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 served family style. We were very impressed indeed! The customer service and the sense of teamwork I observed amongst the staff were more impressive. Frankly, I’ve been to some fancy restaurants, and I 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 always looking for ways to provide better customer service, I observe and try to learn from watching how the 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; she was very enthusiastic and welcoming. Other staff delivered our food, water, and whatever we needed. This observation from other restaurants is nothing unique but how they all seemed to treat us as their customer, not the “other stuff” 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 or feel like they were forced to talk with us.
  • The hostess and most staff seem to know many 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’d known each other for some period of time. The hostess was particularly nice and welcoming. She was 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 the staff seemed 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 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 that Puck often visits the restaurant in the late hours before closing and genuinely interacts with the customers. As she told us, he enjoys talking with 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. The hostess feels like this is her restaurant, even though it’s owned by the famous chef Wolfgang Puck. She says the staff has strong pride in their work and 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 my observations of my colleagues through the years, I feel employees contribute more to 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 matters in how their organization is managed and its future direction. They are also allowed to take action as trusted employees. This also means they are given the leeway to make decisions without always waiting for management approval.

Based on our good experience 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.