Over the years I’ve taken time out to spend a day with Executives and Operations Directors to see how they run their operations. One of those people was Alan Jones (no relation). Alan spent his entire career in the roadside dining business. He started up Little Chef and grew it a national chain of restaurants. He left there to set up Happy Eater and again created a national chain. When I met him, he was on to his third roadside diner concept – AJs. So there was nothing he did not know about this kind of business…
I learned a great deal from Alan – and I want to share with you one of the stories he told me. He had been in roadside dining for over twenty years, and in all that time had never done any market research. But in the early 1980s, when his then business Happy Eater was slugging it out with his former employer Little Chef, Alan decided he needed to do some research – largely to understand if and how customers differentiated between the two brands. So he commissioned a survey, on which the first question was “Why did you stop at a Happy Eater?”. When the responses were analysed, over 60% of customers had replied to this question “to go to the toilet”. Alan said to me – “For over 20 years I thought I’d been in the restaurant business, when I was actually in the toilet business”.
Up to that point, Alan had always thought of the operation’s toilet facilities as an order qualifier – something he had to have just to get customer’s business. But following the survey, he changed his thinking and made the toilets an order winner. Previously the facilities had been designed at the back of the operation, but in all the restaurants he built after this time, the toilets were located at the restaurant’s entrance. Moreover they were increased in size and the quality of the equipment installed in them was upgraded. Instead of being checked for cleanliness every two hours, the toilets were checked every hour.
So that’s why operations manager need to ask themselves every day “what are our order winners?”, and check this out with customers every few weeks or months. And thanks Alan, for sharing this with me.