Looking to close the gap between single-unit operators and large chains, US Foods' latest program standardizes training and improves operations.
There is plenty to be said regarding the pros and cons of operating an independent restaurant versus a nationally backed franchised. While the debate is too subjective to warrant any real conclusion, US Foods took aim at an obstacle facing single-unit operators who grapple with limited resources on a daily basis. When it comes to customer service, especially in the casual dining sector, it can be difficult to train a consistent wait staff without donating significant time and money to the effort.
At The Pound! Bar & Grill in Brighton, Michigan, owner Thomas Masterson realized he had a server problem. Most notably, “not being able to upsell was a major issue,” he explains. A US Foods rep, who noticed Masterson was menuing a lot of their Scoop items, offered the company’s latest solution.
US Foods recently announced the Tipping Point program, which debuted along with its fall product lineup. The goal is straightforward: equip independent operators with the tools needed to standardize training and, in response, boost tip averages, customer satisfaction, and, of course, the bottom line.
In the past, Masterson says he deployed a mentor system with his servers, meaning he would have a senior staff member show the new employee the ropes. “If you don’t have the best person peer-on-peer training it kind of sets the other person up for failure,” Masterson notes. “And you don’t necessarily get them to reach their best potential.”
US Foods’ Tipping Point provides operators with the greatest asset there is: information. Each item in the product line comes with an array of materials that can help the server directly. There are back-of-the-house posters, which include key information about the dish and offer simple selling techniques. So instead of having to run back and bother the chef, servers can now refer back to a poster on the wall.
Even more convenient, there are server tip cards. They are two-sided and offer the same sort of information. Servers can put them in their uniform and quickly refer to the notes while taking a guest’s order. For example, with the All-Natural Roasted Beef Bone Marrow, which Masterson has on his menu, the card has a “When to Suggest” label (as a shared appetizer, side dish or complement to a Stock Yards steak), and a “What to Say” section (Our All Natural Roasted Beef Bone Marrow is a delicious choice as a shared appetizer or a complement to an entrée, especially steak or our Roasted Beef Bone Marrow is minimally processed and made with no artificial ingredients. You scoop it out and spread it on our tasty grilled bread.)
“The right server can turn a good dining experience into a great one and that is where Tipping Point comes in,” says Mark Eggerding, vice president product sales and support for US Foods. "US Foods’ Tipping Point program provides training and quick tips for servers and managers aimed at increasing check sizes for the restaurant operator and tips for the servers. Chains have been conducting server training for years, but now with Tipping Point we are bringing this training to the independent restaurants to help make them—and their servers—more successful and we’re the only national distributor to have this.”
For the operators themselves, US Foods created a manager leader guide that walks owners through delivery of the program. There’s also a pre-shift meeting planner and pre-shift activity cards to incentivize servers with fun and competitive games. Table tents showcasing the products are another option.
When Masterson first attended the meeting with US Foods, he brought along one of his servers. That was about four months ago. When he last checked in, she reported an average tip boost from 17 to 22 percent per table. Overall, sales on desserts went up 13 percent.
“It’s really important to be able to communicate to [servers] how much upselling can make a difference in your overall quantity of tips,” Masterson says. “At the end of the year, one or two items upselling per check makes a $5,000 difference. You throw those numbers at them and it kind of makes their eyes pop.”
He’s also noticed an uptick in customer response. It’s impossible to put an exact value on quality staff, but there’s no question it’s vital to restaurant survival. Better tips will likely mean longer-tenured employees, which, in turn, results in higher-performing workers who understand and buy into the company’s culture.
“Honestly, getting great staff that’s willing to stick around and show up just for shifts is a challenge in the restaurant industry itself,” Masterson says. “The better ones that we can draw out the more attractive we can be. We can show perspective servers that we draw more tips than other place given the processes that we use.”
Masterson’s only request of Tipping Point is for it to continue expanding and adding menu items.
“If you’re working at a Chili’s or an Outback or any of those major corporations, they usually set you up with some sort of standardized training manual or module or something of those sorts,” he adds. “We never really had that during the first four years we were open until I brought this up. Now we have this. It’s kind of standardized our training manual in how we approach new servers; the things we can give them to set them up to be a better server and in turn look better on our company as well.”