How To Actually Table Touch with Ken McGarrie

SPEAKERS

Ken McGarrie, Zack Oates

Ken McGarrie (preview)

Again, back to that lazy manager touch – they go table to table to table. And if you’re going to go over to somebody, go over to them deliberately and then walk away, go help bus another table, go back to the kitchen and see if you need to run some food, go to anything else, and then come back three minutes later to touch the next table.

Zack Oates

Welcome to another edition of Give an Ovation. I am joined today by Ken McGarrie, the principal at Korgen Hospitality, a nationwide restaurant consulting firm. He has over two decades of experience at the helm of many successful restaurants, bars and entertainment based venues like Topgolf, you can get some of his inspirational insights in his amazing book, The Surprise Restaurant Manager, and I know that most of you are just listening to this, but I am holding his book here you can hear hear me thumb through those pages. I read the whole book in two days. It was phenomenal read, really quick, great insights there. Also loved you on restaurant unstoppable, Eric, good buddy of mine. Love his podcast. And for those of you who haven’t seen it restaurant unstoppable Episode 806. Go check that out. It’s a phenomenal episode. That’s like an hour long. This is going to be much more pithy than that. But needless to say, Ken, thank you for joining us on Give an Ovation.

Ken McGarrie

Thank you so much. That was a fantastic introduction. Happy to be here. And I will tell you on that long, long podcast, we drank a lot of bourbon. So it’s harder. Yeah, the farther more you go into it, the more it just becomes rambling. So we’ll we’ll definitely be pithy but concise on this one. So that’s great.

Zack Oates

Yeah. Well, well, Ken, that intro was so long, I think we’re about out. So.

Ken McGarrie

My apologies, Lindsey. Buckingham, we couldn’t get you today.

Zack Oates

Okay, so first question, is one of the last things in your book, you talk about how you tried to break up a fight when you were a bouncer. And they legit tried to choke you out with your own tie. You just give us 30 seconds of this, because that was like a crazy story.

Ken McGarrie

So yes, I was a bouncer/security guard for a nightclub here in Chicago. And they had the brilliant idea that we should wear ties, which become handles when you get in a fight. And I saw this group of people that started fighting each other. So I jumped in the middle and start doing that whole, like you see on TV, hey, and they both turned on me and just grabbed me. It started choking me out with my tie. And a buddy named Paul Stamper, who I’ll never forget, came over the top of the he was behind the bar came over the top like a phoenix. And like came down and just started pulling guys off of me. Because I’m literally getting choked down. And I thought I pulled it off, I’m like I’m never wearing a tie again. And so that’s always been a thing I never make people wear ties in bars.

Zack Oates

That is just so wild. Yeah, if you’re a bouncer, I mean, I get the look. But come on. I mean, let’s like get a little realistic.

Ken McGarrie

Clip on. That’s the only way it should be if you’ve got to do that, you should invest in clip ons. Because otherwise, it’s just a handle.

Zack Oates

I love that. So So bouncers and four year olds at church – clip on ties.

Ken McGarrie

There we go, all of those things. That’s awesome. So first of all, I guess Second of all, now, what keeps you busy Ken? Tell us a little bit about about what you do and and how you do it.

Ken McGarrie

So, I’m heading up Korgen Hospitality, I have about a half dozen current clients. I’ve had 18 since we’ve started. And my day consists of helping people based on their needs. Some great, some small, some people just need a soundboard. Some people need me physically in the space. So this week, I’ve been physically in a space helping out an exceptional virtual kitchen concept that are trying to roll out nationwide. And that’s what’s keeping me this week and next week, I’ll be focusing on something completely different.

Zack Oates

That’s pretty fun. Yeah, I think this is the one we’re working with. Is –

Ken McGarrie

Yeah, okay. Foodhaul, I can actually drop that name. Yeah. Okay. So your your ability to have visionary chefs come to your town and via a virtual kitchen. And it’s doing really well.

Zack Oates

Yeah. Great, great concept. Great team. Yeah. And that’s actually how we initially met. And I was obviously familiar with your with your book and your work, but it was cool to meet in person or virtually. So. One of the things in your book that I was blown away by, cause obviously a lot of people call Ovation like the digital table touch. And we read a lot and we talk a lot about table touches. You have one of the best explanations I’ve ever read about why how what to do what not to do. So first of all, talk to us about a table touch. Why is it table touch even important?

