I’ve decided to start a new category of posts for the O’Dell Restaurant Consulting blog that I think will be very beneficial to restaurant owners everywhere. I am going to review restaurants that I have been to. These are not reviews from strictly a patron’s standpoint, but from the standpoint of an experienced food service professional and consultant. I will attempt to identify strengths and weaknesses in the operations of a restaurant and make suggestions on how the particular restaurant could maximize these strengths or overcome the weaknesses. Please read the following disclaimer:
Disclaimer: This review should not be read as an endorsement or warning for or against patronizing the described restaurant. It is intended strictly as a study of the restaurant’s operation, perceived weaknesses and strengths, and suggestions on how to improve the operation. As this review is not sanctioned or paid for by the owner, it is not meant to be a comprehensive review such as one O’Dell Restaurant Consulting provides to it’s clients. It is strictly superficial. There has been no discussion with the restaurant owner about these observations and no back of house or office visit has taken place to gain perspective as to the cause of the problems. My assumptions are based on my experience and may not necessarily reflect the actual cause or source of an issue.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get to my review. I will break this review down into three sections that describe different key parts of the operation; reception, service and food. Future reviews may contain other parts of the operation I have also been exposed to, such as marketing.
Waxy O’Shea’s Irish Pub – Mother’s Day 2010
Mother’s Day or Easter are traditionally the busiest days of the year in a restaurant. Many restaurant, like Waxy O’Shea’s, offer a brunch buffet. The intent of offering a buffet is to serve as many patrons as possible in as short a time as possible. On a day like Mother’s Day, it is especially important for a restaurant to process customers quickly. There are many customers to be served and the more customers served, the more sales dollars to be made.
Quick service for a buffet starts with the reservation (or no reservation) of tables and seating of customers. In order to process the most customers possible, a restaurant must have a good system in place to get customers from the door to the floor. Our first observation about Waxy O’Shea’s came when calling to make a reservation. Waxy O’Shea’s does not take reservations on regular business days and did not take them for Mother’s Day. Not taking reservations normally serves two purposes for a restaurant:
- No reservations means no empty tables being held open while the restaurant is waiting on the reservation to arrive. When there is a steady stream of customers, not having tables sitting empty for reservations means the restaurant can serve the maximum amount of customers their staff can handle during their rush. This normally means maximized sales.
- No reservations also eliminates the work of processing phone calls, tracking reservations and setting up a dining room to accommodate those reservations.
Not taking reservations sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? In theory, it is, and it works for many operations. However, on the busiest days of the year, not taking reservations eliminates some advantages that can be gained through better planning.
- Taking reservations means being able to adjust hostess, bar and service staff to make sure your customers are best served.
- Taking reservations means being able to adjust food production to reduce waste, or more importantly, to make sure there is enough food to serve everyone.
- Taking reservations allows you to plan ahead for large tables and reservations that require you to separate or put together tables in your dining room.
- Taking reservations means having some control over the flow of customers in and out of your restaurant, allowing you more direct effect on their dining experience.
Whether or not taking reservations is a good idea for your restaurant depends on your ability to handle lines of people, clean and reset tables and give proper service.
Here is my observation on how Waxy O’Shea’s did in receiving and seating their customers.
First, I believe Waxy O’Shea’s would have benefited greatly by having a reception area for customers. The restaurant has a small wind break foyer, then a small receiving area inside the front door. The left side of the restaurant is the bar and the right side is restaurant seating. The small receiving area inside from the foyer has a floor standing specials board with a couple plants behind it. There is also a floor standing specials board in the foyer. In my opinion, the second one inside the door is redundant and the space would be much better used as a reception with benches for patrons who are waiting. Instead of a hostess stand, there is a shelf in the hall to the dining room where the menus are set, with a stool beside it where the floor plan with sections on it is kept. The look is very unprofessional and I believe this area would be best utilized for additional seating for reception. In all, I believe there is room to create seating for 12 or more patrons at the front of the restaurant. I’m sure the owners of the restaurant would question where to set up the menus and floor plan. I believe there is also plenty of room for a free standing podium with shelves inside, though I would rather see a built in hostess stand with a telephone line ran directly to it.
Another observation about the seating process of Waxy O’Shea’s was their lack of hostess staff. One person, who may have been an owner, had a note pad to take names for a seating list. While she did a good job with keeping everyone straight who was waiting for her to add them to the list, she was also trying to help clear and set tables for seating which took her from the front. While we were already on the list and waiting for a table, four groups of customers came in and waited to be put on the list. They were all added to the list in the right order of their arrival, but what the hostess/owner did not see was the 3 groups that came in the door, were not greeted and left to go eat somewhere else. The lack of a good setup and system cost the restaurant at least $200 in sales just in the 20 minutes I was waiting for a table.
