.

Over the years, I’ve see so many people not move forward with an app that has proven positive ROI because some guy on their team, Doug, is never going to do that. Just because Doug is an ass head and has managed to stop all progress at the company because he is afraid of technology, the rest of the company shouldn’t have to suffer.

Quick Tip: If you aren’t going to move forward, you should cancel the app immediately before you forget. I cannot stress this enough, make your decision and move on.

I had an employee once that did a 30-day free trial, didn’t like the app, told us all in a meeting that we weren’t going to use it. Then forgot to cancel, didn’t realize that he had forgotten, and we were billed for a month. He had to put that on his expense report to me and tell me how he had made a mistake, and then accounting wanted to know what the charge was for and ultimately we all looked dumb.  Cancel when you decide.

In part two of this blog, we will pick-up on Real World Testing(RWT).  Click here to go to Part II.

Also, in Part II we will have a printable 1 page pdf of best practices.

Click here to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss our upcoming posts on Piloting your new App and Questions to ask your Cloud App Provider.

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Bad Manager vs. Good Manager Part II

Restaurant Managers Without Line Check Technology Are Just Putting Out Fires With Gasoline!

Lexi Without A Line-Check App vs. Lexi With a Line Check App, With OpsAnalitica to the Rescue.

Don’t be embarrassed if the person we describe sounds exactly like you.  Actually, it may be you, but not for long.  You won’t have to read far to see how transformative technology can be to your workday…and your career.

Here’s part two of the Bad Manager vs. Good Manager blog. Part one was posted yesterday, click here to read part one.

The Good Manager

8:03 AM: Lexi the restaurant manager shows up to get ready for putting out 125 meals, the lunch rush just four hours away. She’d already checked in from home with the OpsAnalitica app suite on her iPad to see 100% compliance with the line checks from last night and this morning. All temps checked out. She noticed on last night’s closing walk-through that they were low on Guac.  She sent a digital purchase order to Sysco, and the dispatcher says delivery will be there in 25 minutes.

Lexi is so glad that she didn’t become a nun, as her mom had asked. Shes running the top restaurant in town and had 17 right-swipes since 5pm yesterday.

8:17 AM: Lexi arrives at the location to check the kitchen.  The line cook pours her a fresh latte’. “That’s my thanks for the sharp knives” he says with a wink and a smile.  The previous evening, Lexi had read a comment on her OpsAnalitica line check app that it was time to sharpen the knives.  She’d assigned it to the owner’s nephew Randy, who she just hired. He’s a cute kid with a lot of promise, and always eager to learn a new skill.

Lexi catches a scene from Court TV on the screen above the bar, and she wonders how these criminals get into such trouble, when life is so carefree and fun.

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8:22 AM: Lexi checks her OpsAnalitica app suite on her iPad over a second delicious latte (this one from the wait staff, who didn’t have to fill any of the smalls). OpsAnalitica app suite tells her that all her requests from the previous night had been fulfilled. She hasn’t had any problems with the breakers after the alarm was set, since adding that question to the closing checklist. There was, however, one non-compliant worker, and she texted and email him a message that they needed to talk when he had time.

Lexi simply cant believe how great that latte isthe temp just right. Astounding.

8:44 AM: Lexi gets a text. It’s the board of health and they are pulling a surprise inspection. Inspector wants to meet her in the lobby.  To prepare, Lexi grabs her tablet and pulls her line check report for the past two months.  They show compliance with all health standards.  She even prints out a few Yelp and Tripadvisor comments to show the inspector what customers think of the food.

Lexi had scored 2300 on her SATs and she’d been recruited by Duke and Stanford to study with a leading hedge fund, but shes glad she went into restaurant management. Unfathomable wealth is nothing compared to being in complete control of a top restaurant location.

10:00 AM: Board of health inspector gives her location an A+. He even tells her what a great job her team is doing.

Lexis iPad gets an alert, and she wonders what could be going wrong.  Did OpsAnalitica app suite let her down?  But its yet another compliance report email. Mid-day line checks have been properly performed again. Bathroom inspection reports back spotless, and the server stations are stocked and ready for the rush for 63rd day in a row.

