“I Am Just…”

Have you ever come across an individual who began a sentence with the words, “Sorry, I am just?”  For example, “I am just a cashier” or “I am just a delivery person.”  In the service industry whether it’s in retail or hospitality, it has become such a natural response that people are forgetting the fundamental principles of customer service.  By responding with the phrase, “I am just,” you are really saying “I don’t care, it’s not my job or it’s not my problem.”  Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?  The truth is that is exactly how customers feel when given such a response.

What Purpose does “I am just” Serve?

Take for example a particular real life situation that occurred a couple months ago.  A gentleman was seated in a private room away from the restaurant’s main dining room.  He had requested his check over 20 minutes ago and had not received it nor had any of the restaurant’s waitstaff return to the area.  Frustrated, the gentleman enters the main dining room to find out what had happened.  He approaches the first employee he can find which happens to be a bartender.

“Excuse me! I have been waiting to pay for over 20 minutes.  I need to leave and no one has come back to my table.”

“Sorry, I am just the bartender, I cannot help you.”

“Where is your manager? I like to speak to him or her.”

The bartender continues to stand there.  A busboy overhears the conversation but brushes right past the gentleman.  The assigned waiter for the gentleman’s table is no where to be found and the manager is neither in the dining area or is visible.  The bartender sees another busboy and tells him to find the manager.  Five minutes late, the assigned waiter appears and returns to the table.  However, the manager does not make contact with the gentleman.

There are two parts of this story which is damaging to the restaurant’s reputation.  First, instead of taking control of the situation, the bartender had ignored it.  Second, the manager did not visit the table and apologize to the gentleman.  Therefore the only opportunity of a service recovery was blown.  These types of events in this example occurs everyday in the service industry.  Unfortunately, many companies do not realize the negative effects of something as simple as saying “I am just” can impact a business.

Avoiding Conflicts

Once you understand the damaging effects of the “I am just” statement, you need to identify the reasons why do people respond that way.  There are three primary reasons:

  1. In the mind of the employee, he/she believes that based on the position they hold, there are a set of duties that are given to them. The belief is anything out of this boundary is not their responsibility.  In the example above, the bartender believes that the problem should be placed on the assigned waiter. True, the waiter should take responsibility for their own customer, but there is no excuse for the bartender to disregard that the gentleman is still a customer of the restaurant.
  2. An employee has not been empowered to make decisions.  Part of the problems lies within the company’s way of handling situations.  Take another example which occurred when a delivery of restaurant china had arrived.  Upon inspecting the shipment, we noticed that the company had sent the wrong types of plates and cappuccino mugs.  The invoice had the correct item number, but the shipment was incorrect.  The driver immediately informed us that he was only a driver and that he could do nothing about it.  In this particular example, the driver could have handled the situation differently.  Was it necessary to tell us he was only a driver?  Absolutely not.  He further explained that he did not have the authority to make any decisions without the approval of the company.
  3. Lack of training focusing on customer service can lead to unnecessary events such as the stories of the bartender and the driver. Common sense tells us that we have to serve the customer.  How we do it will affect the outcome.  In both examples from the standpoint of the bartender and the driver, they both had confirmed their role and responsibilities to the company.  However, they completely disregarded the role and duty that they play to the customer.

A customer expects a certain level of service and when that level is not achieved, consequences immediately kick in.  “I Am Just,” is another lame excuse of saying you just don’t care.  When a problem arises, ensure your employees understand how to take care of the problem.  Listen, acknowledge and apologize.

Know your Role

The next time someone makes a request, be prepared to help them. If you are unable to directly assist them, kindly inform them that you will find someone who will.  Just don’t stand there.  Show them that you care.

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The Best of Providence – Al Forno Restaurant

I have never been to Rhode Island. There were only three things I knew about the state. It was the smallest state in America, Johnson and Wales, one of the top culinary schools existed there and most importantly it was the home of Al Forno, an internationally acclaimed Italian restaurant.