On the positive side, we were able to come in the front door of the restaurant, put our name on a list, and get seated in 20-25 minutes. That was pretty good for Mother’s Day. However, I was very disappointed to see that after waiting for 20 minutes, and counting around 20 people waiting behind us, there were 13 tables in the dining room that were no longer full. Lack of a good system and slow processing caused all those people to wait while the restaurant could have been serving them and earning dollars, in addition to serving the others that decided not to wait. To someone walking in the door, the restaurant was full and the wait looked to be an hour. In reality, half the tables in the dining room were empty and the hostess was on the floor instead of greeting them and explaining the situation.
In addition to changing the reception setup, I believe Waxy O’Shea’s would have greatly benefitted from being adequately staffed for reception. In a restaurant that seats likely 200 people, a day like Mother’s Day where the tables could have been turned 4 or more times would require at least 3 hostesses. There could have been a constant flow of patrons being lead to tables while another hostess helps put together or separate tables to set them to the right size, while the hostess/owner/manager was supervising the process and managing the waiting list.
Upon being seated, our table was greeted by one of the waitstaff very quickly. I believe it is important that guests be at least greeted within the first 30 seconds of being seated. Mission accomplished. That server was taking care of another section, but the greeting acknowledged us and let us know someone would be with us shortly. Our server took 2 or 3 minutes to make it to our table, but on a very busy day that is acceptable, though not preferable. The server took our drink orders which included water and a couple bloody marys. She put our drink order into the POS to send to the bar, then went after the waters. The waters took longer than needed to get to the table, but not unacceptably long. However, the bloody marys didn’t come back on the first trip with the waters. It took more than 5 minutes to receive the bloody marys.
During the meal, the server returned to the table twice to clear plates and ask about needs and another time to refill beverages. A manager also cleared plates one time. This many trips to our table did provide the necessary visits to provide good service, however the server neglected to refill the coffee for one of the guests. Though this level of service wasn’t “bad”, it wasn’t impressive. My wife perceived this as the server not considering to refill her coffee. While the server did ask if we needed anything on a prior visit, a better trained server would ask specifically if the coffee needed refilled, or better yet would have just made rounds with a coffee pot and topped off every coffee cup in the section or even the whole dining room. EVEN better yet, the restaurant could have staffed bus persons to refill coffee, tea and water, in addition to clearing and resetting tables to allow for faster seating. There seemed to be enough servers staffed in the dining room, but no bus persons at all.
Here are some changes I would suggest to Waxy O’Shea’s to improve their service for future Mother’s Days and other busy days. I suggest having two bus persons in addition to the two additional hostesses. Between the bus staff clearing and resetting tables and the hostess staff seating customers quicker, Waxy O’Shea’s could have processed dozens more customers. Using bus staff to also refill teas, coffees and waters would not only increase the level of service and improve customer’s perceptions of service, but it would also allow servers more time to suggest, sell and replenish cocktails. Cocktail service could have been started at the reception area. If the bar is properly staffed and set up for speedy service, the cocktail sales on the day could have likely doubled. Another suggestion would be to set up smaller service stations through the dining room where water and tea pitchers could be kept for quick access. They could also keep a coffee burner on those stations for quick access to coffee. With just a tray jack, tray stand and a table cloth, you can create a very effective service station. One more step I would take would be to prefill glasses with water and ice and have them at the ready to set down as soon as the hostess knows how many patrons will be at a table. When the table is being cleared, a hostess can convey to the bus person that the table needs to be set up for “x” number of guests. When the guests arrive, their waters are waiting and the server can concentrate on selling them add-on beverages like tea, coffee and cocktails.
In all, I think the service at Waxy O’Shea’s was acceptable for a busy day, but “acceptable” should never be good enough. If you want to earn a great reputation, you need exceptional, not acceptable service.
As far as quality goes, everyone at our table was pleased with the food offered at Waxy O’Shea’s Mother’s Day brunch buffet. Most their food, if not all, is made from scratch and well seasoned. The biscuits were light and fluffy and the prime rib was tender.
What I would have improved upon from a food perspective at Waxy O’Shea’s was the presentation of the buffet. The buffet was simply chafers lined up on a table. The salads were in several different types of bowls crammed together on a 4-top. The omelet station was an absolute mess by 11:00 am. I can only imagine what it looked like by the time brunch was over. The prime rib carving station was just as messy. The rib was being carved on a cutting board set inside a sheet pan, with tin foil covering the exposed rib to keep it from getting cold. Visually, the buffet was a disaster.