Ken McGarrie

Well, everybody’s supposed to table touch. And that’s like, restaurant manager, 101, you’re supposed to go talk to your tables, find out how everything is. But that’s usually pretty awkward for a lot of people. Imagine going to a party where you know, absolutely nobody. And then you have to strike up conversations with absolutely everybody in the room and make it feel genuine. So yeah, if you’re not that person who’s who’s comfortable with that, it takes some time to figure out why you’re there. And then more importantly, to make sure that you’re not what I call the lazy managers table touch, which we’ve all seen time and time again, of the person that walks to every table. He says, oh, “How is everything?” How is everything over and over again, and you know, you’ve got food in your mouth, and you just see him coming down the line? You’re like, Oh, he’s gonna come over here. And then next thing, you know, how is everything? You nod, don’t come over.

Zack Oates

Don’t talk to me.

Ken McGarrie

And then and then at the end of the day, when the owner says, Did you did you touch every table? No. Yeah, sure did, but didn’t do anything. Because you’re not gathering real information.

Zack Oates

So I love that – the gathering the real information, right? Because you’re absolutely right. When you see that robotic, mechanical… it doesn’t make you feel anything like hospitality. What it does is it makes you feel nervous. It’s like, oh, the teachers coming over to check on my work. It’s like –

Ken McGarrie

you want him to go away. Yeah, the first, the first thing that I train is, when you ask, ask specific questions about specific dishes. And there’s a difference in tone when you say, I would like to hear about your feedback on “the” lasagna, versus I would love to have feedback on “our” lasagna, the difference between the and our is the difference between talking about something objectively, like it’s a third person versus taking ownership and asking.

And then the other thing that is absolute key is asking a question that cannot be dismissed with a one word answer. So if someone can dismiss you from the table by going fine, how’s everything been? you enjoying it? Good, bad, but I would love your feedback on our actually elicits data. And then most importantly, you have to write that data down and share it with your culinary team. So often people will go and they’ll say, Oh, I really enjoyed the steak. It’s it’s perfect and metric is great. And then walks away. Kitchen doesn’t know, nobody gets feedback. So part of our training is take down data, that nightly log is a book in and of itself. But you just see trends of – 15 people like the catch story 12 people didn’t find people thirsty, salty, and then that way you can improve your menu by actually taking data.

Zack Oates

I absolutely love that, Ken because I mean, that’s the whole reason that we started Ovation, quite frankly, right was because there was such a gap in in the table touch because one, it’s really hard to train staff to do that. Right. And and two, it’s really hard to take that data and do something with it. And I think the the steps in the principles that you’ve outlined, just makes so much sense. And what do you feel like, though, first of all, like, what do you do with that data? Like, you know, in terms of how do you aggregate that in a way that’s manageable?

Ken McGarrie

We literally have the metaphor step. You can’t write it at the table. So you’d walk away, and then you take notes, we usually do it on our phones. So we make sure that we’re not on the floor. So it doesn’t look like we’re just on our phones. But we use it for nightly logs. So we use different systems to where you go in and enter staff notes or food notes or whatever different things you’re writing down. Table 63 enjoyed the halibut was not a fan of the Caesar salad swapped for the kale Caesar much happier, blah, blah, blah. So that way you talk about the things that work, you talk about the things that don’t and then you also talk about steps that you took to rescue that so that other managers learn and say, Oh, that’s a really great way of handling that instead of just person didn’t like, Well, what do you do about it?

And then that’s, that’s your weekly meeting. That’s your time to sit down and go, Okay, let’s pull together all of this and talk about the hell of it. And how many people liked it now? Maybe people didn’t? Is this a good item? Do we need to re engineer What are we doing? And then you just kind of build that from there. But too many managers function from this emotional base of You know what, I think people really like the halibut or people don’t really like it. Well, how many people? Well, just people. Well, yeah, that’s completely worthless. Thanks for your, you know, anecdotal evidence. It’s all that is.

