Weekends are known to be a break from work, and generally a time to catch up with family and friends. If food is what binds you to your family and friends, it is to be expected that much of your social interaction happens over food. This is the case for me as well. So, when my sister called me, wanting to catch up, we found ourselves booking a table at a popular restaurant in the city called Barbeque Nation. For those of you who haven’t heard of this place, it is a food lovers paradise – offering more food than you can dream of consuming in one meal and at a price that seems almost medieval. If you live in the Indian cities of Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad or Mumbai, it is unlikely that you haven’t experienced a meal at Barbeque Nation.
On arrival, we were told that Barbeque Nation was celebrating a Punjabi Food Festival, which explained the colourful décor and ensemble of the waiters – traditional Punjabi clothes of colourful lungis, jackets and turbans. We were guided to a table for two, then immediately shown another one when my sister appeared a little hesitant about the lack of privacy from being seated in the middle of the restaurant.
Right there was my first lesson – Being customer-centric is what all of us would like to adhere to, but quickly adjusting and making amends in time is what truly sets the doers and talkers apart. Anyone in a client facing role needs to deal with versatile demands of the clientele and understand the futility in expressing displeasure or disregarding a request.
Then came Pramod, a member of the waitstaff assigned to serve us, who said, “I’m Pramod and I’m always there for you”. This interaction was my first experience of the waitstaff at a restaurant earnestly building rapport with the customer. He went on to add, “I’m here to make this your best food and best service experience. If you have any problem, please call me.” With that promise, he left us to get a ‘high-chair’ for my beautiful, naughty nephew who wouldn’t stay put on the regular chairs. Pramod also spent the evening entertaining my nephew so that my sister and I could enjoy our meal.
Lesson 2: Being genuinely interested, addressing concerns and attending to the problems of your clients is key. This includes following up consistently and as per the convenience of the client.
Barbeque Nation is built on the concept of a live grill right at the table, much like a Korean Barbecue restaurant. The impressive bit here was that we were specifically asked about our spice levels, and it was catered to for the rest of the night.
Lesson 3: Proactivity is key. Getting to know the likes, dislikes and preferences of the clients at the onset of the interaction helps us provide better service. One-on-one interactions, reading annual reports, social profiles, etc., are often neglected in the age of instant information, but taking the effort to be prepared adds a lot of value to customer relationship.
When I took a break from eating to observe the other tables, I noticed that every table had a member of the waitstaff catering exclusively to them. The restaurant manager made it a point to visit each table and ensure that his customers were having a good experience as well. However, the person who caught my attention the most was the chef. We all know that the chef is the master behind all the delectable food that comes out of the kitchen, but the chef is rarely seen amid the tables. At Barbeque Nation, Raghu Pal – the chef, was mingling with the guests and asking their opinion about the food. He engaged for a long time with the guests at my neighbouring table and created some exclusive dishes as per their feedback and comments about certain food items.
Lesson 4: Within the organization, we have clearly defined roles. Those in customer-facing roles represent the voice of the organization. Therefore, it rarely happens that those in support functions, working on creating the deliverables rarely get requirements and feedback first hand. Why not bring the ‘hero in the shadows’ out to meet the clients? As customers, we appreciate something more when we engage with and understand the struggles of the people making things happen behind the scenes. A lot of times, expectations are set better, and the delivery experience is far more seamless.
The next thing that happened totally caught me by surprise. As I headed towards the buffet spread, a few of the waitstaff broke out into an impromptu dance to a popular Bollywood song, along with the head chef. After 5-7 minutes of dancing, video-taking, cheering and a round of applause, it was back to ‘business as usual’.
Lesson 5: The element of surprise is always a pleasant and engaging means to keep your clients interested. It never hurts to have clients appreciate something unexpected. Continuously weaving in elements of surprise and not being too terribly predictable all the time is certainly a way to showcase client centricity. It is also vitally important that it is all in sync with your offerings and values.
When my sister had called to make a reservation, the restaurant asked if we were coming in for any celebration. We were asked this question again when we reached the restaurant. I wondered why such curiosity till I noticed the waitstaff taking a little cake with a candle to the nearby table where a young boy was celebrating his birthday. Three waiters sang a birthday song accompanied by a little jig. I couldn’t help but notice the effect of this gesture on the boy and his family. It was clearly the highlight of their evening.
Lesson 6: Management 101 always says to ‘Under promise and over deliver’. Thoroughly aligning values, current goals, plan, and process, helps weave in such initiatives or gestures that bowl clients over. At Barbeque Nation, the belief is simple – Provide the best food and the best service. Rarely we assume that the best service includes going above and beyond what a customer expects. We usually think that it is just about consistency and seamlessness. But, happy surprises are rarely forgotten.
This was an experience that seemed surreal and almost too good to be true. I wondered if this level of hospitality was just the staff going through the motions and following a process. Then, as if attuned to my thoughts, my curious little nephew tugged on to the paper mat while I was filling the feedback form. In an instant, the ice cream bowl dropped the floor and broke into two – a damage irreparable. Embarrassed, I quickly muttered a guilty apology. My sister offered to pay for the damage. To my surprise, Pramod simply smiled, and said, “if you’ve had a great experience, that’s all that matters.”
Lesson 7: It is normal and perhaps expected to lose your cool and get annoyed at difficult customers. These moments can hamper the rapport we build with the customers. However, understanding the other point of view accommodating the irregularities where possible serves to strengthen customer relationship and build better business.
That moment, I realised that one dinner at Barbeque Nation had taught me some important lessons, that no boardroom or workshop could have accomplished as effectively. Customer service and client centricity is pivotal to building a relationship and nurturing it for the future.
It also made me realise, the folks at the Barbeque Nation could provide that excellent service because they were committed and thoroughly engaged in their work. High employee engagement drives the employee to provide great customer experience. This comes from feeling good, being passionate about the company and deeply identifying with the role. Employees are the key to a seamless brand experience for a customer. They require a customer centric mindset to deliver and continue to bring laurels to the brand. And that, is the gist of lessons learnt by one meal at…Barbeque Nation!
Become an innovation catalyst with design thinking simulation. Watch the video to know more