Today, I'd like to talk about some things you can do to enhance and improve your business. I believe that there are three readily achievable goals that are well within your reach to accomplish:
- Improving your supply chain
- Hiring and training workers who display a sense of accountability and ownership
- Keeping me as a customer
It's been such a joy to watch Alterra's original Bayshore location grow and prosper over the last twenty years. When I was a teenager, it would have been difficult to imagine the mall being conducive to people-watching. Of course, much of the original mall has since been leveled, having been replaced by a new, pedestrian-friendly shopping center with outdoor dining and other quality-of-life amenities.
Regrettably, I feel that in several years of being a more or less weekly customer at your new Bayshore location, operational issues have developed that prevent me from being a satisfied one. For years, during almost every visit, I have overheard employees shouting "86" to indicate that some item or another had run out. Every couple of months, I find myself having an occasion to sample one of the hot food items. Almost without exception, my first choice is not available. If the entree is available, for example, my preferred side item is not.
Most people understand the volatile nature of the food service industry and that from time to time, a store will run out of things. When the problem becomes consistent, however, it is time to think about re-engineering your menu and, indeed, your back-of-house operations. The present menu is relatively simple and most food items are simply reheated in a rapid-cook oven, as is the case at comparable businesses. At your neighbor The Cheesecake Factory, diners can choose from a vast menu, and in my experience the restaurant has never run out of anything. The value for money is far greater than at your cafes--an observation that is awkward for me as a friend of progressive and liberal-minded causes. We're admonished to buy and eat local, and there is peer pressure in social networks to do so.
However, I believe that Alterra could easily master this situation by assigning an employee to overhaul supply chain issues. I don't know of any candidates to put forward, but in today's labor market, a qualified person could probably be found at a bargain rate. It could be as simple as posting a notice in the cafes. The appointment or new hire could then be announced in social media networks to pro-actively reassure customers that Alterra is taking steps to improve service.
More to the point, Alterra highlights its committment to buying local ingredients. Regular stockouts are hard to understand as anything other than purchase orders that were not placed or were not large enough. Making adequate purchases to ensure item availability would add weight and credibility to Alterra's claim and enhance its positioning.
Specifically, today I had ordered a smoked salmon sandwich, and took the extra step of asking first to ensure that it was still available. After I had paid and taken my seat, I heard one employee tell another that they were out of salmon. I was then given the option of changing my order without being offered a refund of the difference or given anything extra. Incidentally, I had also ordered a medium cappuccino and was given a small one, which likewise has happened on several occasions. There was no apology or effort to compensate me for my inconvenience.
The portion of food and drink was not satisfactory for an eleven-dollar ticket total. My ability to pay is of no relevance. After all, the Bayshore location is not in some emerging neighborhood, but in a suburb that offers a multitude of food and drink choices in every economic environment. Many have come and gone over the 40 years I've been around, including many solid companies that just weren't a good fit for the neighborhood.
The local businesses that demonstrably are a good fit for the neighborhood, such as Sendik's Food Market, have longtime employees whose minds and feet are on the shop floor. One Sendik's employee in particular seems to have been there every time I've visited--noon or night--for almost fifteen years. To ensure its long-term growth at Bayshore, Alterra should take the initiative to rise to the occasion and do something special at that location. It would seem a shame to simply continue along at the current level of performance.
This is candid advice offered freely, but I believe it is of high value. I have had outstanding experiences at Alterra in the past, for which I am most grateful. My continuing as a customer will depend on Alterra's addressing these issues.