Category Archives: Food service

A Review: Mobile AL Restaurant Demos Customer Service As It Should Be

g

 

felixs-2

Sadly, this is not a trend: A restaurant where team members actually work as a team, sharing responsibilities for getting dishes to tables, making customers feel important, helping, quietly, without seeming to do anything out of the ordinary, to see tables are promptly cleared and that, overall, the ebb and flow of a meal period flows without incident; with customers none the wiser that they are enjoying an unusually superb example of what good customer service is supposed to be about.

We witnessed that on Friday, March 10, at Felix’s Fish Camp, an outstanding seafood-dispensing establishment in Mobile AL. Having driven there from New Orleans, a couple of hours and a bit away, we arrived somewhat later than planned. We were promised we’d be seated in five minutes. It took less than four for our ‘caller device’ to vibrate, and our adventure was underway.

Courtney seated us, at close to 1 pm., at a table with clear views from both seats (I had to turn a bit to take in the totality of the view over the Gulf of Mexico shallows, with shore birds busily securing feasts of their own; My wife with had the entire panorama laid out before her.) If you’re fortunate, you might also see alligators moving about or nesting in the shore side reeds and grasses.

Drinks were ordered (a glass of pino grigio for me, a ‘fancy’, foamy concoction for her) , then orders were taken – a cup of crab soup for me, followed by the been-waiting-all-week-for boiled jumbo Gulf shrimp; a taco specialty for her.

Already, I was looking around, observing, having been attracted by a parade of servers heading for a table just beyond us. Fully coordinated, smooth as you’d wish, food-to-table service. I watched this display of in-snych service several times, as a silent row of servers slid between tables toward their destination then, as quietly and unobtrusively, slip away.

felix-s_fish_camp==art

I happened to be facing the dining room entrance, and was intrigued to note a staging area set up just beyond that entrance way. Orders were delivered from the kitchen to a large table there, to be dispensed to servers close to their stations, and well away from the kitchen itself, where their presence, as is often the case in commercial kitchens, is something to be endured by cooks and their assistants, but only grudgingly tolerated. The staging station eliminates that issue, helping back-of-the-house operations run smoother, with fewer distractions.

The staging station also enables the multi-server food-to-table operation so successfully employed by Felix’s. This system also reduces the apparent to-ing-and-fro-ing of wait staff, trimming – both apparently and in fact – traffic in the dining room, and enhancing, in the process, clients’ dining experience.

This was, you’ll recall, a Friday afternoon in early March – a March when, in fact, spring sprung early, and the leaves were out and the temps were up (into the upper ’60’s). Still, it was a weekday.

When a restaurant, even one so ideally positioned as this one, with a local reputation beyond repute, keeps turning lunch-period tables well beyond 2 pm, maintaining a near-full dining room at a time when most competitors’ kitchen staff are on break and the wait staff count is shrinking, you know the place is doing something right.

Peeling and consuming fresh-boiled shrimp is a messy business. By the time I (willingly) fought my way to the end of my very generous portion, my large cloth napkin was a mess, as were my hands. Two soapy hand-washes later, I’d largely dealt with the messy hands issue. Meanwhile, Courtney had dealt with the messy napkin one by providing, where my shrimp-shell bowl so recently sat, a fresh one.

But though we had to decline dessert, Felix’s wasn’t through with us.

While our arrival hadn’t been at a terribly busy time, there was a more or less steady flow of people presenting to the hostess station. I’m guessing she dealt with no fewer than 50 people between the time we entered and the time we departed. Yet, somehow, she was able to greet my wife by name as we did so! A crowning touch on a royal experience.

The restaurant’s website gives no indication of how long Felix’s Fish Camp has been in business. It’s undoubtedly been in place for many decades. But it doesn’t take those factors for granted, nor does in treat lightly the fact that its generations-spanning clientele was (and still is being) acquired one customer at a time.

