Tag Archives: Customer Service

Lidl Alters Stock, Prices In Danville VA Store

lidl-store-front

The Lidl store in Danville, Virginia has been open a couple of months. It’s already made some (much needed) shifts in its product offerings. And, though staff on hand on a recent Wednesday afternoon reported business has been “good,” it was pretty slow on our second visit.

That, for the company, is the bad news. The good news is how ably they work with consumers wanting to return something – often a hassle ao competitors’ stores. On our first visit, we’d bought a device to catch and kill houseflies. It didn’t work. Despite the fact it was many weeks before we could get back to the store (it’s nearly an hour’s drive away), the return process – done at the checkout, not a consumer service counter – went smoothly… once a manager was located: That took a couple of minutes.

A bit later, at the conclusion of the same visit, we realized that a bottle of wine we’d purchased was not the one we wanted – a less than one-third the price of the one we walked out with. I immediately walked it back into the store, spotted the same manager on the floor, and he OK’d a return even though, he said, Virginia law bans the return of wine. (Since we’d only bought it moments before, and had the receipt, he reckoned the law could be ‘waived’ (read ‘overlooked’.) We returned to one of the checkouts – only three were open on this slow afternoon – and were promptly issued a store ‘gift’ card.

Back in the chilled foods section along the right wall, it was clear that someone has paid attention to the fact that people on Virginia’s Southside don’t have much interest in Indian food, as the choices in the heat-and-serve section have been trimmed (to one!) and other, similar meals have been culled, as well.

The bakery’s offerings are more numerous, and samples are more in evidence – with a lighted sign rotating through the day’s offerings.

But one of the greatest changes – hardly unexpected for a new, price-oriented store – has been the push to drop prices – an effort evident in most every department. One dramatic example: whole “young” chickens were offered at $.69 (69 cents) per pound, down from $.99 – the price of comparable birds at Food Lion, along with Walmart, a chief competitor in Danville.

(The town – a small city, actually – used to have two Piggly Wigglys and a Harris Teeter. One of the former was replaced by a Walmart; The latter simply pulled out of the market. There’s one Save-A-Lot, a limited assortment discount store. It’s so NEVER busy, you wonder why it’s still in business.)

Lidl needs to do, in this and other locations, product shifts to reflect the fact locals aren’t interested in “Cheese [or anything else] from Europe”. Most of their new US stores are in small, often rural, unsophisticated communities. The natives there don’t know (or care) about brie or other ‘specialty’ cheeses, or foods from foreign lands. But they do go for Lidls’ bakery goods, many of which – such as fresh bagels, croissants and similar pastries – are all but unknown beyond the products offered in the bake-it-yourself section of the dairy aisle.

Some reports have said Lidl isn’t doing the business it expected to in its launch stores. But as someone pointed out, the privately (German-) owned company has deep pockets, and is committed to a long term success in the US. There is every reason to put faith in that – and the fact that both Lidl and Aldi, it’s German-based cousin, which also is growing its US store count, will continue to disrupt the US grocery-selling scene for years to come.

Advertisements

Instore Robots Are H-E-R-E!

marty_the_robot

Marty the robot is being tested at Giant Food Stores on Union Deposit Road in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania.  (Photo: PenLive.com)

An increasing number of food retailers are using, or planning to use, instore robots – not to replace existing workers, but to do some of their tasks more efficiently. In the end, the theory is, everyone benefits: The retailer can keep a better handle of out-of-stocks at the shelf level, be quickly notified of spills and other issues requiring special attention from a worker, and check prices from shelf labels, to ensure prices posted and those in the front-end system are in sync; Employees get help keeping track of where stock is needed; Customers are more likely to find shelves fully stocked (or being restocked, as they shop), enjoy a safer shopping environment as spills, etc. are dealt with quicker, and, as a bonus, get to watch a so-far-unusual piece of technology work their favorite store’s aisles.

AndNowYouKnow, the produce blog/newsletter, reported a few days ago on a pilot robot-using program in a Giant Food Store in eastern Pennsylvania. This Ahold USA store is running the pilot in association with Badger Technologies. They intend to have the robot, called Marty, up and working in 12 stores by sometime next year.

The ANUK also noted that other retailers considering or already employing robots include Walmart, Amazon, and Target. A Digital Trends story in September of last year noted that Walmart is planning to shift some workers to other roles and let some 7,000 go as robotic or newly-automated systems are introduced for ‘back room’ operations such as billing and accounting. The Wall Street Journal noted that one objective of the new hands-off processing of invoices and cash, among other things, is “to put more staff in contact with shoppers.”

