The F&B forum: reviewing the UAE's outlets
Each month, F&B service gurus Halima Anderson and Ryan McMaster from Ethos Consultancy address your problems and queries regarding the bugbear that is customer service in Middle East F&B outlets, offering advice on how operators can improve serving standards, boost business and create customer loyalty in the competitive Middle East market.
Here they answer some of the issues raised by readers last month — and again invite you to share your experiences, opinions and rants about F&B outlet service in the UAE by clicking on the Comment box halfway down this page.
Halima Anderson worked in the restaurant industry for 17 years, seven of which were in advanced management.
Her expertise is in customer service, events coordinating and diverse food, restaurant and marketing arenas, as well as team development.
Anderson has also experienced success as a restaurant owner, having partnered with highly successful individuals in the growing restaurant industry in Philadelphia and New Jersey in the USA.
In her previous roles, she has been instrumental in implementing strategic planning, cost containment, budget finance, customer service, staff training and plan execution, supervision and mentoring.
Anderson is currently director of operations at Ethos Consultancy, a leading customer service consultancy firm in the UAE.
Hello my fellow diners of Dubai!
First and foremost, Ryan and I would like to thank you for your comments. This type of feedback is invaluable and we truly enjoy hearing about your experiences.
I know for a fact that there are establishments that are doing something right and there are those that are still suffering. We are here to listen and hopefully make an impact by giving some of our thoughts based on our experiences and expertise.
It was refreshing to hear that DK of Dubai and his family had a wonderful dining experience at the JW Marriot. I am sure the folks at the JW Marriot in the States would be pleased to hear this.
Based on your comments it is obvious to me that the staff at the JW are happy in the workplace — when staff are happy they are eager to please. (Please the customer as well as management, that is!)
Clearly, when staff are recommending products, they believe in what they are doing and the product or organisation they are representing.
I cannot stress the importance of this enough! Happy staff or team members make customers happy.
It is a very basic concept, but by all accounts one of the most difficult concepts for establishments and their management to grasp.
I am a firm believer in sending team members on the floor with a laugh before the shift begins.
The restaurant industry ranks pretty high in jobs that are ‘stressful’, so it is key to keep it as light-hearted as possible, while delivering outstanding customer service.
To me, based on DK.’s experience, the JW Marriot focused on recruiting the right people, training and measuring performance and simply keeping the team happy — and I am sure that based on this experience, DK. and family will happily remain loyal customers. It’s just that simple.
So a word to management: keep up the good work!
As for Nick, my heart goes out to you and I sympathise with your plight.
There is nothing worse than getting dressed for the occasion, booking a reservation at a popular restaurant only to be disappointed.
Unlike DK., I am certain management at Atlantis (which has several locations around the world) would be very disappointed to hear what you experienced.
Rest assured, you are not alone.
It saddens me that after being open this long, both of the locations you mentioned have not improved.
Ryan and I went for lunch at Atlantis and he was served raw chicken as well.
It was the type of experience you simply have to put out of your mind if you ever want to eat chicken again.
This type of thing happens for a number of reasons and in some cases can be smoothed over by a savvy server.
I am not sure this is available at some restaurants in Dubai.
This raw chicken situation should really never happen — but if it does, a server should remove the dish immediately.
There is nothing worse than staring at raw chicken that you may or may not have eaten while a server finds management, another menu or hides in the kitchen out of shame.
Secondly, bring a menu to the customer and do not leave his or her side until a decision is made.
Do not assume that the customer wants the same item. I can almost guarantee the customer will choose another menu item if anything at all.
Management should come to the table right away and extend his or her apologies.
Never make excuses! You have to accept the loss on this one. Raw chicken is a health hazard and is unacceptable.
Lastly, the establishment must turn the situation around. The best way to do this, after the situation mentioned above has taken place, is to offer a gift voucher.
Get that customer back in to start anew. Wow them from the time they make the reservation.
The manager should give his direct number and encourage the customer to call him or her directly when revisiting the establishment.
This gives management the opportunity to steer the experience in the direction towards an amazing dining experience. (Make sure they get one of the best tables in the house!)
The gift voucher does not have to be for the entire meal, but at least a portion of it.
Management should not be over-attentive; two visits to the table is sufficient. One visit should take place upon arrival and the other after the entrees are delivered.
Of course, the chef should be notified so that they can do a once-over before those dishes go out!
Desserts are always a nice touch and they are a low cost item for restaurants, so throw one in on the house.
Nick — I am guessing this was not the case in your experience.
But don’t give up yet! I am hopeful that with awareness and understanding, Dubai’s restaurants will get there.
Best wishes to all,
Read on to see what Ryan McMaster has to say about "ignorant and stingy owners"...
Before coming to Dubai, Ryan McMaster ran a restaurant and bar in Canada, where he also trained up numerous servers and bar staff.
Now, he is a service quality consultant at Ethos Consultancy, one of the leading customer service consultancy firms in the Middle East.
Well, it’s been over a month since our last column — and not much has changed regarding the service landscape of the restaurant industry!
These gave me lots of good ideas on what to cover this month, which should also offer some valuable feedback at the same time.
There are a few sayings that I’ve always been a strict believer in when running a restaurant. I’d like to share a couple of them.
The first is: “I might be running a restaurant, but I’m in the people business”.
The second is: “My job is to take care of my staff, and it’s my staff’s job to take care of the customers”.
There is no way around it: in a competitive market, if you’re not winning at the people game inside your restaurant, it will only ever achieve a fraction of its potential success.
Allow me to explain why.
Like most businesses, there are two main indicators of success (sales and profit) and this is no different in the restaurant industry.
In my opinion, what drives both of these is staff.
Dubai Resident, this is what I think owners and managers are getting wrong.
Of course menu, location and interior are important aspects of restaurants and bars and it seems all the focus and spending goes here.
This might get a restaurant off to a hot start, but in the long term, it’s the restaurant’s employees that drive consistent sales and profit increases.
Treating your staff well — which includes proper training, decent wages, incentives, fair scheduling and a fun yet professional working environment — will decrease turnover of staff drastically.
As Simon alluded to, staff retention allows servers to build up regular customers and develop relationships with patrons.
Not only do regular customers spend their money in your restaurant, but they’re the best marketing team anyone could ever hope for — and at the end of the day great sales-builders.
Believe me, it’s awesome to have sales increases, but if you’re not managing the million small details required to control profit properly, it’s common for a restaurant to see sales increases at the same time as profit rate decreases.
Far and away, profit is the biggest reason why any restaurant owner or manager should treat their staff well.
In most businesses, it takes months or even years for employee engagement to pay dividends to the bottom line.
In restaurants it takes mere hours, sometimes even minutes.
But as a sieve leaks water, so restaurants can leak money when employees aren’t satisfied.
On the back-of-house side, food costs go through the roof due to poorly executed dishes, theft, improper food ordering and general lack of attention to detail both in food prep and on line.
For those restaurants with bars, free pouring, cutting corners and improper techniques can cost literally thousands per week.
There is no way for a manager or owner to control these things other than through his or her people.
It’s a simple equation: treating staff well helps build sales and increase profitability.
The amount it costs to train, give incentives and create a fun and professional working environment is far less than the amount of money you can make consistently by doing these things.
My only explanation of why owners and managers don’t practice this here in general is a simple lack of knowledge.
And I frequently find myself wondering who trains the managers.
I genuinely feel that overall it’s ignorant and stingy owners that should share the brunt of the blame for poor restaurant and bar service in the region.
The ironic thing is it only hurts the owner’s own bottom line.
Until next time, good eating!