I could only dream of what it would be like from the stories of what my brother would tell me. Therefore, Al Forno was near the top of my list of restaurants of “Where to Go Next?” No matter how many times I was in Boston and knowing it was just over an hour drive away, there always seem to be a reason for not going – we don’t have a car, we will wait next time so more people can go, the restaurant doesn’t open on Sundays or Mondays or the most common was we are not here long enough. For the last five trips to Boston, these were the classic excuses. Not this time.

Al Forno Restaurant

Al Forno has put Providence on the map for places to visit. For the last 28 years, chef-owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon have attracted locals, visitors and celebrities to their upscale casual restaurant. The restaurant as well as Johanne and George have received a number of awards. Patricia Wells wrote an article in The International Herald Tribune and selected Al Forno as the “Number One” in the world for Casual Dining. Food and Wine named Johanne and George as two of the Ten Best Chefs in America. Today the kitchen is run by renowned head chef David Reynoso (The Butcher Shop by Barbara Lynch) and who was 2006 Boston’s Rising Star Chef.

July’s edition of Bon Appétit Magazine interviews writer David Sedaris, author of “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” He states Al Forno was his most memorable meal.

Food: Simple Italian comfort food. Fresh seasonal ingredients reflect New England’s local farms and fresh seafood. A great wine list features over 250 wines. The grilled pizza cooked over the hardwood charcoal fire is by far the best I have ever tasted. Try the Clams Al Forno as a starter. The spicy tomato based sauce is just wonderful with a piece of bread. One of the best hand-made pastas, a lobster ravioli with a cream sauce is one of the night’s special. The Dirty Steak cooked medium rare is another excellent choice and perhaps one of the best steaks you can find. This boneless and juicy ribeye is cooked over the kitchen’s charcoal grill giving it a distinct smoky flavor. Desserts are made-to-order and require you to place your order at the beginning of the meal. The Grande Cookie Finale made for two is a rendition on classic cookies just to die for. That night’s special was an Apricot Tarte Tartin which was magnificent.

“Their pizza is the best in the U.S.A.” – Billy Joel

“At last, Johanne Killeen and George Germon from the great Al Forno Restaurant in Providence reveal the mysterious secrets of their kitchen! The feast continues.” – Danny De Vito and Rhea Perlman.

Atmosphere: Casual, quiet and relaxing. Staff is friendly and welcoming. The restaurant is divided into various rooms including a bar area, a second floor and outdoor patio seating which most resembles a secret garden. It’s a great place for a romantic date.

Service: Unexpected style of service for such a high caliber restaurant. Service is informal and at times too laid-back, but this type of service seems to work at Al Forno. Perhaps, it is seen as a get-a-way dining place without a need for corporate attire and special service. Therefore, the feeling is more laid-back like being at your own home with no extra service touches. An interesting selection of front of the house staff include several young, but friendly high school students obviously too young to drink or recommend wine. Witnessing other tables from afar, there were signs of communication breakdowns between the staff – hesitation in food delivery either too early or too late and table confusion. However, tables were bussed quickly for eagerly waiting customers in line. Overall, the service was satisfactory.

Price: Average check of $50-$60 including a drink, tax and tip. Check average may be lower depending on the type of main course chosen. Pastas are affordably priced.

With a couple minor kinks in service to iron out, Al Forno will shine. A restaurant that has been in business since 1980 is obviously doing something right. Exceptional food and wine with an incredible outdoor garden patio. Seating is taken on a first come first basis, so go early prior to opening, it’s definitely worth the trip.

The word is out that the Al Forno team will soon open a new concept restaurant Tini, named after its 450 sq. ft. space at 200 Washington St.

Excited? I know I am. It’s time to plan another trip.

Al Forno, 577 South Main Street, Providence, RI 02973, 401-273-9760

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Boston’s Best Asian Lunch Spots

I wish I would have taken more pictures of all the restaurants and cafes I had visited.  I guess I was caught up taking pictures of my four year old nephew that I don’t get to see much.  Surprisingly, he loves to cook and recently he has attended cooking classes.  I will remember next time for sure to take snap shots of all the food.

