Following my earlier post on Chez Bruce‘s excellent customer service I met with chef-proprietor Bruce Poole to find out how he fosters a culture of service in his restaurant. His comments are an object lesson for businesses of all types aiming to raise the bar in service provision.
Although he’s a chef by training Bruce recognises that it’s the whole experience that’s important for customers. People come to a restaurant for the food, the drink and how it arrives but that means paying attention to the details of everything from initial reservation through to saying goodbye at the end of a meal.
Not only that, he’s passionate about the subject and it’s a passion that’s grounded in a clear view of what a restaurant should be. In his view it should be like a favourite armchair – somewhere that you feel comfortable. It’s more important that customers have a good time than that they are impressed with the food. (Although, as the food is very impressive that does help.)
Treating people like grown-ups
Chez Bruce has 45 staff in total and his turnover is low by industry standards. This is as much to do with the way people are treated than with issues like pay. At the core is a combination of discipline, structure and attention to detail combined with an expectation that all staff will use their judgement to make sure customers get the best possible experience. Unlike some top-end restaurants where there is a strict hierarchy and rules about who can talk to customers, Chez Bruce expects all staff to be relaxed and to talk to customers without being unnecessarily chatty.
Front line service is the responsibility of restaurant manager David O’Connor and Bruce works continually with him, analysing what happened after each service. Time is devoted to training, with new staff getting to experience what it’s like to be a customer as well as training in the basic skills and the Chez Bruce philosophy.
There’s an expectation too that all staff will be as fanatical about food as the owner: staff are expected to eat out at all kinds of restaurants in their spare time and to have a view about them.
Taking customers’ views seriously
Feedback from customers is critical. This can range from comments and suggestions on the food to problems with booking. (Chez Bruce has a one-month advance booking period – providing a less than ideal scramble on the phones on some mornings but this is seen as better than having to book six months in advance). All written feedback is dealt with and complaints are reviewed at a senior staff meeting.
What’s striking about meeting Bruce Poole is his combination of passion and humility. The numerous awards the restaurant has won are obviously pleasing but he insists it’s not the reason he’s in business. Although he had no specific vision when he started out he has evolved and developed a formula that works and, with two sister restaurants and plans to expand Chez Bruce into an adjacent property (principally to alleviate cramped conditions in the kitchen), he should continue to demonstrate that a commitment to superior service will build a successful business.