Zack Oates

Yeah. And the other thing is that you may have had a table with someone who is very loud. You might have had a Karen and she is like, this is terrible without Blah blah blah. And you’re like, people hate this dish, and it’s like, Wait, hold on. 30 people ordered it, and four of them even talked about it on a five star review. But yes, you had a Karen at your table who hated it. But does that mean that you need to take it off the menu, it’s like, no. And so I think that collecting that data is very important. And one of the things that you mentioned also in the book is how you should kind of brace yourselves, when you’re really ready to start doing the table touches, right? Because you’re gonna, you’re gonna hear what people actually think.

Ken McGarrie

Of course, and if you’re truly asking information and digging, because in doing so people, you’re going to run into people all the time that will lie to you, and just want you to go away. And they don’t really want to tell you that there’s something wrong with the dish. So sometimes you have to look past their words and see what’s on their plate and watch them I can watch and most managers can from across the room and see if somebody is enjoying it. I’ll watch the delivery. And I’ll watch for the Oh, wait for the to bite check. And I’ll say, Oh, she’s not enjoying that. You can tell because she’s looking down and then she does this. Like, then you’re like, Oh, shut up. She’s not. And so I’ll walk over. And I’ll say, Hey, you know what, I really love your feedback on our steak. You know, is it prepared to your liking? And then she’ll say, Oh, yeah, it’s great. It’s fantastic. It’s wonderful. And she just wants to go away.

And that’s called my mom, because my mom will not tell you in the moment that something’s wrong. Now, she will 100% go to her church group, and to bridge and everywhere else. I showed her absolutely everybody there. I went to this place, and the steak was terrible. Don’t ever go. But she’s not going to tell the manager. And she’s also probably not going to be the person who’s going to review. And it’s so odd for me with restaurant people that I say I would rather have 100 1 star reviews than for people to just walk away and not ever be able to attract them. That’s the my mom thing. You’re never gonna find her. She’s never gonna leave a review. But thank goodness for people who do leave one star reviews because we can turn those we can turn those into five stars all day.

Zack Oates

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s, that’s the thing. And even better than this one star reviews are private. But hey,

Ken McGarrie

And then you can then you can boost the biggest, you’re not wrong. There’s, there’s definitely a benefit of that. But that feedback is what Yes.

Zack Oates

And I think that’s the that’s the essence of what it is right is that so often, especially Look, if you’ve been running your restaurant for five years, you’ve obviously figured some things out. But I guarantee you, there is so much that you’re missing out on if you’re not doing something like what Ken’s talking about, because there’s so much one of the things that we’ve uncovered, you know. People will start Ovation, and the thing that they say is, Oh, my gosh, I had no idea that my customers had so much to say, and, and then doing something about it. Right? I love your process of again, going from the very beginning. You see, you see who’s having a good experience with your eyes first, right? You don’t just go around and go table by table, you talk about the zigzag method. Tell us a little bit about that.

Ken McGarrie

Yes, because again, back to that lazy manager touch, they go Table to Table to Table. And if you’re going to go over to somebody, go over to them deliberately, and then walk away, go help us another table, go back to the kitchen and see if you need to run some food, go to anything else, and then come back three minutes later to touch the next table. Because otherwise, you look like you’re part of a process and a robotic sort of step of service. Instead of being an actual, I have a purpose for why I’m going over to ask the specific question about the specific dish. And you can even say, we’re working on this dish, and I would really love your feedback. You just did a new recipe. I would really love to hear what your thoughts are. Because people open it up.

Zack Oates

Yes, people are a lot more willing to voice if they’re thinking that it’s going to help. Right? Data shows that a lot of a lot of times people don’t leave online reviews, because they don’t have anything good to say and they don’t think it’s going to help they don’t think anyone’s actually going to going to see it. The people who leave negative reviews. They want to feel heard by the public, right? Not by the restaurant. And so they want to voice the injustice that they experienced because of a you know, an ice cold ahi tuna, which I believe you have eaten.

Ken McGarrie

I have absolutely.

Zack Oates

You didn’t you didn’t want to take it back because somebody knew you.

