Anyone who’s worked in or owned a restaurant knows it can be a demanding profession. Oftentimes, what keeps us engaged and happy to serve are the people working beside us.
At CALA in Scottsdale, Arizona, General Manager Rob Meir recognizes the power of a team player and crafts his staff interviews to identify potential employees who exude a positive attitude.
“To me, it’s our culture. It’s who you hire,” Rob said. “We can teach anyone to do anything. But I can’t teach attitude. I can’t teach personality. And when I interview, my first impression of that person—that’s what the guest is going to get from that employee. So it’s important to me how I feel in that interview, how the connection was, because that’s how they’re going to connect to the guests.”
More than hiring bodies to take orders, Rob thinks of the bigger picture and hires to complete his total guest experience.
“[Customers] want to walk into a place where people are happy. They’re spending their money at a location. It doesn’t make any sense for them to come in and all the staff is grumpy.”
So how does a hiring manager identify someone who aligns with the company values?
“There has to be a sense of structure,” Rob said. “They have to really believe in what you’re saying. They have to believe you. You have to be genuine. They have to care as much as you do.”
The key to hiring the right people involves asking them the right questions. For Rob, that often means asking the following:
- Why are you in this industry?
- Why do you want to be a server?
- Why do you want to be a host?
- Have you been part of a team?
- Have you played sports or danced before?
- Have you been a part of a community that required you to really engage with people or be coached?
In the restaurant industry, it can be challenging to greet every customer with a smile or bring your A-game every day—which is why Rob looks for staff with resilient personalities and a love for people.
“This is a tough business. I’m very straight up and very honest. You have to be resilient. You have to care about people. You have to care about service. I don’t sugar coat it. I say, this is a tough job. We work hard. It beats you up at times, and it’s also amazing. It’s also uplifting. You have to genuinely love people.”
This benchmark for caring extends to CALA’s management team, chosen for their coachability and ability to turn criticism into improvement.
“The culture really starts with a strong management team,” Rob explained. “I’m not in that building every minute, right? So I think we all have to share the same value of caring about people and caring about your service and just being genuinely good at what you do.”
Another core value for CALA is communication, which helps the team stay in sync both with each other and the diners, especially when things aren’t going to plan. Guest inconveniences aren’t ideal, but they’re more easily overlooked when a delicious entree is paired with great customer service.
Yelp user David H. left a 5-star review for CALA, stating the restaurant deserves full marks despite the fact that he had to wait 10 minutes past his reservation time. “The overall food was fantastic. Our server, Jacqueline, was great; super friendly. She was happy to be there. She was super attentive, and she was busy hustling around to all her tables.”
“Honestly, I’m grateful for every positive and negative review,” Rob said. “I enjoyed David’s review very much because I appreciated his understanding, and I appreciated that he had a good time but that he was honest—and that he didn’t ding us for that little bit of a wait.
“The positive [reviews] I do focus a lot on. I take it to Jacqueline. I take it to the staff and I say, ‘Hey, look! Someone said something great about you,’ because it makes them feel good. And then they strive to do better.
“And then the opportunities from the negative ones, we take those, and we say, ‘Hey, hostesses, the communication about the wait—thank you for letting them know that they were going to be 10 minutes and sticking to the 10 minutes.’ They’re coaching opportunities: positive and negative.”
Having honest dialogue like this can help improve one-off experiences for guests and the continually evolving customer experience for the restaurant. Rob said this works best for him when the engagement is timely and consistent. He responds to reviews, positive or negative, and lets the reviewer know they’ve been seen and heard.
“Owners need to respond. It is a must, no matter what. I’m a huge advocate for it. If you do not leave feedback, it just seems like you either don’t care or it’s not important to you. And that’s a big deal because people will see it. And for David to take his positive experience and write about it, it makes me happy, and it makes me look forward to giving someone else great service so we can get some more reviews. Because people do watch, and if [they] read reviews and want to know what it’s like before they go there, they’re going to spend their money with us.”
Rob’s formula for crafting a successful customer experience includes three key steps:
- Hire for your company values. Choose staff based on attitude and character. A good manager can teach anyone how to do a task, but they can’t teach personality or personal values.
- Communicate with staff and customers. Setting expectations with your customers. prevents misunderstandings and reinforces your care for their experience.
- Respond to reviews and implement feedback. A customer who feels seen and heard might increase their review rating or even visit your establishment again. Working with your team on the feedback you receive will also increase your reputation for caring about the larger customer experience.
Photos from CALA on Yelp; interviews by Emily Washcovick and editorial contributions from Jenna Spray
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear more from Rob and David, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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