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Some of the worst Customer Service failures occur when a worker isn’t able to recognize who their customer is. In a well-run commercial kitchen, each station has a different customer. Yes, the Guest is everyone’s customer, but in order for that Guest to have an optimum experience, the entire team has to function at its best, and there is a trick for that, a hack or cheat if you will.

The trick is this. Distinguish the face of your customer. While I’ve already stated that the Guest is everyone’s customer; that is in the abstract. The concrete is the face you see over and over as you do your job. When it’s done right, the Sous Chef’s customer is the Line Cook, the Line Cook’s customer is the Expediter, the Expediter’s customer is the Server, the Server’s customer is the Guest, and the Kitchen Manager’s customer is the staff.

It would seem that a Kitchen Manager would be serving the Guest. But the best way for her to do that is to serve her team so that they will function at *their* best.

I am the Kitchen Manager in my own bakery. It happens to be open for only 2 months of the year, inside the largest Renaissance Festival in America. We serve food that we’ve made from scratch to thousands of people a day, for eight consecutive weekends each fall season. I have a staff of about 20 people, and I am approached regularly by people that want to join the team. It’s not that I offer bigger compensation packages or fringe benefits (although our crew T-shirts *are* pretty cool). But I am clear that my job is to make all of their jobs easier, while getting the best product possible out the door to the Guest. I ask my crew for input often, and they know I listen to them. By listening to my immediate customer, I create a better product and experience for my abstract customer.

Bevan’s promo photo for my bakery “Queen’s Pantry” at the Texas Renaissance Festival

How does this translate for folks who are not running a high-volume kitchen? Are you running (or wanting to run) a high-volume anything? Learn to recognize the face of your immediate customer and serve them to your best ability. If you are managing an operation of any sort, help your subordinates understand who their immediate customer is, and ask them to list how they can best serve that person. We all work best when we see the face of who we are serving, but it doesn’t have to be an abstraction. 

The best management teams use this model. Festival Management is traditionally broken down into Food Program Coordinators, Crafts Coordinators, Wedding Coordinators, Entertainment Directors, etc. All of these people have the park Guest as their abstract and ultimate customer, but their titles explain who their immediate customers actually are. In venues where there are not as many staff members as there are titles, that staff has to be able to shift their customer focus as often as they change departments in order to be effective. If they make the assumption that they are only serving the end customer, the members of the team will not be served in a way that allows them to do their best in regards to the final product being presented to that Guest, and the overall quality of the event deteriorates.

There is another very important key to this process. Do not make any of your business associate’s jobs more difficult. Do not “make work” for another department simply because their immediate customer is different from your own. Some of the volunteers at the Music Festival where you vend might have inadvertently done something annoying, but the Hospitality Program that feeds and otherwise cares for the Talent and the grounds at the show cannot function without them. It is easier to gently inform them of the way things work than to snap at them. You will wish they were in your neighborhood when the garbage cans start filling up around your space.

Denigrating the immediate customers of your associates makes work for your associates. They have to work to overcome the implication that they don’t matter to your overall team. It takes a lot of different departments to make a festival work well. It is essential to keep all of the players in these departments satisfied with their situations, and the easiest way to do that is to treat them like they matter. Optimum Customer Service really is the goal of this process in finding the face of your immediate customer. It can in no way eliminate your responsibilities to the entire team. Trying to limit your obligations to only your immediate customer and the abstract customer or Guest is shortsighted and ultimately foolish; as the end product delivered to the Guest deteriorates with the weakening of the team. Customer Service has to be a consideration at all stages and in all departments of the operation if the event  (or product / service being sold) is to succeed.