I highly advise copying the systemized practices of the major restaurant players. I DO NOT suggest copying their mass-market food style or lack of personal touch. However, interestingly enough, the big players are now factoring personal touch into their standard operating procedures. If you look at Chick-fil-A, they have non-random or intentional acts of kindness as a standard operating procedure (SOP). The staff randomly gives out stuffed cows throughout the day and performs several other “Surprise and Delight” tactics. Even Starbucks is big on giving animals pup cups (or Puppuccinos) completely free, especially via drive-thru.
Why is that? Is it because of their altruistic goals to do great things in the community? Sure, I’m not so cynical to say they’re opposed to doing nice things, but I can also say without hesitation these tactics also generate an incredible ROI. The businesses that didn’t skip a beat in the pandemic have customer connection as part of their culture. The chains that are pure turn and burn with an attitude of, “Eat what we give you, or don’t — we don’t care either way,” are closing left and right across America. The biggest mass user of this approach is Disney; the house of mouse applies fun and kindness to all interactions, and it has yielded billions in profits and fandom. This approach is not proprietary or impossible to train; it just takes a little thought, some base effort and follow-up after execution.
To connect on a profound level, give attention to the thing your customer values most, namely their children and pets. Let’s assume you already know that, then take it beyond just you. Your random acts of kindness need to become protocol to you and everyone you employ. Instead of you, the owner, randomly choosing someone to get a freebie, empower your staff leaders to do it daily according to your set parameters. Maybe give out a branded kids shirt, two meals on the house a day to someone who needs or deserves it, a pizza toy, a quick dough show, or simply bringing out water for pets on the patio. All these acts of kindness can become systemized.
Grow beyond randomized freebies and tap into systemized graciousness. Doing this will never be a waste or destroy food cost. This approach is marketing, deep and meaningful marketing that will hit harder than any Facebook ad or TV commercial ever will. Notate these comps as marketing if you want; code it as promotion rather than a comp for your reporting.
To truly get this, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think of a time you got a freebie on a day you really needed it. How did it make you feel? Did you stay loyal to that establishment? I’ll bet you did, and you can do that for your customers every day. Not once in a while — every day.
Look to tap into the emotional sweet spot of, “Oh, you noticed me being loyal, and you actually appreciate me.” Or “They’re really being nice to my kid, and this feels great.” When you elicit that, a genuine connection can occur.
Find ways to get your food and brand out in the community with a surprise and delight approach. Think up things you haven’t seen or a spin on something you have seen. Then do it and never stop doing it. The systemized practice is planting the seeds for the future. This approach will ingratiate your restaurant into your community and your customer base.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch