Michael Gray, Partner and Director of Operations at Four Man Ladder, and Ping Ho, Chief Executive Officer of Backbone Hospitality sat down with Rhonda Walker, Morning Anchor at WDIV-TV 4 for a conversation about the resilience of the food and beverage industry in Detroit and how they are integrating the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Restaurants Must Continue Creating Desirable Experiences
On the challenges of being a restaurant owner throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gray noted that the industry is always difficult, but he relied on great teammates to continue finding new ways to pivot and keep moving forward to curate a desirable experience.
“You can’t just have a beautiful building and great chefs making great food,” he said. “You must have a wonderful beverage program, accessibility, parking, and atmosphere. It’s very comprehensive.”
Ho agreed, noting the unprecedented and continuous pivoting “was character-building in many ways.” She said her teams are now, “smarter, stronger, more adaptable, and braver.”
Build Personalized Experiences In-House and To-Go
During the pandemic, both Ho and Gray were challenged with finding creative solutions to continue operations. For Gray, keeping their audience engaged and fostering a community of supporters was key. They did this by sending regular e-newsletters in addition to offering meal kits customers could pick up and take home.
On the success of this, Gray said, “hospitality is all about building that personal rapport. We focus our front-of-house service on personalizing the service.” His team does this by building a profile for their guests so the next time they visit, they are prepared with their preferences.
Ho’s team differentiated themselves by offering wine and sausage-making classes, because “it’s not just about enjoying the food on the other end. It’s about coming in and learning.”
Treat Your Staff as Well as Your Clientele
Of course, no restaurant can be successful without a staff consistently delivering on the experience. For Ho’s teams, turnover is very low. She attributes this partly to the camaraderie that a small team can foster when working together often, but also to her investment in a coach who has guided them on dealing with conflict and building teamworking.
She also emphasized the importance of providing advancement opportunities as well as consistent and fair compensation. With a larger staffing size, Gray also attests to the impact of regular and healthy-sized paychecks and a healthy work environment.
Moving forward, Ho’s focus is on the sustainability of the lessons they learned and the profitability that came with the post-COVID return of the industry. One big lesson was the value in running operations leaner, meaning working less days with a smaller team. This fostered work-life balance on their team, which contributed to workforce retention.