Human Resources and Technology

What a tech firm learned from running a pop-up restaurant

April 30, 2016
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We had an odd celebration recently at our technology firm.

We ran a pop-up restaurant from within our headquarters in Grand Rapids on Leap Day. I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, what?” I’ll say it again. We served breakfast and lunch, including a Rice Krispy-crusted French toast, an eggplant, squash and zucchini tower and perhaps the fanciest lasagna roulades I’ve ever seen, to nearly 80 customers.

Why would a technology firm spend a day running a restaurant? It’s a fair question and something I spent a lot of time thinking about as I stood in our lobby, decked out in my Café OST t-shirt, sat guests and cleared tables.

Here are three lessons learned:

We succeed and fail together.

Whether you’re taking orders, plating lunches, running food or clearing tables, you can’t run a restaurant without counting on the rest of the team to support you. What would happen if every time a customer gave an order to a server, the server said, “I can’t cook that, so I don’t know what you’re going to get.”

It’s true, though. Servers do not cook your lunch, but they trust that the kitchen staff will and that trust is so strong that they make recommendations, take our orders and never hint that there’s any chance that things won’t go exactly as planned.

Is that dishonest? Is it wrong that I’m confirming details that are outside of my control? Absolutely not. It’s essential to success. As a team, each of us has unique abilities and responsibilities, and we’re trusting each member of the team to fulfill their role. The sales team can’t write code, and the delivery team isn’t responsible for selling. But without the two working together, trusting that they can do their jobs, we’d all be out of work. Whether your work is in a restaurant or you’re part of a complex software delivery department, teams succeed and fail together.

Details matter.

One of our customers had a silverware roll that was missing a fork. Something as simple as a fork has the ability to define or deny a customer’s enjoyable experience. How can I eat a salad — even the best salad in the world — without a fork? I can’t. Paying attention to details, working to ensure that no detail is overlooked or taken for granted, is the most-basic building block of successful service.

I don’t make forks. I wasn’t responsible for forks. I’m not even sure that I knew where the forks were kept — but I know that forks matter. And I was on the lookout every time we re-set a table for the rest of the day to ensure everyone had a fork. We each have our individual roles and responsibilities, but we’re all responsible for quality control. Details matter, and it’s everyone’s job to keep them in focus if the goal is to deliver quality.

Service is service.

Whether you’re waiting tables, baking quiches or plating lunches, you’re in service. Equally, if you’re writing code, configuring RAID arrays, updating a virtual environment or providing strategic assessments, you’re in service. Whether we think of it that way or not, our (unspoken) commitment to all of our clients is the exact same as it was in Café OST on Leap Day — to deliver exceptional service.

As consultants, we have the luxury to define customers’ expectations, and we get the pleasure of delivering on those expectations. This contract defines what we do, and it defines everything we do in the service industry. I am proud to have dedicated my life to the service industry and am thankful that I got to spend the day reminding myself of this.

Here’s my call to action for you: Find the time. Every moment you spend learning is a moment that will reward you tenfold. Every minute you spend exploring why you do what you do is a minute that will color all the minutes that follow it.

Your order is in the window. Eat up, while the plate’s still hot.

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