chinois_2My wife and I had lunch at Chinois in Santa Monica last week for my birthday. The food was as delicious and the portions were definitely served for family style. We were very impressed indeed! More impressive was the customer service and the sense of teamwork I observed amongst the staff. Frankly, I’ve been to some fancy restaurants and I really don’t mind paying a lot of money for quality food but it’s the experience and customer service that determine whether we go back to the place.

As one who leads a higher ed IT department and one who is always looking on ways to provide better customer service, I observe and try to learn from watching how staff works at restaurants and other business establishments. Here are some of my observations:

  • The staff worked as a team. We initially had a server take our order and she was very enthusiastic and very welcoming. Other staff delivered our food, water, and whatever we needed. Nothing unique about this observation from other restaurants but it was the way they all seemed to treat us as their customer, not the “other staff” that stood out. They were conversing with us and there was a sense of continuity of service, not disjointed as I’ve experienced with other restaurants.
  • The staff were cheerful and took the time to talk with us. Even though the restaurant was busy, the staff took the time to talk with us. They didn’t seem rushed nor did they feel like they were forced to talk with us.
  • The hostess and most of the staff seem to know many of the customers who came in that lunch. As soon as the customers walked through the door, they were greeted with hugs and/or pleasant greetings as if they’ve known each other for some period of time. The hostess was particularly nice and welcoming. Very cheerful and seemed to enjoy what she was doing.

After our lunch, my wife and I spoke with the hostess, Natalie, complimenting her and the other staff on how well they treat their customers, including us. She was gracious and we spoke for a bit about why was it that the staff seem to work well together and the reason behind the good customer service. Here’s what she told us:

  • Most of the staff have worked there for years, including her. She mentioned she was in her mid 30’s and she started working there when she was 19. She also mentioned she wrote her thesis on the restaurant for her grad school.
  • The attitude comes from the top, Wolfgang Puck. The hostess also mentioned Puck oftentimes visits the restaurant in the late hours before closing and he genuinely interacts with the customers. As she told us, he enjoys talking with the customers and it’s not a chore for him to do so. Puck sets a tone and example for his staff to follow.

From our conversation, one thing that stood out to me was the following:

  • The staff feels a sense of ownership. For the hostess, she feels as if this is her restaurant, even though it’s owned by the famous chef Wolfgang Puck. She says the staff has a strong sense of pride in their work and with the restaurant. This was their place.

I was thinking about this sense of ownership the hostess shared with us and how it relates to my work. Looking back at my experience and from my observation of my colleagues through the years, I do feel employees contribute more to towards their work if they have a sense of ownership in what they do and even better, of their organization. Part of that sense of ownership is the idea that their voices are valued and what they say matter in how their organization is managed as well as its future direction. They are also given the opportunity to take action as trusted employees. This also means they are given the leeway to make decisions without having to always wait for management approval.

Based on the good experience we had at Chinois, we will definitely go back again to try the other dishes. We are also looking forward to dining at Spago in Beverly Hills, another restaurant owned by Wolfgang Puck.