One of my favorite restaurants in St. Louis, where I live, is Tony’s. You may be familiar with Tony’s if you have been following my articles and videos for a while. They are an outstanding example of a great product – their food – and amazing service. So, good in fact that they are one of the businesses that don’t have to exceed expectations. They are so good at what they do, all they have to do is meet expectations to amaze their guests.
When Tony’s first opened they were a very formal restaurant. Servers were in tuxedos, men wore suits and ties and the women wore fancy dresses. Also, “back then,” they were in a different location. It was a multi-level building. I was always impressed when the maître d’ would escort you to the table, and when he walked up the stairs, he walked backward. I thought, how interesting. This must be an extremely formal way of taking a guest to his or her table. Well, decades later, I now have the story.
I interviewed Kim Tucci, entrepreneur and restaurateur, for my Amazing Business Radio show, and if you haven’t listened to it, you should. There are many excellent customer service tips from a veteran in the hospitality business. Many years ago – as in almost 50 years ago – Kim worked at Tony’s, and he’s the one who came up with the idea of walking backwards up and down the stairs. It turns out that it wasn’t because of a fancy or formal ritual. It was born out of necessity.
On any given weekend night, the restaurant was packed. Sometimes the wait for a table was three hours. But, the food and service had the reputation for being stellar, and people were willing to wait. My friend, Kim, was the maître d’, and one busy Saturday night he was escorting his guests to their table. He asked them to follow him, and about halfway up the stairs turned around and they weren’t there. Somehow, they had lost sight of Kim and went in the wrong direction. At that moment, Kim decided he would never take his eye off the guest, and the infamous walking backwards up and down the stairs ritual began.
The Lesson: Never take your eye off your customers. If you do, they might get lost. You must guide them, but it is more than guiding them to a table in a restaurant. In business, you must guide them to make good decisions – one of which is doing business with you. Don’t let them get lost, or they may stray to doing business with the competition. Stay focused on doing the right thing for your customers, and they will stay focused on you.