The first thing I would have done to improve the perception of the food would be to garnish the pans and bowls of food. Creative use of herbs, lettuces, colorful vegetables and fruits can do a lot to enhance the appearance of a pan of food with very little cost.
The next thing to do would be to have their carving and omelet stations moved to a different location. It’s hard to describe a restaurant layout on a blog, but the important thing to convey about the buffet layout is that the carving station and omelet stations were positioned beside the reception area on the opposite side of the area from the dining room. This drove much of the traffic to the stations through the guests waiting at the front of the restaurant. While I didn’t see any major occurrences from our table or while we were at the reception waiting for a table, there was a lot of cross traffic that could have resulted in a spilled and/or broken plate, stains on customers or even a slip and fall accident. Any of these things can pull needed staff and attention from the dining room and affect service and the customer’s experiences. The main part of the buffet was set along a wall inside the bar. A better place for the carving and omelet stations would have been anywhere inside the same room. Tables and seats could have been moved and recovered in the area where the stations were. The flow of the buffet would have been much improved and a lot of risk of potential accidents could have been avoided.
Along with moving the buffet, the overall aesthetic appearance of the buffet could have used a “woman’s touch”, or at least the touch of a create man. Chafers can be elevated slightly to give the appearance of levels. A nice centerpiece can be placed on the table with some flowers in in. Other decorations such as colored beads, fresh flowers, lemon leaf, leather leaf, ribbons or different colored linens can be used to fill space between chafers and liven up the appearance. The salad presentation could be spruced up with some attractive bowls and creative garnishing, different levels and the same decorations. I would also suggest to delegate the constant cleaning of the buffet to one kitchen staff member. This person should have a wet rag at all times to wipe off the excess food being spilled onto the table cloth. Messy spills can then be covered with clean napkins of the same color.
The appearance of a buffet can have a dramatic affect on the perception of the food by the customers. Great food on a nasty buffet suddenly becomes mediocre food. Mediocre food on a beautiful buffet becomes great food. Imagine what kind of impression great food on a beautiful buffet can make.
The lesson to be learned by this review is not to leave money on the table. With better staffing, a more guest friendly reception, quicker seating, faster bar service and wait staff more focused on selling “extras”, Waxy O’Shea’s could likely have increased their Mother’s Day sales by $2000.
If they take the extra step and improve the look of their buffet, they could move their price from the bargain $14.99 we were charged, up to $25 per person which is still less than other “nice” buffets they are competing against for customers. If they can pump through 400 customers on Mother’s Day with efficient systems, that extra $10 per customer could gross them an additional $4000 in revenue.
Done my way, their brunch could have easily yielded $6,000 more in sales while pleasing more people and earning more repeat business than how it was done. Take what I have observed at Waxy O’Shea’s and apply it to your big brunch days. Don’t forget that days of “guaranteed” traffic like Mother’s Day are a prime opportunity to build your customer database with names you could turn into regulars.
Know your target market. Your target market is not the people you WANT to buy your food, but rather the ones MOST LIKELY to buy your food. A big red flag in any marketing plan is an assumption that your concept appeals to everyone.Don’t:
Have a large menu. Large menus confuse your concept, increase ticket times, decrease table turns, increase waste, make server training harder, and overall just make you lose money. You can’t be all things to all people. If you try, you’ll be very little to very few.Do:
Have an exit strategy. Knowing how you’re getting out of this venture if things don’t go right is more important than knowing how to get into it. What happens with your lease if your concept fails? Do you have provisions that protect you in case of road construction, building construction, or other cicumstances beyond your control?
Think if you “build it they will come”. Every new restaurateur thinks their food and product is so interesting and unique that people will flock to their restaurant just because they opened it.
Have a marketing plan. Word of mouth marketing only works if a lot of people already know about your business. You can’t depend on word of mouth for a startup. Marketing a startup takes money and a plan on how best to utilize that money to get people in your door, so you can build relationships and earn their referrals to their friends.
Sign a contract without having it reviewed by legal counsel, whether it’s for a lease, a partnership, or a vendor.
Create a unique selling point. Form an emotional bond with your customers by promising to make them FEEL something, then delivering on that promise. The memory of how you made someone feel with your restaurant will last long after they forget who served them and what they ate. “Good/great food and service” are NOT unique selling points. Every restaurant claims to have these. The emotion that you promise and deliver to your customers IS a unique selling point. Other restaurants will not have this.