Your employees are steering your ship, are they steering it in the direction you think? My sandwich shop sold hot dogs. These were quarter pound hot dogs, topped with a variety of toppings and ran around $3 - $4 each. These hot dogs cost me about $1 to make. The kids meal hot dogs cost me about .70. One afternoon a mom with three young kids came in for lunch. The cashier took their order and they sat down to wait for their food. When it came out one of the kids inadvertently picked up his hot dog and dropped it on the floor. I could see the look of desperation on this mother’s face. She had three squirming and hungry little boys. She had her hands full, now one hot dog was laying on the gray concrete floor. I started to walk over, but before I could I saw my cashier rush over to her. I heard my cashier telling her not to worry, we would get a fresh one out to her immediately. The mother looked relieved. The cashier went back to the kitchen and asked them to make another hotdog on the fly…or really fast. The kitchen obliged and the disaster was averted. Could it really have been a disaster? My answer is yes, and here is why. My sandwich shop felt that every single customer mattered and mattered a lot. We didn’t want to lose even one. If you look at the numbers the cost of getting a new customer in your door is outrageous. When you get them in, you need to work hard to keep them. I always pose the question, when was the last time you were texting your friend or posting on social media and said, oh I went to xyz restaurant, it was average…..loved it, we’ll be back. You don’t! Average is doing what you are supposed to do, it’s not good enough. At least it’s not good enough to a business owner who wants to be a wild success. Average isn’t good enough and by the way, average employees give average service, it’s just the way it is. I’ll talk more about your employees later on. Back to the hotdog and my great employee. The reason this single dropped hot dog good have been a disaster is because of a little mathematical equation I put together. It’s not complicated, it’s not scientific, it’s just common sense.

Their check came to about $19. They had three kids meals and the mom had a sandwich and soup. They came in about twice a month. This generated $456 a year in revenue. Occasionally, they came in with another family. They also ordered catering, which gave me an additional $300 in revenue. If someone asked me to take a $5 out of my register and throw it in the garbage I would cringe. If someone asked me to take a $50 out of my register and throw it in the garbage I would be horrified. There is no way I would throw away $756 a year over a .70 hot dog. There is no way you would either. However, I can almost guarantee that you are. You are probably taking thousands of dollars out of your register and throwing it away, all because your employees are not delivering the service that you believe they are or expect them to. Is this their fault? I would say no, it is our fault as leaders. If you don’t have time to do it the right way now, when will you have time to fix it? How can a business grow, let alone stay in business if you are letting a .70 hot dog control your bottom line? The mom that was in my restaurant could easily have gone through a drive through or chosen one of the other six restaurants I could easily see out my front window. She chose us and we need to appreciate her business. We as business owners need to appreciate each and every customer that walks through our door, calls our number or contacts us on social media. We as business owners likely do. Does your team?

What if my employee had said, okay it will be $2 for that hot dog and we will have one made. What if she didn’t even approach the woman? My guess is the woman would likely take her there young kids to one of the many other options that most people have. She may even tell her friend what a frustrating day she was having and how we did nothing to help.

Last night I was on the Facebook page for my town and read that a woman went to a fast food restaurant and one of the employees carried her tray because she had a toddler and a small baby with her. She was thankful and felt people should patronize this business because of the small things. The post had over 200 likes in the first 30 minutes. It goes to show that the little things in business go a long way. We can’t pinch pennies in the customer service arena and expect to have a successful business. We have to be smart business owners and a lot of that comes down to hiring and even more importantly retaining and training the best team out there. In today’s world of review sites and social media your amazing product or service can quickly be ruined by untrained and uncaring employees. Hire the best and they will give you the best, and in turn your business should grow. You can’t be on the front lines all the time or your business will suffer. As a business owner you also need time out of your business to develop strategic plans, sell your product, develop community relationships and enjoy a little rest and relaxation or it won’t work out. At least it won’t work out for long. You will get burned out from putting out fires and solving problems. Don’t do this, work smart not hard and create a successful business that your employees operate and that you grow. Please don’t fall into the mindset that you will get buy and work on succeeding later, it doesn’t happen that way. I believe in what my favorite math teacher, Mr. Greenberger always said, “pay now or pay later”. It has been 25 years since I sat in his math class and while I don’t remember much algebra I do remember those words of wisdom. Business owners, be smart, pay now and forget the option of paying later. Don’t let a .70 hot dog cost you a customer.

Renee Harlor owns "Greater Than Eight Inc", a company that provides customer service training. Never settle for "8", that's average. Strive only for 9's and 10's and you are headed in the direction of a successful business. If you would like more information on my training program please visit my website:

Updated: Feb 21

You have probably read and been told how hard it is to open a business in the food service industry. I believe that the reason for this is because there are two separate parts, the product (hopefully your area of expertise) and the business side, how would you rate yourself as a business person?

If you aren't confident in your ability to do bookkeeping or taxes you would contact an accountant. If you aren't confident in your ability to price your menu items, hire the right people, market your business, diversify your revenue streams, provide outstanding customer service, build a website, handle public relations, create a budget, control your food cost, manage labor expense or retain repeat guests it would likely benefit you to hire someone who can either do this for you or teach you or a team member how to do it. This person is often a business consultant.

"This is far more work than I expected, it's no longer fun."

When a client calls me I often hear an exhausted voice share the above statement. As a previous restaurant owner I understand first hand what my client feels like and how overwhelming this feeling is. However, I can also assure them that there is hope and that owning a food service business can be both enjoyable and profitable! I

I can barely afford my three bay sink, how can I afford a consultant?

You are likely worried about going without a paycheck, depleting your savings account and of course paying your team. Why would you spend money on a consultant? You're smart and talented, you got this. However, is teaching yourself a new skill set (one that takes quite some time to master) the best best use of your time or is seeking the help of an expert a better option? That decision is up to you. As a consultant, the majority of people I work with are, in fact, smart and talented. They know what they do well and they are willing to admit where they need help.

How do I find a good and trustworthy consultant?

There are so many people who put up a website, print business cards and call themselves experts. The best advice I can give is take a few minutes to talk with the consultant, if you both agree you are a good fit, ask for references and call the references! A good consultant will not be offended by this. Another piece to consider is their experience in your industry. You wouldn't go to an eye doctor with a broken bone, the same should apply when finding a consultant. I once worked with a consultant, out of the gate she told me she wasn't priced like a second hand store and she wasn't priced like Macy's, she was priced in between. The highest priced consultant isn't always the best and the lowest priced isn't always the worst. The important thing is that they work with your budget and if they can't they let you know before you get started. Transparency is important. Ask about measurable goals, you want to be able to understand what you can expect. Finally, be sure to read what you are signing. A good consultant shouldn't make you feel you need to sign up for more than you need and they should be willing to answer your questions.

Years ago my math teacher, Mr. Greenberger, often told my class we could "pay now or pay later". As a high school student, I didn't take it to heart. Years later, it holds much more value and I apply that advice to nearly every aspect of my life. A good consultant's services will often quickly pay for themselves.

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