K.N.O.W.ing Service and Creating Experiences


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Do you remember your first job? My first real job was in the restaurant business. It was the summer of 1981 when I started as a dishwasher/busboy at a Bonanza Steakhouse chain in Marietta, Georgia. That was my introduction to the world of service.

After my shift, I smelled like every condiment on the salad bar and eight different steak specials. Riding the mile and a quarter home on my ten-speed bike in the Georgia heat didn’t help matters any.

I remember my first weekend shift. Big Al was on the grill when I walked in Friday night. Picture a burly guy about six feet tall, blonde curly hair with a white cap, dressed in a white t-shirt and apron. He looks at me, gives me a wink, and says, “You ready for this? You’re about to get worn slap out!” I had no idea what ‘worn slap out’ meant. I found out when the night was over.

I had never been so tired and sore in my life. As soon as I emptied one bus cart with three tubs of dishes, silverware, and cups, another one filled up. As you might imagine, it didn’t take long before I fell behind. Next thing I know, Big Al comes back and wonders where his clean plates are. Behind him was Jane, the girl in charge of the salad bar, asking the same.

While Big Al was patiently showing me how to be more efficient at the fine art of dishwashing, he gave me my first service/business lesson which I will never forget. “Here’s how this works. Your number one job is to keep Jane and me happy. When the line is happy, we can keep the waitresses happy. When the waitresses are happy, the customers are happy.”

Lessons Learned

It didn’t take long for that to sink in. Clean dishes mean food on plates and silverware on tables which equals happy customers which translates to happy waitresses. Pretty simple formula.

I learned a lot that summer by listening and observing. My friend Paige and I were in the same class. She and her mother often waitressed together. No matter how tired they were or whatever happened on the floor, they always had smiles on their faces for customers. They also knew what their regulars liked and made sure they got plenty of it. Watching them work helped me understand my place in the Bonanza service model.

K.N.O.W. the Experience You Want to Create:

Knowledge – Know your business inside and out. Make sure your service team knows how they connect to your business and customers. Show them how they make a difference to your front-line team and your customers.

New – What are you doing for people who are new to your business, specifically workers? Are they equipped to inform and delight customers and create memorable experiences? A night out at Bonanza might not seem like much now, but back then, it could have meant the world to a couple or a family who chose our little chain restaurant for a night out.

Open – Be open to opportunity and change. How ready are you and your team to do something special for your clients? Have you asked yourself lately what that looks like? Ritz-Carlton is an often-used example of a company that knows how to treat customers beyond what they expect. What one thing from their model can you use to lift your service standard?

Willing – What are you willing to do to go the extra mile for your customers, clients, and team? Heck, it doesn’t have to be a mile – what small thing can you do that will make a difference? It could be something as simple as a smile, a thank you, or a phrase of praise. You’ll be surprised how the little things add up.

Big Al made a difference to me. He could have let me flounder and fail; he could have yelled at me or belittled me for not doing my job. Instead, he chose to use his knowledge to help a new kid out. He was open and willing to give me a chance. Thanks, Big Al.

Roger Wolkoff
Roger Wolkoff has been called the 911 of projects, a fabulous facilitator, and the consummate communicator. Roger is a helper, fixer, and rescuer. He knows that when you build solid foundations and excellent communication, you will have engaged teams. You will spend less on turnover and re-training. Loyal and engaged employees mean customers will buy from you, which translates to higher ROI, an increase in your bottom line and better outcomes for you. Roger is the founder of All About Authenticity and has worked with clients for more than 20 years.


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