Reality Check

I had lunch the other day with my friend Marsha, whose teenage daughter got a job this summer as a hostess at a casual theme restaurant. Marsha, having worked her way through college tending bar, knows the business well. I love her story because it’s a reality check.

  • Marsha’s daughter may represent the “pass through” employees in our industry, but they are the people we trust every day to represent our brands on the front lines. A hostess is the initial “moment of truth” for each and every guest we serve and, more importantly, the first impression for everyfirst-time guest.
  • I can’t tell you how many comment cards I’ve read over the years where the hostess was the “make it or break it” touch point that triggered a cascade of impressions that ended in either a really great or really disastrous guest visit.

This hostess job was her daughter’s first real job, so the perspective is priceless.

  • After a series of four interviews, her daughter came home really excited–and loaded down with a binder that was two inches thick. She went out and bought her “uniform”: black pants, black shirt and black shoes, which, by the way, ended up costing more than she made on her first day of work at $7-something an hour.
  • I loved the download when she got home after her first shift. “It’s not as easy as it looks, Mom. You can’t seat people justanywhere. They have stations!”
  • Well…you get the picture. It’s a classic case of “she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.” But the flip side of that is what I took away. Her second shift was with a real veteran who knew the ropes. The result being, the trainer assumed a lot, didn’t explain why things were done, and ended up seeming curt and a little mean to this high school student. Very often, trainers “don’t know how much they do know,” a situation that can cause a really experienced trainer to skip important steps.
  • On her third shift Marsha’s daughter worked with a trainer who had just been trained and was still self conscious enough to fill in all the blanks. It was just what her daughter needed to get comfortable with what the job was all about.

That’s the challenge of executing a brand through today’s workforce. How does your training program connect with your employees in a meaningful way that gets them to embrace your values? And how does your management team coach and motivate that behavior on an ongoing basis?

  • In this case, the two-inch-thick training manual wasn’t the answer.
  • Although the manual did contain a section on making guests feel special, .it was at the very end of the manual.

I had an experience in Cleveland a year ago: Hopelessly lost on my way from the airport to a restaurant in Crocker Park Village, I called the restaurant for directions, and the hostess stayed on the phone until I found the restaurant…almost 15 minutes! Talk about creating a powerful brand connection! She may have learned that from her Hostess Manual, but I suspect it’s far more likely that this restaurant chain had found a way to get their employees to embrace their commitment to their guests…no matter what it took. That’s the essence of powerful branding.

What might seem clear to a Training Department may not always break through to new employees entrusted with making the brand’s first impression. Clearly connecting your goals to something your trainees understand and can embrace as their own is the secret that ensures strong brand execution.

Until next time…let me know your thoughts.