Starting a small Tavern in rural Northern California. Barley and Hops Tavern catalogs the trials and tribulations of the restaurant biz, and teaching wine country to love beer.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How to be awesome, a step-by-step guide to being a customer that doesn't get made fun of when you leave.

The restaurant business is legendary. Some 9 of 10 new restaurants fail within a year. The hours are grueling, and include weekends and holidays. The pay is usually mediocre (at least in the casual dining segment), and the risk is high. It's a career we chose out of love of great food and great beer. We love our customers, and at any given time, I know about 85% of the people at the bar.

I often get asked (and I'm paraphrasing) "Noah, you're really awesome and good looking, and also rad. Is there something that differentiates the great customers from the good customers, and the good ones from the bad, and the bad ones from the really terrible ones and..." I usually cut them off at this point, as their sentence devolves into a bizarre, self-perpetuating logical loop.

The simple answer is "yes". Here is a behind-the-scenes look at what we love, what we hate, and what we are completely indifferent to, with respect to you the customer. If you have worked in the restaurant trenches before, you probably already know this. In that case, read on with a smug smirk, and nod slowly, knowingly.

1. Tips. A lot of customers think that this is the very most important thing. It's not. Frankly, I know how rough the economy is. I'd rather have you able to afford a beer and a meal three times a week, than once in a while with a big tip. We are in it with you, and we don't assume you're a cheapskate, simply because you aren't a big tipper. That said, servers in this business are mainly compensated with tips. If you CAN afford to tip well, it is noticed and appreciated every time. Our staff works hard to offer the best possible service.

2. Payment method. Ok... I hate credit cards. There, I said it. I actually like them. They offer a fast convenient way to pay, and leave a nice paper record. At the end of the night, there's a nice printout with a total. It's all very nice. But I hate them. I hate them so much, that I have a credit-card voodoo doll named Spotfield McFlankenshnooker that I stab nightly with yellow crayons. It's the hideously high swipe rates. Using a credit card costs us between 1-5 percent of your total bill. That's thousands upon thousands of dollars every year that nobody gets any value for.

The basic regular non-rewards card falls under "Qualified". Those have the best rates. They still suck, but they suck less.

The rewards cards- the ones that give you miles, or some benefit. Those are Mid-Qualified. Those suck heinously and cost us a lot. Bank Debit cards fall under Mid-Qualified. The worst are the Non-Qual.

Non-Qualified cards have a special ring of hell waiting for them. These include corporate credit cards, gift cards, and any cards where your stupid magnetic strip won't swipe because you keep it in your pocket with your #20 grit sandpaper collection. These cost us a large chunk of money to use.

This brings me to split transactions. This is the sort of thing servers will hate you for, especially during busy service: A group of 6 people come in, and then decide they want to split the bill three ways. We are now paying TRIPLE swipe fees - thanks a lot. Moreover, the bartender is now tied up three times longer splitting the check in the computer (even worse if you split it by item rather than by amount), and running three credit cards, when other people are waiting for their delicious beverages. Then there are three tickets to close instead of one, which also takes triple the amount of time.

In sum: Use cash whenever possible. This saves the restaurant a lot of money. If you must use a card, try and use a no-frills credit card. If you are going to share the cost, think about it before you come in, and have one person pay, rather than tying up a lot of staff during busy service, and doubling (or tripling, or quadrupling...) our (already insane) swipe fees. We keep a 100% homemade menu below 15 dollars on razor thin margins. We don't want to raise our prices, please help us keep them low.

3. Kid's menus. Kids are people, just smaller and funnier looking. They are capable of eating real food that isn't heavily processed. We don't have frozen chicken fingers off the Sysco food service truck. We LOVE kids. They're small and fuzzy like cats. Bring your kids in for some real food. If you want to feed your kids processed junk food off a kids menu, seek out TGI-McFunsters (credit to Anthony Bourdain), and get an order of smothered flingo poppers, with extra texas jack daniels smokin' Bar-B-Qatchup. They'll have a kids menu with all the frozen mass-produced favorites keeping kids large. We don't have it. We won't make it. Our kids menu is the same as our adult's menu.

4. The Kitchen. The Kitchen is not for customers to walk into and ask a chef for an order of something. Seriously, this happens. The kitchen is full of sharp pointy things, hot splashy things, and angry people with poofy hats. Ask a server.

5. If something isn't right, let me know right away, so we can make it right! We try our best to consistently send out the world's greatest food, but once in a while, something isn't right. Don't wait for the next time you come in, or the end of the meal. We really want you to enjoy everything, and will gladly fix or substitute if something isn't right.

6. We're a casual pub, not fine dining. Though we have top quality fare that costs half what it would at Francois' Snooty Grille, we don't have free bread and butter before meals. We could, but then we'd sell less appetizers, and we'd have to raise our prices. We're a pub. Pubs don't have a bread course, or linen tablecloths, or 6 pieces of silverware designed for an obscure fish from the coast of an unpronounceable island.

1 comment:

argante fainche said...

I have had to "rescue" several businesses from the "credit card" brink. Every time the answer has been found to be PayPal. As of my last review now about 6 months ago they were not charging interchange rates. And with competitive 2.5% rates they can be a formidable allies!