How can you be prepared for the unexpected?

(05 /03 /2015)

We all have those days that just don’t go to plan – whether it’s the washing machine giving up the ghost when you have a mountain of washing to get done, the torrential rain that washes away your campsite cutting short your holiday or your boss waltzing into your office announcing a complete change to your schedule.  It gets your back up, stresses you out and very quickly you need to figure out how to return order to the day.  And it happens quite regularly in hospitality!

As a chef who has faced many of the challenges of service, I too have been subjected to those days – you walk in quite certain that you were in for a quiet day before something happens that causes the day to spiral out of control turning it into a real nightmare!  Suddenly, you and your team are faced with an out of control docket machine and before you can say anything the paper length hits the floor.  Immediately, you’re behind the eight ball and are then playing catch up all day to regain control and restore order.

So is this due to poor planning or simply the unforeseen?  On a recent lunch outing, I witnessed this situation and in this case, I think it was definitely poor planning – Christmas time in a tourist zone means that you will be crazy busy and you really have to be prepared for anything.  But even if its due to an unusual or extraordinary situation, you have to be able to deal with it to ensure it doesn’t impact on your customers.

Unfortunately, these situations happen all too often. You are greeted by the waiter, the menus given and your order taken. The coffees arrive but nothing else. You wait and wait and still nothing. You finally get to that stage when you ask only to be told that the kitchen is in damage control and your order will be arriving shortly.  My question is this – why wasn’t the diner, who arrived just after the kitchen became a war zone, warned that there is a delay in orders and a longer than usual wait will be highly likely? In my case, I watched as a table got to the point that they had had enough playing the waiting game and receiving constant assurances that their meals were on their way.  They walked out.  And quite frankly, I probably would have too if my meal didn’t arrive soon after.

So how can this scenario be avoided? Perhaps you can’t plan for the staff member who cuts him or herself during service but you can certainly deal with it so that customers don’t get upset and walk out.  If a meltdown in occurring in the kitchen, before guests are shown to a table, they should be told of the situation and that a long wait time may occur.  That way, they have a choice in whether they stay or go elsewhere.

I think that if you’re honest with your customers, you will have a better chance of retaining them and get further opportunities to serve them in the future.  There is nothing worse than bad word of mouth or bad publicity in the hospitality sector so by being honest, you have a much better chance of avoiding this and ensuring repeat business.

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