When we opened and closed our first backyard restaurant in 2012, we had no idea it would become an annual event. It was just my family of five
entertaining and acting on our then 7-year-old’s desire to skip over the summer lemonade stand and do a full-fledged restaurant instead. He drew the logo, made the menu, and set the prices (the place was a steal.) We agreed all the proceeds from the restaurant would be dedicated to a Columbus charity of the kids’ choosing.
We just wrapped up our third year, having grown from 40 guests to 150 guests this August for our one-night-only event. The neighborhood kids, along with our own, prepare food, work the kitchen, wait and bus the tables, and earn tips. Reflecting on this annual event, three customer service lessons really stand out.
The day of our first backyard restaurant was mass chaos; we had never done anything like this before. But once the customers started to arrive, the energy in the place took over.
I worked the kitchen by myself that year and every time I shouted, “order up,” a gaggle of neighborhood kids would surround me vying to be the ones to run the food. The food didn’t come out on time. It didn’t come out in order. But it did come out eventually and was delivered by a neighborhood kid grinning from ear to ear.
By offering these kids something different to do that summer, their enthusiasm was infectious and they took great pride in their job. This enthusiasm carried over to the patrons of our backyard restaurant. Sure, we got a bit of a pass because it was for charity and was staffed by kids, but the enthusiasm of our servers was a lesson in the contagiousness of a smile.
What can you do to make your employees more enthusiastic about serving your customers?
Once we realized that every kid wants to play restaurant, we knew we had to do this again. The following year we had more tables, more kids on staff, and double the customers.
We learned the day after this event that one table left without food. Their ticket got lost (we are working with kids) and then their kids started melting down (kids again), so the family chose to leave and eat at home.
We asked our son, the 8-year-old manager, what he wanted to do about this mistake. He immediately got out a notecard, wrote an apology, and offered to make their next five meals be on us. Of course they had to wait an entire year to use it, but this act of kindness to right a wrong secured them as loyal customers.
Is your team empowered to fix mistakes and resolve customer service problems?
The third year grew to over 150 customers, and patrons were treated to an enhanced customer experience. They filled our backyard to listen to bands play, to visit at the community tables we set up, and to eat our ever-improving food.
We couldn’t wing it this time. The neighborhood kids were getting serious. We ordered uniform shirts, had a staff meeting to give everyone a job, and began food prep early in the week.
Our goal was to place each “employee” in a job they would both succeed at and enjoy. We set up server teams, placing older kids with younger kids, and gave them assigned tables. We put our introvert in the kitchen at the panini press. We implemented an 11-year-old-expediter to get everything out. And we placed the kid getting over a concussion as our quality control, ensuring everyone got food and that there was no repeat of the 2012 incident. With our 4-year-old and her friends at the hostess station, we had our best year yet.
Are the members of your team in roles that play to their strengths?
The Keels Backyard Restaurant has become not just a family event but a neighborhood event. If it continues to grow, we’re going to need a bigger backyard.
Photo courtesy of Tricia Keels.
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.