CNBC, in a report primarily about Amazon’s growing home delivery services, noted that Walmart also has announced a deal with smart doorbell maker August to provide customers an in-home delivery service: It will enable Amazon delivery personnel to have one-time access to home so they can deliver and put away, where appropriate (as with frozen or refrigerated items), at least part of an order.

Services such as these, plus driver-less trucks, are going to play increasingly important roles in stores and households of the surprisingly near future.

Watch this space.

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.

Veggies A Growing Trend in Fast and Medium-Speed Eateries

veggies

The good news is, fast- and medium-speed feeders are flocking to veggies and giving less emphasis to their traditional greasy, not-very-healthy mainstays. The not-so-good news is, unless restaurant operators pay a lot of attention to what they’re doing, they risk losing a higher-than-they’re-used-to amount to spoilage and/or expose their customers to veggie-borne illnesses, often spread through improper washing at or very near the point-of-preparation.

“We’re going to see more vegetables,” Panera’s head chef Dan Kish told Business Insider a few days ago.

“We’re going to see culinary treatments of those vegetables in ways that bring out their flavors without adding a lot of other things to it — so keeping things as natural as possible. Upping the percentage of vegetables in your diet — [it] is part of our job to help you with that.”

Ironically enough, Kish brought up the rise of vegetables at an event promoting the launch of the chain’s new and improved bacon. However, in the modern chain-restaurant landscape, meat and vegetables are increasingly living in harmony on menus.

While Panera isn’t ditching meat, it is working to add more vegetables across the menu.

Kish says that Panera is aiming to balance meat-centric options, like a bacon-turkey sandwich, by packing more vegetables into the dish.

On the other hand, Taco Bell, a chain hardly known for sustainability and nutrition in the way that Panera is, has a slightly different approach that’s similarly packed with vegetables. The Mexican chain emphasizes customization, and customers’ ability to make almost any dish meat-free.  Last year, Taco Bell debuted a vegetarian menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association, which allows customers to substitute beans and rice for meat in most menu offerings.

“Vegetarian has been really big for us recently,” because of its relevance to millennials, Taco Bell’s dietitian and product developer, Missy Nelson, told Business Insider earlier this year.

Even less vegetarian-friendly chains are realizing that vegetables may be key to success. While once iceberg lettuce and tired tomatoes were accepted as a forgettable garnish at chain restaurants, meat-centric chains are doubling down on veggie quality.

Both Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s have ditched iceberg lettuce in recent years. Instead, the chains are testing vegetables such as kale and broccolini.

“They didn’t feel iceberg lettuce was a nutritious green, and they didn’t feel good about eating it in a salad,” McDonald’s corporate chef Jessica Foust told Business Insider in July.

Why are fast-food chains investing in vegetables, something that has long been seen as antithetical to their existence?

Part of the reason is customer demand: While only about 3% of Americans identify as vegetarian or vegan, an increasing number of people are cutting meat from their diets. According to a 2015 study, 26% to 41% of Americans report that they cut down on the amount of meat they ate in the past year.

Adding more vegetables to the menu is a great way to appeal to the average American, who may not be committed to a 100%-meat-free lifestyle, but wants to dabble in more veggie-friendly diet.

However, there is also a hidden financial bonus to focusing on beefing up vegetables offerings. Vegetables typically cost less than meat, meaning that adding more vegetables to a dish can provide a cheaper way to fill up customers.

Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson have made headlines with the concept Loco’l, where they’re doing a lot of experimenting with veggie burgers. The concept provides healthy meals at fast-food prices by cutting costs by doing things such as adding more grains and vegetables to chain standards like burgers. Customers fill up faster, and the company is able to save money while also providing a healthier meal.

As old-school chains explore their vegetarian options, Loco’l isn’t the only new concept banking on vegetables.

By Chloe aims to offer unexpected vegetable options that nonvegans will enjoy. 

By Chloe, a new 100%-vegan chain, only opened its first location a year ago, in New York City.

Now the chain has a location in Los Angeles opened in partnership with Whole Foods 365, a recently opened sweets shop, and several more new locations in development. On Friday, the chain announced it was adding two new vegan contributing chefs to the organization, Jenné Claiborne and Lauren Kretzer.

By Chloe doesn’t offer any meat or meat-byproducts on the menu. However, the vegan chain has some surprising similarities to fast-food chain in its approach to vegetables.

According to the company, more than 80% of customers are not even vegetarian. In fact, a number of customers don’t even realize that the concept is vegan when they order their food.

