Are you prepared to provide great customer service when things happen outside of your control?

Charles Ryan Minton

Emergency Preparedness

The ⁦@WaffleHouse⁩ Storm Center is activated and monitoring #Florence. Plan ahead and be safe. pic.twitter.com/UOBi5oZRRi— Waffle House News (@WaffleHouseNews) September 11, 2018

In the days leading up to Hurricane Florence, Waffle House made headlines about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency unofficially looks to them to determine how bad things are in a disaster. Located in hurricane prone areas, the 24-hour restaurant chain is notorious for always being open. So if a Waffle House is closed, you know things are bad.

FEMA monitors the “Waffle House Index,” as an indicator of how torn an area hit by a disaster is. The index is a color-coded scale of what restaurants are open, closed, or offering a limited menu. These indicators are: Green- the restaurant is operating as normal, Yellow- the restaurant is open with a limited menu, and Red- which means the restaurant is closed.

Having a “limited menu” option to maximize operations is something that all customer service industry leaders (not just restaurant managers) should take a hard look at and implement in their operations. Too often we find ourselves thinking it is “all or nothing” when making operating decisions. Being able to offer minimum services can be a big win for your location and brand when circumstances outside of your control are impacting your ability to execute.

Because Waffle House has a contingency plan in place for operating outside of normal conditions, their closures are rare, and when they do happen, they are often very brief. Their preparation has earned them a reputation for being the first and only place to get a bite to eat in the wake of a disaster.

Do you have a plan in place?

In the service industry, we are always at risk of unexpected strains on our operation. A surprise tour bus stops at your restaurant, the power goes out and leaves you without a cash register, or a key staff member doesn’t show up for work leaving you shorthanded. In these situations, our desire to provide great service doesn’t go out the window however, our ability to execute sometimes does. But it doesn’t have to if you are prepared to react.

It’s often difficult to meet unexpected bursts of business. You don’t always know when rushes are going to hit. It doesn’t make financial sense to have a ton of people on the clock standing around “in case we get busy.” Being able to react quickly to a surprise rush can be the difference between wowing a customer or a detrimental online review.

As a hotel general manager, I always had a limited menu in my back pocket for when things went “south” in one of our restaurants. When I managed an airport hotel, we referred to it as the “late-night menu.” When the call came in that a shuttle van full of canceled airline passengers was coming our way just a few minutes before the kitchen closed, we quickly pulled the full menu and replaced it with a limited menu that still met the needs of hungry guests but was easy for the kitchen to execute.

Don’t let technology get in the way

I’m always struck by how dependent we have become on technology. I have encountered on more than one occasion a retail or restaurant employee telling me they are closed because “the cash register system is down.” How quickly we forget that we can operate without computers. Having a process in place to take cash, handwrite tickets, or work offline is simple if you plan for it.

The key is that everyone on your team knows what to do when something goes wrong (or at least knows where to look and find out what to do).

Put together a “What If Binder”

A best practice I like to have in place is what I call the “What If Binder.” This binder contains an A to Z guide of “what ifs” along with step-by-step instructions and photos of what to do in situations that pop up that aren’t the norm. For instance, if the power went out, a quick look in the “What If Binder” would show a step-by-step process of troubleshooting along with any necessary photos of shut-offs, reset buttons, etc. In addition, the section would include a plan of how to operate should the power not immediately come back.

Having a contingency plan in place you can immediately implement serves 3 purposes:

1. You can still provide great customer service.

2. You eliminate confusion and chaos.

3. You take the strain off your staff.

It’s time to look at your operation and see what a “limited menu” would look like for your team, and develop a “What If Binder” to set your team up for success the next time the unexpected happens.

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