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Be Like Your Local Hardware Store

When training staff, I love to make tangible, real world comparisons to make lessons more engaging. I always prefer a 'thought exercise' rather than rote reviews of steps of service and standard operating procedures (SOPs). If you can help someone grasp there's a humanistic reason to behaving a certain way, rather than a requirement, I really believe motivation to do a great job comes more easily.

One of my favorite comparisons to use in the hospitality industry is a trip to your neighborhood hardware store. No matter where I end up or what neighborhoods I've lived in, local hardware stores bat about 100% when it comes to taking care of you when you walk through their doors.

Think of the similarities between these business and the restaurant world: customers walking through the door having an idea of what they want, but not totally sure; being overwhelmed by the similar products and different brands and not knowing how to make a product selection; being embarrassed to ask for assistance from the staff because you have no knowledge base; or having an idea for something and letting the staff guide you from scratch to make the right decision.

In those scenarios, whether you're talking about a locking miter router bit or an obscure imported ingredient, it is imperative to make your customer/guest feel comfortable and helped however needed to see them through the experience.

Now, if you'll pardon me for sounding a little cynical here—why is it that so many restaurant servers don't feel an obligation to seeing an unsure guest though an experience that may be new to them? In contrast, nearly every time I walk into a hardware store I get prompt and friendly help that doesn't make me feel stupid for having little idea of what I'm talking about.

I think the answer to that cynical question lies in the sometimes shaky foundation of how the hospitality industry trains people and sets expectations for staff roles. If we focused more on teaching our staff why we do what we do and how people should feel walking through our doors, I truly believe it would go a long way in getting employees to buy into the effort we are asking of them to do things the right way.

Now don't get me wrong, it's important to have SOPs and systems in place. Attention to detail and menu knowledge are essential. But if we allow our staff, the front lines of our hospitality businesses, the opportunity to fully realize what it means to be taken care of through tangible examples, our industry will be better for it.

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