How often do you experience this? You walk into a fancy restaurant for the first time. It is located at a premier address. You notice the distinct grandeur – the lighting, the water-fountains, the expensive art, the music, the fine wine bottles nicely showcased on the wall rack…. You are greeted and taken to your table, and given a menu. You are enjoying the nice ambience, when suddenly you realize that the menu card is torn, soiled and worse(!) – has some food stains on it!
Numerous fancy restaurants have sprung up in Pune and indeed in all major Indian cities, over the past few years. These restaurants spend a lot of money on real-estate and decor, but often times pay scant attention to minor details. Of course, food quality and taste is of paramount importance. But the supporting setting really separates the extraordinary from the ordinary. These supporting items become all the more important when the customer is paying many times over for the same dish, as compared to an ordinary restaurant.
In this article, I am trying to highlight some of these basic things that go a long way in improving customer satisfaction.
1. Menu cards: It’s amazing to note how a restaurant will spend millions on decor and yet completely ignore what is possibly their key interface point with their guest! I don’t care if guests ‘spoil’ the menu cards….print new ones!
2. Service Presentation: These are the basics! Greet the customer, lead them to the table. Offer choice of sitting, make sure they are comfortable, etc. Sounds very simple, right? Many top places don’t do a good job at this.
And I think its a good idea for the Head Chef to once in a while step out of the kitchen and meet some guests. This is the best way to receive feedback, first hand.
3. Service: Communication is key. The lead steward needs to be crisp and clear in welcoming the guests. Neither too aggressive and over-bearing, nor too shy. Being indifferent is even worse. For the lead steward, as well as rest of the serving staff – please make sure that their English is up to mark (especially, if they insist in speaking in English). I have no issues communicating with them in Marathi/Hindi – but some ‘fancy’ places insist that their waiters use English! And please learn the correct pronunciations – the ‘j’ in ‘Fajita’ is pronounced ‘h’! I think overall, staff training is critical. Top restaurants spend months on staff training even before the opening. Hence they rate much better on the service. Training is not just limited to basics like serving style and ordering communications…but also into the more subtle aspects of customer psychology.
4. Service – Issues Management: Pune Restaurants are quite bad when it comes to ‘Issues Management’. By ‘Issues Management’ I refer to way in which a customer complaint/issue is handled. If a customer doesn’t like a dish/its preparation – don’t spend time arguing and justifying it! First offer to redo it and/or substitute it with something else. After all attempts, if the customer is still not satisfied, provide some discount on the bill. Often times, this is a small price to pay, but good restaurants are not very keen to do this.
5. Seating comfort: I absolutely hate it when real fancy and expensive restaurants offer horrible seating. Sometimes, its in the name of ‘aesthetics’ and sometimes, it just negligence. For those restaurants who think of creating an uncomfortable ‘rural feel’ in their restaurants – just stop and think – did you do away with air-conditioning? Or purified water? Then why create these horrible bench or floor seats??
6. Ambience level: It is very important to get the right ambience level. Not too bright and overbearing, and not too plain. In fact, a little subtle is better. Many restaurants in Pune go overboard with a ‘jazzy look’. Also see my comment on music. Lighting needs to be at the right levels. Most places either err on one side (too bright, or too dim). In general I would prefer bright over dim – I want to see what I am eating
7. Feedback Process: Getting the right feedback is often times one of the most important ways to drive continuous improvement and course corrections. Yet many restaurants simply boil it down to one feedback form given with the bill! It is important for the manager to regularly (and discretely) check with the customers. However, don’t overdo it. If the customer complains, offer to change it, but don’t explain things (Here we make it this way..etc…).
8. Loyalty: Many restaurants do a bad job of maintaining customer loyality. Some do it quite well. If I visit a place regularly, its a good thing to be greeted by your name. Even better if they know your favorite order. Rewarding loyalty is very important. And its not as simple as giving away free dishes/dinners. Its much more – like getting me a reservation, when its all booked. Or getting me an off-the-menu item.
9. Right staffing levels: This is another common problem. In most cases staffing levels are not adjusted to account for the surge traffic. I understand this means extra investment..but this is key for top restaurants.
10. Music: Most Pune restaurants have the music turned on too loud. Music should be soft and preferably instrumental.
11. Let me add a 11th point, before I end this blogpost. The all important ‘Hygiene’ – Pay attention to small things such as – Stains, Dirt in corners, Plates, Cutlery, glasses. Uniforms of the waiting staff. Common areas, etc.
NOTE – Here I am specifically referring to med to high-priced restaurants. Don’t expect compliance on all these 11 points, at lower priced restaurants – still these are good yardsticks for them to evaluate themselves.