The reviews on the website say it all – or almost all: To them, though, I add: Despite living nearly 800 miles from Mobile and Felix’s, I’d seriously consider taking a Thursday-to-Tuesday break to twice endure a long road trip just to enjoy the food and the atmosphere there.

Advertisements

How To Encourage Shoppers to Return, and Be Glad They Did

couple-grocery-shopping

The recent duel trade show for the Independent Grocers Association (IGA) and the National Grocers Association (NGA) produced an idea that smart grocers across the country should be picking up on soon: Instore contests for shoppers to take the most imaginative “selfies” they can, with prizes awarded to winners – ideally selected by an independent party. (A local photo studio would probably be pleased to play that role, getting themselves some good PR in the process!)

Michael Sansolo, formerly editor of Progressivee Grocer, Senior VP at the FMI (Food Marketing Institute and presently a consultant and columnist for Morning News Beat, an industry blog, reported that shortly before a break in a program at that convention, a social media marketing company introduced the selfies idea. In the break room, “people went nuts,” Sansolo reported, when they found small props such as glittery sunglasses, false mustaches “and the ubiquitous selfie stick.”

So many photos were taken, “and some were so creative, [the marketing company] on the fly had to add two more prizes to reward people’s efforts”.

This is a program that could so easily be introduced at the store level companies would be foolish to not give it a try. Do it a store or region at a time. Offer actual prizes – displays of which would encourage participation – or reasonable level store coupons. However you try it, do so. You WILL win. You will create a sense of excitement, a challenge, something fun, parallel to the shopping experience.

A store coupon redeemable on your next visit is a great thing – a tool to get the shopper back in your store. In today’s retailing environment, you need to employ every tool you can.

Bay Area Restaurants Can ‘Buy’ A Retest on a Failed Inspection

 

 

generic-restaurant-art

Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area are being given an opportunity, if they fail a health inspection, to buy a second chance to pass. The $191 fee doesn’t assure they’ll pass; it simply gives them the ability to fix their deficiencies and get re-tested.

A report in Restaurant Business said local health inspectors believe the program, which allows a re-inspect within 30 days of a failed inspection, will encourage operators to fix problems quickly, and encourage a dialog that will help them alter standard operating procedures at least partly responsible for the failing grade.

It’s Settled: The UK’s Best Chippy Is Kingfisher’s Fish & Chips in Devon

kingfisher-fish-chipsjpg

Photo: National Fish and Chip Awards

After seven months of magnifying-glass scrutiny of everything from the fish and chips themselves to responsible sourcing practices, the observations of mystery shoppers, and more, the Kingfisher Fish and Chips shop in Devon has captured top honors at the UK’s National Fish & Chip Awards this week in London.

The judges said the overall enthusiasm of the owners, identified simply as Craig (Maw) and his “partner,” Nikki was a important factor in the decision to declare, as The Mirror newspaper put it, that they had “battered” their competition. It didn’t hurt that, beyond their menu staple (a number of species of them!), they offer whole lobster (at £15), chicken wings, racks of ribs, burgers, and a range of “barista” coffees.

The item photos on their web site make you want to hop on whatever mode of transport you need to get there and… go!

By the way, there’s a video link in the Mirror story recounting the history of fish and chips. It’s a couple of minutes long, and well worth your time.

Applebee’s, IHOP Join Forces on New Detroit Eatery

applebeesihop

DineEquity, the owner of both the Applebee’s and IHOP franchises has agreed to a franchisee’s plan to open a restaurant offering IHOP’s breakfast-oriented menu in the morning and Applebee’s evolving menu – their focus will be more steak-focused – the rest of the day. DineEquity also suggested in a press release that the new place, which will be in General Motors’ Renaissance Center development in Detroit, may feature a bar – a key Applebee’s profit center.

The new facility – construction is due to start in April – will occupy 12,000 sq ft and will seat 300. It will be run by Livonia, MI-based Team Schostak Family Restaurants, a franchisee of Applebee’s, Del Taco and Mod Pizza. This will be Team Schostak’s first project with IHOP.

DineEquity has spend more than $70 million in its attempts to turn around the fortunes of Applebee’s, which, no doubt because it hadn’t innovated or changed – upgraded itself – in any significant way for years – started losing the public’s attention half a decade or so ago. My family (my then-wife and I) went to one fairly regularly for a while when we first moved to Virginia, in 2011, but then… it got boring. We went a couple of more times, and noticed on each occasion that there was less traffic than before. So we weren’t the only ones becoming disappointed/disengaged from the franchise.

One of the most exciting things DineEquity has done as part of its turn-round effort is to install wood fire grills, and spend a lot of time training their cooks to work differently. A big ad campaign – launched last summer in California, where a lot of emphasis was put on wood fire grills being used to give salads “a smokey twist” – is expected to draw former and new customers in.

Hmm, I’ve never had a smokey salad. ‘Might be worth a try; And I’m always up for a wood fire-grilled steak!

Kroger Offers 2k Employees An Early, Paid, Check-out

kroger-logo

Kroger has offered voluntary retirement to approximately 2,000 non-store employees who meet certain criteria of age and years of service. Savings realized by the company will be used for customer-centric activities, according to a company announcement issued earlier this month.

The company’s chairman and CEO, Rodney McMullen, said that, “Kroger would not be the successful company it is today without the incredible efforts of all of our associates. We believe a generous Voluntary Retirement Offering is in line with our company values and recognizes the long careers many of our associates have had with Kroger. [Our company] is committed to our operating model of lowering costs to invest in the areas that matter most to our customers.”

The retirement offer is not available to store-level workers, senior officers or supermarket division presidents across the company, which operates 2,796 supermarkets under several brand names across 35 states and the District of Columbia. Collectively, those stores serve an estimated 8.5 million customers daily.

It’s also one of the most aggressive supermarket companies where its in-store prepared food operations are concerned. In central Virginia, where I live, a couple can purchase a fully prepared, ready-to-eat full meal for $10 or less – nearly (or less than) as costly as buying the ingredients and preparing  the meal yourself.

While the company might not like to acknowledge this, it trains its employees so well that customers can, on occasion, actually be discouraged from buying certain items. A few months ago, I was steered away from the company’s ‘fresh’ clams by a seafood counter worker who said”Frankly, they aren’t as fresh as you’d like them to be. A lot of them come in with their shells already opening, and and that’s a clear indication they’re not really fresh.”

 

It’s details such as that, which I feel confident that employee passed ‘upstream’ to his department’s manager, is what distinguishes a good food store from a not-so-good one. Kroger is, rightly, seen as being one of the best supermarket operators in the U.S.

 

McDonald’s To Test Delivering Via UberEats

mcdonald-s-burger-kale-salad

McDonald’s is planning to test deliveries via UberEats in three Florida markets starting in late January, The Chicago Tribune reported a few days ago.

Though a person close to plan said the deal linking McDonald’s and UberEats hadn’t been signed asa of last week, The Trib said McDolnald’s has said that it is intended to include some 200 restaurants in the Orlando, Tampa, and Miami markets.  The paper said UberEats lets customers order online or through its app, anda an Uber “Courier” deliveries the food.

In the case of McDonald’s – which already delivers through such third-party companies as DoorDash and Postmates – the Uber fee is said to be set at $5, lower than the delivery and service fees of the other delivery service McDonald’s is using.

McDonald’s also is planning to roll out a mobile order and pay service next  year, and it is spending considerable sums upgrading its restaurants and introducing kiosk ordering systems and bluetooth-enabled table service.

The Trib article noted that the world’s largest burger chain presently does two-thirds of its business via drive-thrus, and several tweeks have been introduced to them to speed up service to drivers.mcdonalds_sign