Success Stories

Bella’s Italian Cafe

For nearly 30 years, Bill Shumate and Joanie Corneil have satisfied Tampa, FL, locals at their upscale ristorante, Bella’s Italian Cafe. Besides their dedication to consistently superior food quality, Bill and Joanie credit their success to providing their upscale regulars consistently excellent service.

Excellent service doesn’t happen on its own. In Bill and Joanie’s experience, it requires regularly devoting time and attention to keeping their team trained, engaged, and motivated.

Over time, Bill and Joanie have learned that their training is most effective when it is regularly scheduled. Thought is put into what should be covered in each training session in advance, and their employees feel like they are participating in fun activities (rather than being lectured).

So like clockwork, the Bella’s employees meet at the restaurant one Saturday morning per month for a team breakfast, followed by a structured training session which highlights new information, reinforces key service messages, and emphasizes their shared goal of wowing each customer on every visit.

One way that Bill and Joanie keep employee learning lighthearted and fun is by including games and other competitive activities. For example, employees compete for fun prizes in a game called Pop Quiz Bingo. Team members are given preprinted bingo cards with different training topics printed in random boxes. Then, when the team trainer reads a question from a given topic and they know the answer, they mark off that square, and the first employee to complete their Bingo card wins the prize.

Bill and Joanie also use the meeting to announce which servers sold the most appetizers, wine, and desserts for the month.

While winners receive a small cash prize, many of the servers seem to also enjoy a friendly rivalry to see who can outperform the others.

Training and reinforcement also occur daily on a less formal basis. For example, to encourage every employee to feel responsible for restaurant cleanliness, shift managers may subtly drop a napkin under an unoccupied table and give a $10 bill to the first employee who spots and retrieves it from the floor.

Similarly, to encourage employees to take greater care of restaurant “breakables” (plates, dishes, cups, etc.), members from both the front and the back of the house are divided into two equal teams. The manager then tracks each team’s daily progress in seeing how few items are broken. At month’s end, the winning team splits a cash prize and the contest starts over.

Sometimes the key to satisfying customers (and getting more guests in the door to satisfy) is recognizing “roadblocks” to the restaurant’s success. In Bella’s case, Bill and Joanie recognized early that despite the advantages of a high visibility location, limited parking threatened to constrain sales, especially during peak periods when the restaurant would otherwise be its most profitable.

Because there are several small free lots nearby, simply posting a map to their location on the restaurant website goes a long way to easing the pinch. However, during weekend dinner rush, the restaurant offers FREE valet service at the curb. That way, when potential dinnertime guests arrive, a lack of obvious nearby parking spaces won’t cause them to change their minds in favor of competing restaurants with easy free parking.

As a result of these and other proven ideas, Bella’s is still going strong!