11:00 AM: That cute Sysco truck driver texts to thank Lexi for the Google traffic alert, which she’d sent last night. He’ll be early today.

11:15 AM: First customers arrive.  Location doesn’t open for 15 more minutes, but Lexi and he crew have already done pre-shifts, and everyone is running ahead of schedule. She welcomes the guests.  Turns out they are scouting for a wedding reception, and they love how they are treated special.

12:00 AM: Regional manager calls Lexi all excited, says he’s bringing the chain owner over for lunch. He asks how lunch is going. Lexi says, “Can’t wait. But we are full! Do you mind eating at the bar?”

Lexi leaves a sticky note on the walk-in door: Silk on silk: Thats how smooth this place runs! Thanks everyone! Thanks OpsAnalitica app suite!

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Bad Manager vs Good Manager Part I

Restaurant Managers Without Line Check Technology Are Just Putting Out Fires With Gasoline!

Lexi Without A Line-Check App vs. Lexi With a Line Check App, With OpsAnalitica to the Rescue.

Don’t be embarrassed if the person we describe sounds exactly like you.  Actually, it may be you, but not for long.  You won’t have to read far to see how transformative technology can be to your workday…and your career.

The Bad Manager

8:03 AM: Lexi the restaurant manager shows up to get ready for putting out 125 meals, the lunch rush just four hours away. But as she walked through the door, she thought she’d walked into a frog dissection class at the high school.  She was met with a putrid smell at the door of the walk-in.

Rotten food.

No temp check was run at closing last night, and the breaker on the walk-in had tripped when the closer had set the burglar alarm. All the food has spoiled. Even the hard boiled eggs.

Eyeing the staffing chart from last night, Lexi tries to recall the distinction between murder and manslaughter and which brings a shorter prison sentence.

8:17 AM: “I’m being poisoned!” is all that Lexi can hear the line cook repeatedly screaming. She dashes back to see him rinsing out his mouth. Someone had mistaken his water bottle for the bottle that holds the sanitary solution and filled it up to the brim with fresh bleach. The line cook is staring at the owner’s smarmy nephew, Randy, who no one wanted to hire anyway. The cook eyes the knives but realizes they are too dull to hurt anyone.

Not for the first time, Lexi wonders why she didn’t become a nun, like her mom wanted.

8:22 AM: On the phone to Sysco for an expedited delivery of food for lunch, Lexi has to separate two waitresses who are arguing over who will fill the salt and catsups.  Every single table needs complete restocking. No one ran post-dinner side-work check last night to make sure all the smalls were topped off.

Lexi almost hangs up with Sysco to call the Army recruiter, hoping for a lower stress position in Afghanistan. In active combat.

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8:44 AM: Lexi gets a text from the hostess. It’s the board of health and they are pulling a surprise inspection.  Inspector wants to meet her in the lobby. Now. She sees him holding his nose and writing something on his clipboard.

Lexi thinks back to when her parents urged her to take the SATs seriously in high school. Shed be a wealthy lawyer now in Cabo had she only listened.

10:00 AM: Board of health inspector asks for extra paper for his writeup.  Lexi is frantically signaling behind the inspector’s back for the wait staff to crank down the temps on the salad bar. The wait staff signals back, but they need just one finger to convey their true feelings.  Board of health inspector finds the guac tray on the salad bar is at 71 degrees. Should be 37 degree.

Lexi wonders how far one must fall to actually die when jumping off a building.  All nearby buildings are just two-story.  She wishes she’d taken a job in city center. 

11:00 AM: Sysco truck driver calls, furious because no one warned him that road construction would force him down an unfamiliar road. They are letting air out of his tires so he can fit under a low bridge. The refrigerator unit was smashed.  “Do you know someone with a pickup truck who can pick up all this fish before it rots?”

Lexi looks longingly at the line cooks water bottle. She wonders how much grenadine will knock back the taste of bleach long enough to get a few mouthfuls down.

