In 2014 we started franchising the Lost Cajun. Fast forward to 2017, and we have 15 restaurants. Growth had been steady—about one or two a year—but in 2018, we opened 10 stores. We opened those stores because of the popularity and interest in our brand. Our older stores were still growing, but about half of the new stores were struggling and we couldn’t get our hands around it. They were the right locations, right franchisee, right area. Then we started looking at things like Facebook and TripAdvisor and comparing to the older, more mature stores.
What happened was that we’d become so focused on teaching franchisees how to operate a restaurant that we had failed to teach them the basics of running a restaurant. They’d mastered operations, but they hadn’t mastered our culture of courtesy and respect, where you greet every guest, seat them, give them samples, and check on them at least five times during meal service. When they leave we say, “Thank you for coming; I appreciate your business.”
I shut our franchising program down. We’re not opening new stores; we’re going to make sure our existing stores are doing the right things. They had gotten so caught up in the operation that they weren’t running it. We’re a full-service restaurant. We know the food is good, but we weren’t doing the basics; we weren’t giving the customer enough, checking on them multiple times, asking for reviews, or inviting them to come back and bring their friends.
When we got back to the basics, those stores started doing better. Those stores moved up from 3.5–4 stars to 4.5–5 stars. The biggest thing I learned was that no matter how big you get, no matter how many stores you have, you can’t have just average service; it has to be great. Otherwise, it’s going to cost you in the long run.
- Train with customer service in mind.
- Keep tabs on system-wide performance, especially during a growth spurt.
- Fix underlying problems immediately—even if it means suspending expansion.