Kate and I stopped into our favorite bar and grill after church last Sunday for a quick lunch. We usually just sit at the bar, and that day it was just us and another couple at the other end.

Their drink glasses were empty, but the bartender busied himself mightily with cutting up lemons, putting away glasses, and chitchatting with a server. The phone rang and the bartender answered it.

It was the couple at the other end ordering another round. Funny, yes, but I wonder if that couple will ever be back.

This got me to thinking about customer service, which got me thinking about the mistakes we make and why people stop coming, which gave me an idea. We should start a company in Payson that contacts users to find out why they are not using as much as they used to.

Prime example: When we moved here, our house needed an extensive remodel. One of those where the contractor shows up early in the morning and drinks your coffee while you are trying to sleep in the loft, and you don’t have any bathrooms, because the first thing the flooring people did was take out all the toilets and put them in the front yard.

Anyway, we ate out all the time, mostly at our country club. Mainly because of the economic times, we don’t anymore. No one has ever contacted us to find out why we went from heavy to light user status. If I owned that club, I would want to find out what happened to the Bergolds.

Let’s talk about heavy and light users and how to get more sales from those who are already our customers to some extent. By the way, I am not going to cover nonusers, as they are the hardest to get and the most costly to reach.  

If you are a franchisee, your company has its own definition of a heavy, medium, and light user. If you’re not, hit the Internet. There’s tons of information and literature on how to define users. Sales are made up of the number of times someone comes and what they spend on each visit.

The classic thinking used to be that the heavy user was the easiest to affect since they are there most. But heavy users now come so often that it may be hard to squeeze another visit out of them. And it’s also a small group.  

A couple of thoughts on the heavy users: Don’t give them food, as they already buy it. Try co-op promotions like a coupon for a car wash with a value-meal purchase. Or try to get them to try another daypart. If they eat lunch with you, try to get a breakfast visit, also.  

Today, medium users are a prime market. You can probably get them to visit again or buy more. Since they are coming, try sampling, particularly with another daypart. Don’t forget the suggestive sell. A sandwich should never go out without a side and a drink. Be nice, but suggest these things.  

“Try to get heavy users to try another daypart. If they eat lunch with you, try to get a breakfast visit also.”

If you are in charge, get rid of low-profit, low-selling items that are cluttering up the menuboard. Have a store marketing plan and stick to it. Have a grand reopening to excite your whole customer base. Do a dining club with rewards based on usage and amount spent. Incentivize the crew with hourly sales objectives based on the suggestive sell.

Go to industry shows and look for ideas to increase usage. Analyze your competition and borrow usage ideas. If you can, look at your portion sizes in relation to what your users want.

Take a look at your business hours. Are you open when your users want you to be? If there is a customer complaint, handle it now, not in five minutes.  

As to marketing, I have written a new slogan for one of our grocery stores in town: “If it’s on sale, we’re out of it.” Don’t let that happen with promotions or product.  Perhaps the most important thing you can do to increase usage, be it frequency or food sold, is communication. Talk to your customers, find out what you are doing right and wrong. Go to your credit card receipts and classify your customers. Talk to your manager and crew, because they are your front line. Talk to your friends about their experiences.

If you’re a franchisee, go to your company. I bet they have three old manuals on user patterns that if you ask, you shall receive. You might have to think about reassigning your crew. Maybe a lobby person needs to get outside to control litter. Post an e-mail address at the counter for customer comments, check it once a day, and reply. Again, your customers will give you ideas if you ask.  

And if all else fails, ask for a full field visit. Your company adviser probably has a lot of ideas for you.

One other service story: The Bergolds had a rare family vacation recently, with lots of people. We rented a house and went to pick up the keys. There were two people in the office; one completely ignored me, and the other was on the phone as I waited for my keys.

She finally hung up and reached into her drawer. The phone rang.  Instead of letting it go to voicemail and taking care of the customer in front of her, she answered and it turned out to be a personal call. I waited. Will I ever rent from them again?  

Remember, Procter & Gamble used to say that one customer letter was worth 100,000 customers who didn’t take the time to write. And it could be as simple as a missing condiment you need to have.  

Finally, Ray Kroc used to say that if we are going to take money out of the community, we need to put some back. Have a giveback program of some sort. Help the community you do business in.

Happy Trails, and a Peaceful Life. Go make those mediums, heavies.q

Consumer Trends, Operations, Restaurant Operations, Story