Love, laugh, listen, learn: good for business and life

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 17, 2009 

Last week’s column on success in the restaurant business sure generated some thought-provoking feedback.

Several Cochrane-area restaurateurs shared the column with their staff. All agreed: attitude is of the essence. A&W proprietor Mike Bigland, while acknowledging he’s able to get good food pretty much everywhere, put it bluntly:

“What sets better restaurants apart is the quality of service.”

Several of our e-mail coffee companions also agreed.

Winnipeg reader Kim Jochem wrote:

“I loved your column on what makes a successful restaurant. You not only hit the nail on the head, you hammered it flat to the board. I’ve been in restaurants in which the décor was attractive and the food was great, but the wait staff was so miserable they ruined your appetite. I’ve also been in restaurants that were clean but plain and where the food was passable but not memorable, but the staff was so prompt and cheerful they made it a pleasure to eat there.”

“Well said,” wrote renowned photographer Angus McNee, formerly of Ghost Lake Village and now living in the Okanagan.

“For anyone contemplating a 'people' business like the hospitality trade, if you cannot stand the heat, you gotta get out of the kitchen. I started my work life in the hotel industry, and if there's one business in which you find people at their best and at their worst, that's it. If you can accept people for all their quirks and weaknesses, and still feel happy about dealing with them, there's no more satisfying way to spend your work day.” 

From Langdon, the “good luck” community east of Calgary, Alfred Unger wrote:

“Oh, how right you are! I have spent a great deal of time in restaurants and coffee shops as a result of my work. They're my office away from home. I have often wished to be able to conveniently spend time at Cochrane Coffee Traders with all the regulars. The few times I've been there have been a joy. You can imagine my pleasure when I found a coffee shop of ‘equal’ standing right here in Langdon. In fact, the first time I spent any time there, I commented to the owner how much her place reminded me of Coffee Traders.”

Speaking of Coffee Traders regulars, there’s this response from Calgarian Leo Peters, a motivational expert who doubles as a professional Santa. Following up on my three T’s for success in running a restaurant (Taste, Tidiness, and especially Temperament), he put together his own list of four L’s: Love, Laugh, Listen and Learn:

“Love. Love your customers. Give them what they want. Make their experience in your restaurant memorable. Remember their names, their likes and dislikes, their drinks and their meal preferences. (Hold the pickles!) Love them like long-lost friends. Surprise them with random treats. Listen to their stories. Thank them for coming. Love your employees, treat them fairly, pay them well and if possible, make them shareholders like WestJet does. Love what you do and do what you love. Model loving and caring. Love, love, love.

“Laugh. Laugh often. Laugh at your customers’ jokes, their stories and photos. Share your humourous stories. Laughter is good for the heart and a great way to create a memorable experience in your restaurant. Hire people with a great sense of humour. Have Fun. Laugh often.

“Listen. Listen to the feedback your customers give you. Listen to their ideas. If they come up with a good suggestion, give them a free desert. If you mess up, fess up, fix up and find a way to make it up. Listen like they’re restaurant consultants and find a way to give them what they want. Listen.

“Learn. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from other great restaurants. Take the best ideas from the best restaurants and customize them and make them yours. Learn from your successes, too. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Learn from your customers. Ask them what they like, what they love and what they would like to see improved. Then follow through. Love, laugh, listen and learn and you will have a higher bottom line and a great restaurant.”

I asked Leo how he came up with the four L’s on his list.

“My daily intention is to love, laugh, listen, learn and be happy, so I’ve been familiar with the words,” he said.

In fact, those four words have been at the heart of Leo’s personal life philosophy since his brush with death from cancer some years ago. Love tops his list. “I coach my restaurant friends to include love in their branding, possibly the most valuable asset in the value of their place.”

Hmmm. . . . Not a bad life philosophy for the rest of us, too, whether or not we’re in the restaurant business.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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