11:15 AM: Cook texts Lexi to say there is no propane.  No one checked the tanks, and the crew is dead in the water until another delivery is made.

Lexi logs into Monster.com, and searches: Anything, anywhere but here. Compensation unimportant.

12:00 PM: Regional manager calls Lexi all excited, says he’s bringing the chain owner over for lunch. He asks how lunch is going. Lexi says that things are going “really well” and that there is sushi for lunch, because the raw fish is “fresh off the truck.”

“I thought we were a Mexican restaurant,” regional manager says.  Lexi says that she’s been changing the menu every so often “to stay with today’s truck-to-table model.”  Regional manager says, “Wow, news to me, but whatever works. Be there in five.”

Lexi leaves a sticky note on the walk-in door: “I eloped with Sysco truck driver. Good luck sorting out the wreckage of this doomed madhouse. PS: Randy — good luck in prison.”

Click here to read part two, the Good Manager.

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What is the deal with Yelp?

Yelp Reviews

We posted a blog two days ago, The Ugly Truth about Dirty Restaurants and Yelp, and it has generated some very passionate comments about Yelp and the people who were apparently sickened by the restaurant.  The original article that the blog is based off is from the Food Poison Journal.

I don’t own a restaurant or manage one at this time, so I am disconnected from Yelp reviews as a business owner.  I do travel a lot and use Yelp to find restaurants.  I pay attention to the star rating, and I read the top 10 or so reviews and make my decision based off of that, so that is my connection to Yelp.

We’ve heard rumors; I can’t prove any of this, about Yelp strong-arming restaurants to advertise with them and even promising to remove bad reviews if you become a paid customer.  I’ve also heard that people will place phony reviews to hurt their direct competitors.

We need to hear from you about Yelp – but to be heard you need to follow the rules for commenting:

  1. Keep you comments to experiences that you have had directly with Yelp and Yelp reviews.
  2. If you were able to fix the situation – post what you did to fix it so that it can help others.
  3. Keep the cursing and the direct naming of names of people or other businesses out of your comments.

If you follow those rules, we will post your responses.

Here is the question:  What is the deal with Yelp?

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Front of the House Conference

Today’s blog is a short one.  I was doing some research today and I stumbled upon this small conference that I had never heard about, the Welcome Conference.  This article below from Grubstreet.com, summarizes the author’s Top 10 take away’s from last year’s conference.  I was bummed to find out that this year’s conference in June has already sold out.

The question is this; why am I sharing a blog about a conference that is a year old?  Because on the Welcome Conference’s website they have a video library of the 2014 conference and as the WSJ coined in a different article, this conference is a little bit like a TED talk on Front of the House service.  If you get a second you should check out some of the videos on their site.

Here is Sierra Tishgart’s article from last year’s Welcome Conference.  Enjoy

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10 Big Lessons From New York’s First Hospitality Conference

These people know how to pamper. Photo: mattduckor/Twitter

Yesterday, some of the country’s most hospitable people got together in New York. The reason: Eleven Madison Park co-owner, Will Guidara, and Anthony Rudolf, who has worked for Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, hosted the first-ever Welcome Conference. This day-long celebration of front-of-house service is the first of its kind, and like the MAD Symposium and Cherry Bombe‘s Jubilee, this congress brought out heavy hitters: cherished manager Charles Masson, Nick Kokonas of Alinea, Gabriel Stulman (who owns like half the restaurants in the West Village), and even Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti. These are people who know how to make strangers feel at ease instantly. The conference’s topics included the humility of service, creating heart and soul inside a neighborhood restaurant, and using technology without losing sight of human interaction. It was restaurant-focused, as you’d expect, but many of the speakers’ points clearly apply to other situations. After all, on its most basic level, hospitality is just about making other people feel good. Here, then, are the day’s most interesting takeaways.