Shabu-zen

About seven years ago I was introduced to a restaurant in Chinatown called Shabu-zen. Ever since that first visit, I have become a fan of this busy Japanese style “hot pot” restaurant.  The concept offers fun for everyone. Similar in design to Korean BBQ restaurants, each table is built with an induction burner in which customers cook their own food.  Customers choose among a variety of fresh seafood, meat and vegetables that is then dunked and swooshed back and forth in Shau-zen’s secret homemade broth.  The food itself is simple yet satisfying and provides a sense of comfort at the end of the meal.

Food: Choose items listed under the a la carte to guarantee the freshest items. The price is slightly higher but the cuts are definitely better.  Favorite items include the thinly sliced USDA Prime Rib-Eye $14.95, Angus Boneless Short Rib $10.95, Fish Paste $9.00.  The menu also offers a small selection of high grade sashimi.  The white tuna is among the best although it can occasionally be too cold $6.00.

Service: Friendly service but lacks attentiveness to the customer needs.  At times, the service can be slow causing backups in the kitchen and bar.  Refills on tea and water are slow.  There are clear signs of trouble in the Allston location.  Attitude was cold upon entering the restaurant and our server had great difficulty in understanding English.  Employees are standing idle while others sit along the bar and stare at the Plasma.

Atmosphere: A huge stepping stone from your typical “mom and pop” operation in Chinatown.  For a more vibrant and modern design visit Shabuzen’s newest location in Allston, a 12,000 square foot space.  The crowd is a mix of college students and office workers.

Price: The concept and menu offers affordable food for everyone.  Average check price is $25 or less depending on how much you can eat.  If you are like me, I easily cleared $40 worth of food.

Shabu-zen, 16 Tyler Street, Boston, MA 02111, 617-292-8828 (Chinatown)

Wagamama

For the last five years I have read and followed the news on the growth of the highly successful chain Wagamama.  Over the years, I could only read, imagine and to almost taste the mouthwatering food.  Finally, I can cross out Wagamama on my list of restaurants indicating I have gone there.  This trip, I made sure we made time to visit the restaurant.

In 1992 Wagamama was born in the UK.  Today the company has over 90 units around the world and has become an award-winning Asian-inspired noodle chain.  Built on the basis of the Japanese ramen bar concepts, Wagamama offers a variety of noodle soups as well as stir-fried noodles, Asian-inspired appetizers and main courses.

Food: To ensure ultimate freshness, food is made-to-order.  Warnings on the menu inform customers that food may be delivered at different times. Because the restaurant was modeled after the Japanese ramen noodle bars, the decision was simple.  I had to try one.  I ordered the Chili Beef Ramen $13.95.  The perfectly cooked noodles were of high authenticity and quality.  Large portions of sliced grilled steak remained tender and full of flavor.  Slices of red hot chili peppers offer a pleasant touch of spice to the broth.  Gyoza filled with ground chicken and napa cabbage served with a chili garlic dipping soy sauce was only average $6.25.  Better tasting gyozas can be found in traditional Japanese restaurants.

Service: Friendly and highly efficient service.  The professional staff acknowledges you upon arriving with a warm welcome.  Servers are equipped with wireless handheld POS devices to input multiple table orders.  At the same time credit card transactions can be done on the fly without any interruption of sending orders to the kitchen.  Food came out quickly and overall service was quick but not rushed.  Excellent service which deserved a 20% tip

Atmosphere: Attractive, sleek and modern design that stands out.  Communal tables run along the restaurant with a row of tables that face the window looking out towards the busy street of Harvard Square.  Casually dressed customers as well as the business crowd quickly fill the restaurant by noon.

Price: Average check is $20-$25 including tax and tip.  Reasonably priced based on the quality of food and service.  Average check is slightly high for lunch but well worth the experience.

Wagamama, 57 Jfk Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-499-0930

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