Sharing Success

The Four Ps

During college, I had a part time job with a boss who was fond of saying, “Proper Planning Prevents Problems … The Four P’s.” In other words, in business, we cannot predict the future, but we can properly plan for how to deal with unexpected events. Preparing in advance for out of the ordinary events that are bound to happen in the future can help you make the most of situations when they do occur.

Here is a real life example. Recently, after one of my son Conner’s Little League games, our family went out for dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant. Their food has always been predictably good and reasonably priced, and we have enjoyed eating there many times.

But this time, the restaurant happened to be busier than normal. It was not physically crowded, since there was plenty of table space to accommodate everyone, including our family. It just was clear to me that they had not anticipated so many guests showing up that night. As a result, the restaurant was greatly understaffed relative to the number of patrons in the restaurant.

After we were seated, we patiently waited for a long time for anyone to stop by our table (or even to make eye contact). Eventually, when it became obvious that the staff was becoming more overwhelmed, not less, we finally did something we had never done before. Disappointed, we left to find someplace else to eat.

After leaving the restaurant, I understood the cause of the problem and wondered how it could have been handled better. Obviously, they had planned for a “normal” evening and were caught by surprise by the unexpectedly large crowd. It is just that having more customers than normal should be a good thing, assuming that you are adequately prepared to respond.

Trying to anticipate random events is tough. For example, most businesses cannot afford to continually overstaff on the chance of being busier than normal. On the other hand, being understaffed when demand does surge misses out on a valuable opportunity to make more money. Worse yet, it risks future income by disappointing loyal customers and giving them a reason to go elsewhere.

Luckily, there is a third alternative. You can follow my old boss’ advice of “Proper Planning Prevents Problems.”

In other words, when you know that the “usual” happens most of the time, but not all of the time, it pays to properly plan so your business can respond quickly when the “unusual” happens.

• Develop backup resources. Sometimes, getting through a challenge quickly requires calling in additional help. For example, during the fresh pack tomato season, we staff our cannery for “normal” incoming fresh tomato quality. But sometimes Mother Nature is less cooperative, requiring us to sort harder to achieve the same level of quality. When that happens, we quickly activate “Plan B” by bringing in more sorters from our reserve list of employees we know will be ready to come to work.

This concept works for us and, quite possibly, it could be adapted to work in a restaurant.

• Encourage the right attitude! If you continually reinforce with your team that satisfying customers is their number one responsibility, when things do get hectic, their first thought will be “How can we keep customers happy?”

• Deal with problems head on. In every business, including ours, mistakes happen and customers get upset. Plan on it and plan for it. We encourage our team to keep customers honestly abreast of the situation. In my experience, customers tend to be far more understanding in difficult situations when they know you are being straight up with them.

In a restaurant, perhaps training servers to look customers in the eye and sincerely explain “I am sorry we are busier than expected, but I will do my best for you,” would go a long way to getting customers on your side.

Remember, properly preparing your team for unexpected events helps put you in a position to prevent problems. In my book, that is a very good thing!