1. Learn How to Say No the Right Way.
Hearth‘s Paul Grieco seeks to create a feeling of “tension and confrontation” in his restaurants. While the Danny Meyer model is to always say yes, Grieco actually encourages his team to often say no. It sounds counterintuitive, but saying no with a smile creates impactful and playful dialogue with guests, as long as it’s well-intentioned. “You should not be a goddamn cork-puller — anyone can do that,” Grieco said. “You should be a storyteller.” The point is there’s a right way to speak up for yourself, even in an atmosphere where the customer is trained to think he or she is always right.

2. Find the One Little Detail That Will Make an Entire Experience Better.
La Caravelle‘s Rita Jammet recalled an excellent meal that started with pre-buttered bread. That’s the kind of tiny detail that other restaurants overlook, but diners notice instantly — a shockingly simple way to set a tone for the rest of the night. Gabriel Stulman said that he even hugged a customer who freaked out over a 45-minute wait time. (In fact, his servers compete to see who can get the most unsolicited hugs.) Hugging might be a bit much, but the point is there’s always something just a little bit more that you can do make someone feel taken care of — the best managers are always trying to figure out what that is.

3. Just Assume You Always Have to Go the Extra Mile.
Brian and Mark Canlis, of Seattle’s famed restaurant, declared, “Bad service is like prostitution.” In other words, it becomes clear to customers when they’re only getting what they want because they’re paying. But that model isn’t sustainable in the long term, and the best service happens when a staff actually cares about diners’ experiences. The feelings exchanged during a great meal — or any business interaction — last a lot longer than a single check.

4. Don’t Let Technology Take Over Your Life.
Nick Kokonas discussed how the online ticketing system for Alinea, Next, and the Aviary has revolutionized the way he does business, but the Fat Duck‘s Simon King reminded the crowd that hospitality is nevertheless built on a foundation of human interaction. For example, taking orders on iPads might expedite service, but what’s lost in the process? In fact, as digital tools only become more prevalent, small personal exchanges — like having someone available to answer the phone — will just start to feel more like special touches.

5. Own Your Mistakes.
“I don’t care how perfectly you think everything is going, something is bound to happen because you’re human,” said the legendary Charles Masson. “It’s how you handle it.” Masson says he’s received notes from customers actually praising how he’s handled mistakes. More wise words: “Service is not being beneath someone, but you have to be under someone to push them up.”

6. Take Work Just Seriously Enough.
Gabriel Stulman lets servers wear their own clothes (but if it’s a sleeveless shirt, they have to shave their armpits), play their own music, and drink on the job (to a certain extent). “If the staff is having fun, that will permeate to guests,” he advises. Try to enjoy yourself at work today.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Show Emotion.
Will Guidara, who told a moving story about caring for his mother, stressed the importance of being “fully, emotionally present” at all times. “In the absence of an emotional exchange, it’s impossible to have any sort of real, meaningful connection,” he said.

8. Take the Lead.
“You’re a boss; act like it,” Del Posto‘s Jeff Katz says. “Be in charge.” Even though he considers his colleagues his family, he knows when it’s time to be firm. Another total boss: Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti, whose organization is run so smoothly that he was able to open an entirely new location just hours before he arrived at the conference.

9. Feel Free to Google-Stalk, in a Healthy Way.
Eleven Madison Park is famous for Googling its customers, but it’s hardly the only restaurant that uses digital info to create better service. Kokonas uses the database of his online ticketing system to store information from Facebook and Twitter, allowing him to anticipate the needs of each guest. “We’re not stalking people,” Kokonas says. “We’re trying to create a more magical experience.” A little research will go a long way.

10. Don’t Overapologize.
Frank Bruni told a funny story that never made it into a review: On his last visit to Nobu 57, he pressed the soap dispenser too hard and it exploded on his shirt. Not only did the restaurant try to comp his drinks as an “apology” for the “malfunction” (for an accident that Bruni admitted was completely his own fault), the manager offered to pay for his dry-cleaning bill, or even purchase Bruni a new shirt. Remember: It pays off if you take it easy, even when you’re trying to impress someone. People want to feel comfortable, but they don’t need to be babied.

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