Workplace Wisdom

Making Extraordinary Service Look Easy

I’m not a fan of inter-organizational benchmarking: It’s almost impossible to replicate someone else’s successes when you don’t have their operating model, or to replicate their practices or techniques when you don’t have their culture or copy their culture when you don’t have their founding experience or history. And yet whenever you experience excellent service — and the providers make it look easy — it’s worth gleaning whatever lessons you can.

So here’s a story with a bit of analysis:

After a Thanksgiving dinner attended by more than 50 members of my mother-in-law’s clan and an 80th-birthday brunch for a dear cousin the next day, those of us who were still hanging around the hotel in the late afternoon decided that we wanted even more time together. We wondered if there was a restaurant that could seat us for dinner at the spur of the moment. The concierge found a place that could, so, looking a bit like a scraggly parade, we all trooped over.

We never learned the details of how the family-owned D’Angelo’s made this impromptu event work. They had the advantage of a third-floor room, and we speculated that they must have brought in extra kitchen or wait staff. The other two floors were full when we came in and full when we left, and although we ordered off the menu, there were no long waits before any of the courses. In fact, everyone got the correct order — without any cries of “Who got the ravioli?” — and we had a very tasty meal, all three courses, down to fresh and crunchy cannoli.

Whatever the magic was in this family-managed business (with one brother running the front of the house, one in the kitchen, and sons/ nephews waiting tables), the teamwork was fantastic. A few things that could be observed about the way the D’Angelo family worked together:

They were resilient: Even while managing the unplanned, they coped with the completely unexpected. Our reservation was for 30, but our party wound up being 34 — a combination of miscounting and not knowing how many of the youngest generation would actually come along or bring friends. Yet with no apparent stress, complete good will, and great pragmatism, the D’Angelo family took care of us, and tables and chairs practically flew overhead as the party size increased.

They stayed organized: Instead of taking the order on a regular order pad, the waiter drew a quick diagram on a full-size lined pad and then directed his two helpers so that every salad, including dressing on the side, main course, dessert, and beverage was unerringly delivered, even the extra empty plates for sharing.

They showed grace under pressure: Unfailingly pleasant and unflappable, our lead waiter answered questions, took orders for forgotten requests and put up with annoying food comments from some of our unnecessarily critical members, moving quickly, precisely, and efficiently around the room — and running, over and over, up and down the stairs. Every female member of the party, from age 13 to 81, was addressed as “Dear,” and during a particularly friendly, helpful moment our waiter called Daughter “Kiddo.”

I was impressed with the obvious teamwork and competence that fostered and supported the resilience, the organization, and the grace. And we were all happy and grateful to be together over a wonderful, pleasant dinner.

If your business was a restaurant, would it be as well run?

Onward and upward,

LK

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