Many moons ago, in the wild and weary days of going out without a second thought, an experience of poor service at the Great Eastern Dining Rooms was enough to inspire me to write a blog about service – both as a customer but also as a business owner, striving to ensure that clients always have a good experience of working with myself and the team.
Fast forward to June 2020 and so much of what we know about service has been turned on its head. After three months, the thought of sitting around a table with friends or colleagues is now a distant memory – but seeing the efforts of some enterprising restaurant owners, committed to coming out the other side of the pandemic with their customer base intact has been both inspiring and reassuring.
So, whether we’re a restaurant owner – or in my case, the owner of a design consultancy – when the accepted norms of good service fly out the window, what can we hold onto to see us through to the other side?
1. Keep it relevant
For the restaurant industry, recognising the importance of a night off from cooking – or offering something special for a celebration without friends and extended family present – has been the key to keeping our favourite restaurants in our lives even from afar.
Regardless of the industry, those businesses that keep their eyes on the prize and quickly adapt when faced with a crisis, are surely the ones that will come through this, ready for the next chapter.
2. Efficiency is critical
A clunky online ordering process, an unreliable website, an unclear product offering – all of these could, to some extent, be circumnavigated in the pre-COVID times with a friendly team and easy access to someone at the end of a phone.
Now, with reduced teams for customer service and many people struggling to move their entire lives online, brands that have always prioritised efficient working practices have stolen a march on the competition, while for others who have worked with layers of inefficiency for years, the cracks are starting to show.
3. Generosity is an under-rated brand builder
When the chips are down, do you tighten your grip on what you have left, or share what you have with as many people as possible?
The two Michelin starred Lake District restaurant L’Enclume – with its eye-wateringly expensive tasting menu and three-month waiting list for a table – has turned its hand during its enforced closure to simple but delicious (and modestly-priced) deliveries, veg boxes and free meals for the vulnerable and elderly. An act of generosity in a time of crisis that has only strengthened their position as the best restaurant in the UK. (The Good Food Guide 2020).
4. The devil is in the detail
Some might say that we’ve become more patient during lockdown – more willing to be understanding about a glitch here or an omission there. Personally, I believe that, even if there is some truth in this right now (and to be honest, I’m not so sure), as the dust starts to settle, the onus will be on us – whether restauranteur or designer – to ensure that standards are maintained, even if the environment we’re operating in has changed.
5. Keep an eye on the future
Just as we could never have predicted this a year ago, equally, it’s hard to imagine returning to normal life after so many months. But, with doors to restaurants opening in just a few days’ time, slowly but surely, we’re inching our way back, even if Perspex screens and visor-wearing waiters are not quite what we’re used to. Either way, it’s the brands that have kept front of mind, stuck their heads above the parapet and thought creatively about their business model who will prosper.
At times like this, clearly it’s important for all businesses to keep these things in mind. We’ve certainly given it a lot of thought – and we’re grateful that as a relatively small and highly experienced team, working efficiently and adapting swiftly to change has been part of our DNA with or without a global pandemic.
As we look at new ways that we can support our clients through some tough operating conditions, accommodating their changing working practices and priorities, we look forward to the day when everyone can feel safe to head outdoors – and even better, get stuck into that tasting menu with their nearest and dearest.