How working in a restaurant made me a better consultant

By James. September 3rd, 2010. Posted in On assignment No Comments »

Photo of a restaurant team

What have running a restaurant and running consulting projects got in common? In both cases the goal is the same; to deliver a great customer experience.

In the restaurant business it doesn’t matter what sort of food you serve, or what type of restaurant you run you need to deliver a great customer experience if you want your customers to keep on coming back. The same is true of consulting; it doesn’t matter what the subject of your consulting project is, or what you need to deliver, ultimately you need to do it while making working with you a great experience for your clients if you want them to keep on hiring you.

With this in mind, I’d like to share one of the most significant lessons that I’ve learnt in my career, a lesson taught to me by the head chef I worked with in a restaurant as a teenager and a lesson that I’ve benefited from in every project I worked on as a consultant.

In the restaurant I used to work in we, like most restaurants, had a team of staff each of whom had their own role in delivering the service each day and night; there were bar staff and the “front of house” staff (waiters and waitresses) meeting, greeting and serving customers, etc. In the kitchen we had the head Chef and sous chef all preparing and making the food. There were the other kitchen staff who did the washing up, kept the kitchen clean and generally kept the kitchen running. Then there were the owners, who managed everyone else. They made sure customers were happy, and made sure everyone did their bit to make each customer’s experience fantastic. If we did a good job our customers would tip well and we used to collect all the tips from each service in one big pot and share them out equally between everyone who had been working the shift.

Whenever we got a new waiter or waitress in for their first shift they would always question why we shared the tips out each night; “We did all the hard work making the customer happy, why do we need to share the tips with the kitchen guys?”

Colin, our head chef, would always be the one to explain;

“We’re all a team. We all have a job to do and play a part in making the customers happy enough to tip.

If the food is the best the customers have ever tasted, but the service is slow or the waitresses are not friendly or attentive, the customer won’t enjoy it and won’t tip.

If the service is amazing, the waitresses smile and the customer’s every need is met they still won’t tip if the food is terrible.

If the plates aren’t clean, or the beer is off, or basically if any one of us doesn’t pull our weight then the customer will not get the great service we aim to offer, and they won’t tip. So if you work a shift, you get a share of the tips because we are all responsible for making the customer happy.”

It was a team effort, and when we all worked well the tips were a very welcome supplement to our hourly salaries. In fact, we had a such a good reputation people would come from hundreds of miles away to eat our food and experience our service and most would also tip nicely.

So, what has this got to do with consulting I hear you ask? Working as a consultant in a project team is just like working in a restaurant team. All consulting team members have a role that they need to perform, client-facing or otherwise. Whether it be project management, software development, client management, running client workshops, writing reports or simply taking notes and minutes in meetings, everyone has a job. If each team member does their job as well as they can, while supporting everyone else, the team can deliver some fantastic work and delight their customers. If one person doesn’t pull their weight or doesn’t deliver the best that they can, the project may still be delivered but it’s unlikely that the client will be impressed.

While few (if any) clients will give tips to a well performing consulting team, happy clients will give you repeat business and tell all of their business friends why they should also hire you. Conversely, unhappy customers, who have had to endure ill-performing teams of consultants at a significant expense will not hire you or your firm again and will make sure to tell all of their business friends many reasons to never hire you.

With repeat business from long standing friendly relationships with clients being the primary source of work, and therefore revenue, for most consulting firms, it should be obvious why providing a great customer experience by working well as a team is hugely important for all consultants. It doesn’t matter if your role in the team is behind the scenes (in the kitchen), or visible to the clients (front of house) as a member of the team you have a responsibility to ensure your clients have a great experience and love your work. Remember, as a new or junior consultant you are just as responsible as everyone else for meeting the expectations of the client.

Photo courtesy of Kim Scarborough

This article was written by: James

James is a freelance web consultant and designer living and working in London. He specialises in User Experience and interface design for web sites and applications. Before going freelance James worked for 5 years for a large consultancy firm in London where he helped numerous start ups and large organisations improve their product's design.

James's website

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