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Time Is Money

As vice president of corporate food and beverage for Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., Martin Miles rules over a sprawling restaurant domain that serves millions of customers, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. He orchestrates what can be called a symphonic range of foodservice that includes deli, buffet, steakhouses, coffee shops (with branded names like Club Cappuccino), fine dining, and ethnic concepts from Asian to Mexican. Miles’ 230 restaurants faced a unique challenge: his customers are casino patrons taking a break from playing and anxious to get back to the casino floor. They expect a quality dining experience – but fast. Every minute they wait is a minute that keeps them from being at their favorite slot machine or game table

As Miles explained, “The name of the game was to provide rapid, superior service and allow people to return to the tables. Further, our restaurants need to respond completely to customers so they didn’t walk out and go to another casino. The fact is we were more a consumer marketing company than anything else and this drives all of our operational strategies.” At Harrah’s, customer satisfaction is everything. Using it’s Customer Satisfaction Assurance (CSA) program, it continuously surveys customers and then links their response to a quarterly cash bonus program distributed to all employees.

Harrah’s Wait Reduction Program

Through customer research, Harrah’s discovered it could dramatically improve customer satisfaction scores by reducing wait times in all areas of the business. For it’s F&B operations, that means reducing the time that customers wait for a table, the time it takes to serve them, and the time it takes to reset the tables. The research found that, to customers, wait time is all about perception, not watching the clock. Things that are perceived by the customer as delaying the progress of their dining experience – such as long lines, understaffing, or vacant tables – are reflected in Harrah’s “wait time” scores.

By industry standards, Harrah’s restaurants were turning tables at better-than-average rates. But by customers standards, Harrah’s was only earning “excellent” or “A” scores for “wait time” on customer surveys 35-45 percent of the time. That meant that 55-65 percent of the Harrah’s restaurant customers, in very tough markets, were vulnerable to competitors.
Commenting on this, Miles states emphatically, “We believe that anything short of an “A” rating is not good enough. For us an “A” means a customer who will stay in our restaurants, one who has brand loyalty. That’s the kind we want.”

Armed with this research, Harrah’s number crunchers determined that for each minute its collective customer base had to wait, not only did it result in less-satisfied customers, that minute cost the company $1.3 million in gross gaming revenue.

At the same time, customers who aren’t satisfied don’t tip as well as those who are. It wasn’t hard to convince F&B employees that reducing wait times was also in their financial interest.

Shaving Time Off The Sequence of Service

To pinpoint the areas in its restaurants where it could be more efficient and reduce customer cycle time, Harrah’s analyzed the Sequence of Service (SOS) to identify individual actions within each cycle, clarify responsibility for each action and establish timing standards for each task and cycle.

In Harrah’s busiest buffets for instance: it reduced the average cashier transaction time from 60 seconds toward a targeted 35 seconds. Using radio headsets, it switched to a “send/catch” system that allows greeters at the host stand to direct customers to a host on the floor, as opposed to the hosts taking time to continually walk back and forth.

Harrah’s determined that lines forming at carving and omelet stations caused significant waits, so they added more stations. They added more POS stations so servers could input orders faster. They instituted a pre-clearing system of bussing tables that keeps tables free of dishes used throughout the dining experience, so that when a customer leaves, only a few items remain to be cleared.

Harrah’s measures “vacant time” at tables to ensure that tables are reset and seated in less than two minutes during peak hours.

Seating Configuration

Harrah’s determined that the majority of its customers came in pairs. That meant, in restaurants comprised mostly of four-top tables, more than half its seating capacity was going unused during peak hours, resulting in long waits.

Harrah’s developed a predictive model that, using various data, determines the ideal seating configuration for a restaurant. On average, Harrah’s now designs new restaurants with 70 percent deuces and is retro-fitting key existing outlets with deuces as four-tops need replacement. After configuration, some restaurants have been left with fewer seats but more tables, yet have seen volume jump, table occupancy soar from 50 percent to 80 percent, and customer wait-time scores jump 50 points.

Impact

The ongoing Harrah’s CSA surveys result in weekly CSA scores for F&B outlets at every property. For F&B operations, the vital survey measurements are “friendly/helpful” and “wait time” as perceived by its customers. All combined, these refinements have boosted overall survey “wait time” scores in its buffets by 9.1 percent and “friendly/helpful” scores by 8.7 percent.

When overall property customer satisfaction goals are reached, all employees, hourly and salary, benefit through quarterly cash bonuses ranging from $50 to $200. During 2001 and 2002, Harrah’s paid more than $27 million directly to employees for improving customer satisfaction as measure by “friendly/helpful” and “wait time”.

At the same time, employee gratuities have increased due to the combined jump in volume and customer satisfaction. Some employees have reported their tips increasing as much as 50 percent.

Retention

By giving employees goals, the capabilities to achieve these goals, and rewards for achieving them Harrah’s saw overall staff turnover decrease by 21 percent to 24.5 percent. In addition, Harrah’s has implemented a “realistic job preview,” a five-minute step in the interview process that shows applicants precisely what their job will be. This small step has reduced turnover in the 30-90 day window by 25 percent. Harrah’s service standards are demanding and applicants, who don’t like what they see, don’t take the job.

In promotional materials, Harrah’s makes the promise that it is “focused on building loyalty and value with its targeted customers through a unique combination of great service, excellent products, unsurpassed distribution, operational excellence and technology leadership.” There is no doubt that it is serious about these goals, and the way it attacked its “time is money” challenge to turn restaurant tables faster, resulting in increased revenues at gaming tables, proves it in spades.

 
 

   
 

   

mmiles@casinofabs.com
www.casinofabs.com

 

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