Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Good Burger is About More than Food

First of all, welcome to readers of A Hamburger Today, one of the best burger blogs I've found so far. There's a link to the blog on the side for anyone wants to check it out.

We are well into our search for our first store general manager. Through ads in the Boston Globe (semi-productive) and several online resources (much more productive - not a good omen for newspaper people), we found a number of good candidates and are starting to zero in on the right person.

Who is the right person?

Marc and I have a certain business philosophy, which is that no matter what product you buy, the service is a key point. We leave perfecting the burger concoctions to the experts: Five Guys and the customer. Among many other things, the manager's job is to make sure that the environment in which you experience the burger is the best it can be. Here are a few things about what that means:

The store is clean
This is so obvious that it seems strange to write it. However, it is actually difficult to achieve. This is especially true in a store that is physically too small -- so, as partners we are nervous about stores with small footprint. But when a candidate notices the crumbs on the radiator at Panera (our "office" while we conduct interviews), that stands out because we want our management to be obsessed with this. Tables should be cleaned. Trash should not be full. And yes, this philosophy extends to clean bathrooms.

Orders come consistently
Five Guys is *not* a fast-food restaurant. Even so, it has a standard for how many minutes (7) one is supposed to wait for an order, even at busy times. What's almost as important as how quickly it comes is consistency of order turnaround time. Most people would more happily wait 8 minutes every time than 5 minutes most times, but 13 minutes other times. The same applies for almost anything, by the way - human beings like consistency.

Staff is professional and polite
Starbucks is a great business (their real estate overexpansion notwithstanding) in large part because they have figured out that customer experience depends on their "associates" who interact with customers. Five Guys is not a coffeehouse (thank goodness), but applies many of the same principles. Check out sign they post on the front of the soda dispenser next time you are in a store and you will see what I mean. How a manager plans to work with staff to reduce turnover, keep people properly trained, deal proactively with disciplinary issues, and run a smooth-flowing line - and how they have done so successfully in the past - is something that we are watching closely.

There are many other attributes, but fundamentally, you want your experience to be about the food, not why the store was out of straws. That's management. If that's solid, you'll rave about the burgers -- of that, we are confident.


Equalizer said...

The restaurant business in general is no longer about food anymore. What you are selling is an experience. McDonald's although selling frozen burgers realized that in order for them to improve sales, they had to improve the experience, and that paid off well. That mean't there had to be an improved interior design, since it had a very outdated utilitarian feel. The food still the biggest factor, but in today's competitive market, it doesn't pay the bills.
Focus more on the experience and you will have a winning recipe. Good Luck !

Peter Biro said...

We spoke to a GM candidate who doubled sales in his fast-food burger restaurant over the course of a few years by slowly but steadily (a) asking his customers what they wanted to see improve, and then (b) doing it. So simple, but somehow so rare these days.

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