Friday 10 March 2006

Run your restaurant like an army

Have you ever noticed how really good and successful stores and restaurants are run a bit like an army? No? Maybe you think that there’s no real connection between customer service and military service? Think again. Think of all the similarities between serving customers and serving your nation with a gun.


Look at Primi Piatti and the team all running around in bright orange jumpsuits, wearing utility belts full of equipment and having regular group “huddles”. Just imagine how it would feel if they were wearing dark green, camouflage uniforms. Just a little bit threatening perhaps?

But because they are in bright orange uniforms they come across as light-hearted and jolly. The almost paramilitary nature of their appearance is hidden by the colour.

Even in restaurants and stores that aren’t quite as paramilitary the uniforms still achieve the same things that they achieve in the army. The staff are easily identifiable, the uniforms encourage them to operate as a team and the uniforms are much more practical that ordinary clothes.

(However it’s probably best not to give waiters guns for their utility belts, it might be just a bit too tempting when that particular Customer From Hell arrives next time.)


Armies give their soldiers activities to keep them occupied when they’re not actually fighting. They make them run up and down to keep them fit, they train them in new skills, the get them to practice their skills over and over again until they can do them in their sleep. In an army a soldier should be able to dismantle and reassemble his gun in complete darkness. Surely a waiter should be able to fold a napkin or lay a place setting in the same way? If waiters are unoccupied they should be practicing something so they can do it with military efficiency.

(Unlike at a certain bar/restaurant the Watchdog visited last week where almost all of the staff were standing around looking at Kgale Hill while waiting to greet new customers but not actually doing anything for the people already seated.)


Decent restaurants and teams of soldiers operate with tight discipline. The rules of engagement are understood and recognised by all parties. Waiters and soldiers know their mission, the weapons they have available and who’s in charge.

They also know that if they break the rules there will be consequences. It’s sad but inevitable. Restaurants have to fire staff who transgress.

(Just don’t think you can have them shot, Labour would hear about it.)

Participation by management

The best leaders aren’t removed from their team. When necessary they grab a gun, put on their helmet and join in the fight. A certain slightly crazy pizza place at Riverwalk in Gaborone is a good example. The manager will take your order, he’ll pour your wine and he’ll check your food is OK. He’s not above doing the menial tasks like firing his gun (as well as some waiters) when the enemy is in sight.

(Just don’t get so involved that you end up getting yourself killed, OK?)


All the best armies have pride in themselves. They’re proud of their comrades, are proud of their regiment or division and, above all, are proud of themselves. They know that they are well-trained, know that they have excellent skills and know what they are capable of doing. This doesn’t come across as arrogance to customers, it is seen as confidence. Who actually wants a waiter who is servile, cringing and apologising all the time? Surely we want someone who knows the menu inside out, can advise you on what you might like and remembers what you order?

(Just remember that the customer is the one paying. If he wants white wine with his steak then that’s just fine, OK?)


All good restaurants have a leader. Whether it’s the owner or a manager doesn’t matter. There is someone who takes control, defines the way the place should run and maintains standards. This leader should have extra keen eyesight – always watching to see that glasses are being refilled, empty plates are being removed and that there are smiles on every customer’s face.

(However, if your parents called you Adolf, change your name, OK?)

Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea about this military business, I’m not suggesting that Wimpy should send a raiding party to Primi Piatti and steal their cutlery. Nor should O’Hagans nuke the Keg. Both actions would probably be excessive although quite fun to watch!

Also I have a feeling that someone will complain that this idea is very masculine and excludes women from military style customer service management. Nonsense. Go to the internet and do a Google search for Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Joan of Arc and even (Dad please forgive me for saying this) Margaret Thatcher. Gender is simply not relevant to someone’s ability to lead, govern and direct.

Leadership is not connected to race, skin colour, tribe, gender or shoe size. It’s not that common but if you’ve got it you’ll go far. Just think one day you could run an army! Who knows, you may even end up running a country!

Or even a restaurant.

This week’s stars!

  • Dzene at Stanbic Head Office for understanding that customers sometimes deserve more than just an apology.
  • Bogadi in the Government Department of Information Technology for being proactive.
  • Oratile at the Total Filling Station at Game City for service with a smile.
  • Margaret at Woolworths at Riverwalk for keeping a customer’s debit card safe until they returned.
  • The staff at Kgale Spar for keeping a customer’s debit card safe.
  • Kagiso at Riverwalk Ackermans for being friendly and helpful.
  • The team at Incredible Connection for running a very efficient repairs service.
  • Chee Wai also in the Government Department of Information Technology for running a fantastic web service for Government Internet users.
  • Mathata, the Securicor guard at Riverwalk New Capitol cinema for being helpful with kids.
  • Sylvia at the Standard Chartered Bank call centre for being tremendously helpful.

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