This notion, that vegetable-based food is appealing to nonvegetarians, is the very same idea responsible for the rise of vegetables in fast food. In 2016, veggies aren’t just for vegetarians — they’re also for all types fast-food lovers.

But veggies do require different, and sometimes greater, care and attention than tried-and-true (but losing favor with consumers) traditional meat-based menu items. Where the latter can be taken in and held frozen until just before they’re needed, veggies don’t often deal well with extreme cold, and some don’t hold up for long enough periods of time in kitchen levels of heat.

Sure, new veggie based menu items offer opportunities to please customers in different ways. But they present challenges, too.

 

A Top NYC Chef Trades Down (To Veggie Burgers!) And Is Happy As Could Be

brooks-headley-grub-diet-3-w710-h473

Brooks Headley said sayonara to fancy restaurants. Photo: Noah Fecks

Brooks Headley. a famed pastry chef before shifting – “because it was fun” – to some of the most attention-getting (and best) restaurants in New York City . . . then threw it all in to make and sell veggie burgers. Why?

In an interview with Lucky Peach’s Peter Meehan, Headley explained why he traded in white table cloths for disposable plates and isn’t looking back.

The tension between staff and diners bugged him: “I’m guilty of saying, ‘Only rich people eat at fancy restaurants,’ which isn’t true … But while it isn’t necessarily all hedge fund guys, fine dining is for very wealthy people and for normal people pretending to be rich for the night … Either way, a $400 meal for two is pretty grotesque. And the whole ‘we just want to pamper you and pretend to care about you while seething and hating you behind the scenes’ service style is the worst.”

He hates the awards circuit: “I think Michelin is the biggest crock of complete fucking bullshit — and please quote me exactly on this — especially in New York City. They lied about stuff they ate at Del Posto [a reinvention of Italian cuisine by co-owner Mario Bateli]. But when you’re in that world, it becomes something you strive for: lists and awards. It’s part of the deal. Awards and lists are only really good for the second they’re accepted, and then everything changes.”

He can serve the same great ingredients for much less money: “That’s one of the things that always bummed me out about working in fancy restaurants: the cost … We’ve figured out a way where I can go to the market and buy a bunch of ramps from Rick Bishop and a bunch of sunchokes from Franca Tantillo and asparagus from Stokes Farm, package that, and sell it for five bucks. I’m buying the same stuff as all the fancy restaurants in town. They’re selling it within the context of a tasting menu or a $35 entrée. We’re selling it in a little paper boat for $5.”

The best part of fancy restaurants was buying great stuff and watching people enjoy it, which Headley can still do: “I never planned to work in fine dining restaurants; I went with it because it was fun. I got psyched the more I did it. I could go to the market and buy four flats of the greatest peaches in Washington, D.C., make food with them, and serve it to people. That part has always been exciting, and I still get to do it.”

A cheaper restaurant is just way more accessible: “People can visit New York for fancy restaurants, but a twenty-year-old is not going to pop in to Le Bernardin. But they can come here and spend ten bucks on lunch and twenty on a record — it’s more important for me to be part of that New York City.”

 

 

Starbucker ‘Exploded With Kindness’ At NYC Bomb Scene

nyc-bombing

A former colleague, Kevin Coupe, publishes a blog for executives involved primarily in food retailing. He posted the following item this morning:

It has gotten a lot of attention in the media, but one almost cannot focus on such acts of kindness too much.

It was Sunday night in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, where an apparent terrorist attack resulted in an explosion rocked several blocks and resulted in the wounding of 29 people. As first responders came to the scene, an employee from a nearby Starbucks who identified himself only as Jermaine also showed up, and he passed out bags of pastries and cups of coffee to the police and fire department personnel at the scene.

“I wish I could give a little more,” Jermaine told the officers.

But Jermaine’s act was more than just an act of kindness. It was proof that even in moments that can reflect the worst of what humanity can do, there is the opportunity for people to show the best of themselves.

Sort of like the Standard High Line, a local hotel, which CNN reports “opened up its rooms to residents living within the attack area. In a Facebook post, the hotel said residents would proof of address could also eat for free.”

This story has, in fact, received a lot of publicity — undoubtedly providing a huge amount of goodwill for Starbucks. And well it should!

One of the things that has helped Starbucks grow and prosper over the the years is the company dedication to employee training, with an emphasis on serving two clients: The person in front of the counter, and the ‘bean counters and co.’ who own the business.

Kevin’s blog hammers hard on the importance of that kind of management mind set. Germaine in New York City clearly takes it as much to heart as his employer does.