by: John Self

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes for one minute.  They’re having a wonderful dinner; the background music is playing nicely and they’re obviously enjoying themselves.  Just as one of them is about to put a bite of steak in their mouth, the restaurant goes silent.  Someone switches off the music.  One of the servers’ places chairs on tables in a far part of the restaurant.  Your customers have just gone from enjoying their meal to feeling anxious and annoyed.  

That is a guaranteed way to lose customers.  Remember, they are coming to your restaurant to relax.  Coming to your restaurant is a choice on their part which is too often taken for granted, especially by successful restaurants.  As a manager, I was the same way, but I got a dose of reality when I switched from being a manager to an owner.  Trust me, it is the rare and foolish owner who is complacent about their customers.  

As a customer, this is infuriating.  But as a manager, it can be business as usual.  There is nothing wrong about having pre-closing procedures, in fact, you should.  They are proven to save labor and get your managers out at a reasonable hour.  

But management should never allow employees to begin any closing procedures that interferes with the mood and ambience of the restaurant.  It is incredibly easy for managers and employees to be oblivious to customers who might be just a few feet from them.  Customers can become part of the scenery, part of the background, especially late at night when everyone is tired.  

This is the time for management to ensure that employees don’t forget their customers.  Management must demand that the last customers have the very same quality of experience as the first customers do.  Management must do this by their actions, body language and by their demeanor.  If management allows themselves to gripe about late customers or to cut corners such as allowing employees to vacuum in front of customers, employees will take the same lackadaisical attitude as management.

Management sets the tone for the entire restaurant.  Only when it is obvious to employees that management insists and will enforce that the same standards apply at 11 p.m. just as it does at 6 p.m., will the employees know how far they can push their managers.  

Don’t allow your eyes to be like the old movie and have your eyes wide shut to what happens when you close.  Everyone wins when management respects the last customers of the day.  If your typical customer dining experience takes 50 minutes, then closing near those last customers cannot begin until they leave.  It is up to management to make their employees believe that saving a few minutes is just not worth it.