Ken McGarrie

Right? Because I was in a restaurant to where I’d be like, Oh, I know that guy. He works at that restaurant down the street. And oh, he’s sending back his tuna. And I it’s probably not and now in hindsight, I wish that I was the person who would say, yeah, you know what, it is cold. Do you mind warming it up with the understanding that the chef probably would rather hear that than not, but I’m a non commenter. I will absolutely not say anything. But that’s also why I find such value in the host stand because I can fool any server coming over to do their to bite check and I can fool most managers on whether or not I’m enjoying it, but I always lose it about the time I’m walking out with my wife and I look at her and go, we are never coming back. If that is the point to where that really heads up host notices that we don’t have that same level of enthusiasm that we walked in with, that we trained to walk over and be like, Hey, I am so sorry to bother you on your way out. But I just want to make sure everything really experiences great. And if they read anything but exceptional, like Do you mind if I get a manager? And if they say no, no, no, then you’re taking my card free, you know, come back for free entree, whatever, we literally empower hosts to do that. Because the worst thing again, is that person who just goes away and never says anything, and just, it never improves.

Zack Oates

And the thing that you’re consistently talking about is how do you empower and train your staff? Teach them? Teach them why then show me how about how do you create a great guest experience. And if you want happy staff, allow them to create great experiences for your guests. And then in turn, they’ll be happier, they’ll feel more empowered, and they’ll want to stay because everyone they want to make they want to feel like they’re making a difference. And the things that you’re talking about, you know, don’t don’t hamstring them, they can’t do anything that you know, train them. Yeah, the host and you are part of the experience, you know, the managers, how do you make it more natural, and I love that concept of empowering the employees to do that.

Ken McGarrie

I will tell you something, I have never really put the connection of the dots on any other podcast. The reason that I got to this is that I took a job in Chicago coming out of New Orleans. And the last place that I had run was a bowling alley. It was a very upscale bowling alley. And I mean, James Beard award winning mixologist and exceptional chef’s, it was a very awesome bowling alley. And then I went into five star high end fine dining. And I had very little experience in that. And I looked around the room at people who are career and as you probably know, especially in steak houses, it’s like a pact of people who all know each other and they’ve all worked together. And they can immediately they could see right through you go, we know way more than you. I bet I

Zack Oates

I bet you get your steak medium well.

Ken McGarrie

You’re a medium well plus person, that’s what you are, yeah, you use the plus system. So I had two choices at that point, which was one, I could try to bolster up and manage these people and tell them what to do. And they would see right through me, or I would realize, Hi, I’m Ken, you know more than I do, we’re going to figure out the aspects of responsibility. And I’m going to work in my true role as a manager to support you. And from day one, the team was there for me. And then when I needed to lead them, I knew how to do that in a supporting role. And they felt like they were heard, I empowered them to where if they’re at the table, and they wanted to buy a dessert for somebody or take care of that. Absolutely, just make sure that I’m looped in. So I can also be a part of the conversation. And it became collaborative. And then finally, everyone got really, really well along because there was no somebody trying to big dog and say, Oh, I I know more. And that really, really worked well. And that, that that was the shift for me to maybe say you have to empower your team, or else otherwise it’s just competitive, who knows more, and there’s no, there’s no benefit to that.

Zack Oates

Absolutely love that. So, you know, get in here to the last fire questions. What do you feel is the most important aspect of guest experience today?

Ken McGarrie

I think it is the well, that is a great question. Right now, I think the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity is what’s happening with the restaurant culture where we’re at. It’s no secret that we’re at a national staffing challenge. And people are coming out and thank goodness for people being willing to come out in droves. But I know places that are functioning at 50% capacity, or at least 50% staffing that they had since 2019. And don’t get me wrong 2019 It wasn’t easy to find staff. But it surely isn’t now, either. And so I think probably the most important thing is an understanding of we are we are recovering, we’re building but that this is the time for us to maybe look into processes in order to make up for some of the deficits that we’re finding in labor.

Zack Oates

Yeah, and there are some awesome technologies out there that can help augment, enhance. And in some cases like replace, you know, I think that flippy it’s one of those things where if you can, if you can empower your staff to spend more time with the customer, then that’s that’s money well spent. So what are some successful things that you have seen or tried lately?

Ken McGarrie

The biggest thing that I continue to see and rollout is no different than it has been from before and from 20 years back, is it still systems that automate and track your inventory management. To me, that’s really the drop from a profitability standpoint for restaurants is being able to really get behind understanding the true costs of goods of what they’re carrying, what they should value that at. And cross utilization by really, really having a firm grasp on their cost of goods. So to me that is, that’s not new. But I continue to see software that develops that to where it becomes easier. And you’re not had it’s not you do it on your phone and it takes an hour and stuff. You said take a day.

