It's no secret: Empowered employees directly affect the customer experience. But the positive environment needed to support employees will only come from a strong internal culture.
The Melting Pot Restaurants has crafted a recipe for a culture that blends employee nurturing with voice of the customer to create a "perfect night out" for customers. In fact, providing the perfect night out is the mission of the company, and the mission's success begins with training.
Bob Johnston, CEO of The Melting Pot Restaurants, says The Perfect Night Outprogram starts when an individual is hired. "We look for team members who have the right service aptitude to help make them the right service members," he says.
Johnston says training doesn't happen just once; it continues throughout the employees' lifetime. Much of the training includes continuous reinforcement of the company's nine guiding principles: pride, quality, leadership, accountability, teamwork, learning, hospitality, family/belonging, and integrity.
Much like the Ritz-Carlton, employees carry the principles, as well as the company's mission and vision, on business card-size MVP cards. The company also reinforces the principles during daily preshift meetings where, like the Ritz, management pushes out the same agenda to all restaurants to discuss. "Basically, it allows us to talk with one voice to employees at the same time," Johnston says.
He explains that the company borrowed those service ideas from the Ritz-Carlton in the mid-1990s when executives attended the company's famed Legendary Service training. "That was a turning point for The Melting Pot," Johnston says. During that paradigm shift, the company grew from nine to 19 restaurants (today the company operates 133 restaurants in 36 states).
In addition to reinforcing the company's foundation, training also includes routinely taking all employees through every touchpoint in the guest experience and focusing on what needs to happen at each stage. The first stage is when the guest calls, second is arrival, third is seating, fourth involves taking the order, fifth includes serving, sixth is checking back with guest to validate the experience, seventh is delivery of dessert, and the final phase is payment and farewell. "Within those stages, there are many things that have to happen," Johnston says. "Servers have to know those minimum mandatory stages."
Beyond the minimum knowledge, The Melting Pot has identified ways for the employees to go above and beyond the standard to create the perfect night out. Johnston says that relies largely on gathering various pieces of information, such as customer birthdays, favorite fondue, and seating preferences and using that to take the customers' experience to another level. "There's a whole other emotional component that sets us apart and gives us a unique opportunity."
That opportunity usually begins with the reservation. The managers typically ask the customers why they choose to dine with The Melting Pot and how they can help them celebrate. The mangers enter the information into a system that shares the data with everyone involved in providing service to that particular customer. So, for example, if a customer happens to mention to the host that he loves the brownies, the host plugs that notation into the system so the server can see it and bring the customer brownies with his dessert. "Little things like that are what make the difference," Johnston says.
Johnston admits that restaurant managers and servers tend to get busy during their shifts so the system of collecting and entering customer information can become challenging. "It's not a bed of roses and we don't execute it every single time, but we try hard to do just that," he says.
While The Melting Pot doesn't directly tie sales to its Perfect Night Out training disciplines, Johnston says he knows ongoing training pays off in low employee turnover and increased customer satisfaction-especially during the current economic downturn. "People view working here not only as financially rewarding, but they also view it as a good opportunity," he says. "Like we say, 'the cheese gets into the blood.'"