Recently, I stopped by a new restaurant in town. It was a fast casual joint, famous for great burgers and delicious shakes, so we decided to give it a try. We arrived anticipating a delicious meal and a tasty treat, however, we did not expect a shining example of what will happen when every member of a team takes personal responsibility for the customer experience.

As we approached the building, we noticed several customers dining in a covered outdoor patio. Servers moved from table-to-table, dropping off food, bussing tables and making sure customers were satisfied. Smiles all around.

Inside, the line was long, but moving quickly. Though they were slammed busy, the order-takers were pleasant and helpful. Questions about ingredients, toppings and preparation were answered quickly and thoroughly. Appropriate suggestions were offered without making it feel like we were being sold something we didn’t really want. Everything on the menu board looked delicious, so some of us went with what they did best — burgers and fries — and some of us went with what our current diet plan allowed… saving room for a bit of a splurge, their “famous” ice cream treats.

After we found our seats, I watched the flow of people, food and customers around me, interested to see how well the mood of the welcome and the ordering process translated into the busy dining room. Servers flowed through, delivering food and chatting briefly with diners. Some answered questions about the food, about their favorite desserts — ice cream and shakes are big here — mediating complaints and accepting compliments with unwavering enthusiasm and easy hospitality. Over and over again, I watched an employee take responsibility for dealing with a question, concern or complaint and reflect any praise on the rest of the team.

Then something happened at the table right next to ours that will only happen when a member of a team has decided to be a leader and to take ownership of the customer experience.

At this restaurant, kids’ meals apparently come with two coupons. One is for a free scoop of ice cream; the other is meant to be saved. Collect enough of these coupons, and you earn a free meal. The little boy, he was probably about six, handed over his coupon and asked the server for mint chip ice cream. Unfortunately, that was a no-go. The restaurant was out, because that flavor had been on special the day before and sold out.

The server explained this with care and kindness, so the boy could understand. He pondered for a moment, glancing longingly at a small sign that advertised the mint chip. Then he asked: “Is there any way you can make the vanilla taste like mint chip?”

That innocent question provided a decision point for the server.

She could have easily told that child he had to choose between the three standard flavors. In fact, it was pretty clear that was what his mom expected. That’s not what happened. The server smiled, looked the child in the eye, and said, “You know what, I don’t know… I’ll go find out.”

Less than five minutes later, the server arrived, smiling. “We can add mint flavored syrup to the ice cream and mix it in, so it will taste like mint, and toss some chocolate chips on top. It won’t be green, but it will taste like mint chip.” The little boy took a moment to consider this, before nodding. “Well, that sounds great!” He turned in his free scoop coupon, and the ice cream arrived shortly. He dived in, grinning from ear to ear. I glanced over at the mom who, quietly, folded the free meal coupon in half and slipped it into her purse. They would definitely be back.

As I glanced around the restaurant, I saw this kind of customer service happening everywhere.

Staff taking personal responsibility for finding answers solving the problems…creating smiles left and right. Not surprisingly, the line to order was out the door… and it was still moving fast.  

The kind of experience this restaurant staff was creating motivates first-time customers to return, and turns regular customers into fans that invite their friends. To create that kind of environment, the organization needs leaders at every level, and this place had it, no doubt: from the guy mopping up the spill outside the bathroom, to the girl who held the door for us when we entered, to the beaming server who delivered our food, and, of course, that dynamic young woman who made a child’s day and transformed his mom into a sure-fire repeat customer.

Oh, and the food? As delicious as advertised…


*Cheeseburger image from restaurant website



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