Zack Oates

Yeah, I think there’s some great companies out there that do that. Ken, any recommendations that you’d have for inventory management and costing?

Ken McGarrie

You know what I feel like I sound like a commercial. But the reality is that we use MarketMan or BevSpot nationwide, and it works really well. BevSpot’s fantastic for beverage and MarketMan is more food geared.

Zack Oates

Yeah, actually, we just had, we just had MarketMan on the podcast. It was a it was a great episode. So check them out. I think that was last episode. Now. Lastly, Ken, who deserves an Ovation in the restaurant industry?

Ken McGarrie

Right now I’m going to put my ovation out to Nick Boskovich and the HI-VIBE tribe here in Chicago. They are a superfood juicery. And what they did in the midst of the last two years, is they changed the conversation to wellness and immunity by really really focusing on superfoods and great juices, and also creating a great guest experience for people and a takeaway is standpoint. So I mean, they’ve done they’ve done an outstanding job and HI-vibe.com. Totally worth checking out.

Zack Oates

Awesome, Nick, we’re coming for you man. Excited to meet you. Well, Ken, for being such an awesome voice in the restaurant industry for helping us out and for teaching us how to do a table touch today’s ovation goes to you. How do people find you/follow you and get your book, The Surprise Restaurant Manager?

Ken McGarrie

Korgen Hospitality is the company. Amazon.com. Obviously. The best, the reason I send people to that is because the download version is only 99 cents. And it’s far more important for me to get this in the hands of people than it is to focus on from a profit standpoint. So if you’re interested, you could actually email me go to my website and also do a free PDF. I just really think at this point right now, the whole point behind this surprise restaurant manager are people are finding themselves in management roles with zero training. And if I can get that information to help people that are that are in that space, then that’s my way of helping out.

Zack Oates

Awesome, Ken. Well, thank you so much for joining us on Give an Ovation today, man. Got to have you back on you got it. We only talked about one of the chapters in your book –

Ken McGarrie

You got a whole get a whole we got 26 podcasts that we could do. That’s great.

(Outro) Glad you were with us today. And thank you! Thank you to the risk takers, the troublemakers, the crazies who are keeping this world clothed and fed. You’re the ones who deserve an Ovation. Again, this podcast was sponsored by Ovation! To see how we can help you grow your business, go to Ovationup.com. Don’t forget to subscribe, and as always, remember to give someone in your life an Ovation today!

Find out the secrets to getting valuable feedback from your guests from the Principal at Korgen Hospitality, Ken McGarrie.

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Ken McGarrie is the principal at Korgen Hospitality, a nationwide restaurant consulting firm. He has over two decades of experience at the helm of many successful restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues like Topgolf, and also has an amazing book called The Surprise Restaurant Manager.

Here’s our main takeaway from this episode and Ken’s answers to the questions Zack asks each guest:

Featured Takeaway: Table Touch With A Purpose

Table touching is something that all restaurant managers feel the pressure to do, but it can be awkward for them and guests when they robotically move from table to table asking, “How is everything?”

Instead, Ken suggests first scouting out specific tables and asking about specific dishes. Ask for feedback on “our” lasagna instead of “the” lasagna to help guests feel like they are truly helping. Then, write down the feedback, good and bad, and share it with your staff.

1: What is the most important aspect of the guest experience today?

Finding creative solutions to augment labor shortages. “This is the time for us to maybe look into processes in order to make up for some of the deficits that we’re finding in labor.”

2: What is something successful you have seen or tried lately?

Systems that automate and track your inventory management. “We use MarketMan or BevSpot nationwide, and it works really well. BevSpot’s fantastic for beverage and MarketMan is more food geared.”

3: Who is someone in the restaurant industry that deserves an Ovation?

Nick Boskovich of HI-VIBE Superfood Juicery in Chicago. “And what they did in the midst of the last two years, is they changed the conversation to wellness and immunity by really really focusing on superfoods and great juices, and also creating a great guest experience for people.”

For more from Ken you can visit https://korgenhospitality.com/, or find his book on Amazon.

Thanks for reading! Make sure to check out the whole episode, as well as other interviews with restaurant gurus by checking out “Give an Ovation: A Podcast For Restaurants” on ovationup.com/podcast or your favorite place to listen to podcasts.

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