12 July 1961 – this fateful day will remain forever etched in Pune’s history. A day that changed the history and geography of this great city. Call it a bad coincidence – but two events that happened almost exactly 200 years apart have played a critical role in Pune’s history – to the extent that they have been added to the local Marathi lexicon. The first one was the 3rd Battle of Panipat in 1761 and the second one: the Panshet flood. “पानिपत झालं” (Panipat zala) and “पानशेत झालं” (Panshet zala) are commonly used terms today to refer to a big disaster.
Half a century ago, the new under-construction Panshet dam had started developing some problems, even before it was complete. Against some recommendations, the dam was being filled up during the 1961 monsoon season. Cracks started developing and yet there was lot of debate on whether the dam was in real imminent danger. Read this technical article for a good engineering summary of what went wrong at Panshet:
A valiant last-ditch effort by the Army Jawans managed to delay the inevitable by a few hours. These few hours helped a lot. If not for this great effort, where thousands of sand bags were deployed, the dam would have burst in the middle of the night, creating havoc for the sleeping residents of Pune. The few hours delay meant that the burst happened early morning and the wall of flood waters reached Pune later in the morning. The deluge of flood waters of Panshet also broke the smaller Khadakwasla dam, further downstream.
Residents started getting some warnings early in the morning and the authorities started moving out the residents living near the riverside. Many residents fled to higher grounds, some all the way to the Parvati Hill. Apparently, All India Radio did not broadcast any warnings, and was playing a regular scheduled music program when the floods struck. The low lying areas of the old city were almost completely submerged. Except for the Bund Garden Bridge, all the bridges were under water as well. Water rushed into the old ‘Peths’ and along Karve Road, Deccan Gymkhana areas. For many hours, the high water levels persisted. Roughly speaking Panshet water reservoir stores enough water for all of Pune’s city needs today (today’s needs are probably 5-10 times more than the 1960s requirements). Imagine all that water being drained out in just a few hours! To give you an idea of the level of the water, just visualize the first floor of Abasaheb Garware College (MES) on Karve Road, nearly completely submerged! Some people and rescue workers were trying navigate Deccan Gymkhana, FC/JM Road areas in small boats.
The water levels finally started falling by late night. The floods completely cutoff the electric and water supply. July 12th was a dark, rainy night in Pune – with rumors still doing the rounds. Some of them pointed to more floods on the way… (even though the dams had been drained empty by then..). When the flood-waters receded, they left behind a trail of destruction and a muddy mess. The cleanup and rebuilding took many months. The old riverside city landscape changed forever. New localities (such as Lokmanya Nagar, Gokhale Nagar, etc.) were setup to resettle some of the flood affected citizens. Most of the bridges were damaged and needed fixing and in some cases complete rebuilding. With Khadakwasla and Panshet dams completely drained, there was no water supply for the city. The Peshwa era Katraj water aqueduct was used to meet some water requirements. Wells were another source. Wadas that had wells had to prominently list ‘Well’ on their main door – so that, the water source could be be made available.
I have found a series of good articles about the Panshet flood disaster, including many firsthand accounts. Some of these links are listed below. I will continue to add more links here. If you come across any good articles, do let me know. Also if you have personal memories from your own experiences, or from your friends & families, please share them here in the comments section.
Indian Express Headline: July 12, 1961
पानशेत प्रलय आणी मी – मधुकर हेबळे (‘Panshet Pralay Ani Mi’ – Madhukar Heble)
Just watched the launch of STS135; the lift-off of shuttle Atlantis on the last space shuttle mission. Two weeks from now, Atlantis will touch down one last time and bring an end to 30 years of Space Shuttle Flights. An end of an era.
I must have watched dozens of shuttle launches live on TV, but regret not having had the opportunity of watching one in-person, in Florida. All of them were great to watch (especially the ones I saw on NASA TV). The complexity of the machine, the mission control center interactions, the sheer magnitude of engine power, the grandeur of lift-off… fascinating!
Overall, the shuttle program has been quite successful, apart from the two tragedies of Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. Most of the other missions went through without any major issues – to the point that these missions were felt as really ‘routine’.
Like was the case with the Apollo Program nearly 40 years back, budget cuts have played their part in ending the shuttle program. The debate between cost-benefits of manned space flights will continue. Travelling to Mars is a possible long-term goal, but definitely not in the near future. In the medium term, some alternatives have been proposed, which aim to address some of the limitations of the space shuttle. Still, no firm plan exists today.
Leaves me wondering when the United States / NASA will return back to manned spaceflights. For now, the International Space Station will be served by Russian spacecrafts. Feels a bit odd that half a century since John Glenn’s historic flight – the United States doesn’t have a firm manned spaceflight roadmap. At least they should have planned for a few more shuttle launches, until the medium strategy was ready and set for deployment!
–Note added July 22, 2011 — STS-135 completed its mission yesterday and the space shuttle landed for the last time. Here’s a great video tribute to the space shuttle program, compiled by Nature that showcases all the missions over the past 30 years: