Commentary: Ten lessons the restaurant industry can learn from Steve Jobs

 
Oct. 5, 2011 | by Alicia Kelso

The news of Steve Jobs' death on Wednesday gripped the entire world with emotion. Broadcasts, blogs, tributes and tweets were laden with poignancy over the loss of an industry-acclaimed visionary and creative genius.

Jobs offered a stunning glimpse of what makes a business work. The restaurant industry – just like any other industry – would be wise to study his work, and to execute several of the lessons he passed along. Below are 10 lessons to take away from the life and work of Steve Jobs:

1. The customer-user experience trumps everything else. Jobs was famous for focusing on the details that made Apple products easy – and for many, necessary – to use. If there were any product-experience barriers, he had a full army of employees in place to help. Apple's Genius Bar, where licensed and trained employees troubleshoot devices and answer questions, is a perfect example of putting the customer first. While some restaurant chains have made significant investments in their customer experience, others have much to learn. Restaurants should treat front-of-house and back-of-house efforts equally, and should subscribe to the mantra that made Jobs famous.

2. Keep the brand simple and contemporary. What often gets lost in the long list of Apple innovations is the company's basic branding. When customers walk into a store, they aren't overwhelmed by design clutter, which allows them to better focus on the products. This is purposeful. Apple hired experts from outside the tech industry to conceptualize an outside-of-the-box approach that portrayed simplicity. As numerous restaurant concepts undergo brand and store makeovers, perhaps they should pull-in the fresh perspectives of industry outsiders.

3. Get inspired by the small things. Speaking of outside-the-box approaches, before Jobs dropped out of college, he took a calligraphy course. He credits the class as part of the inspiration behind the creation of the Macintosh. "If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts," he said. Don't overlook the small things. For restaurants, afterthought details – the seating, lighting, background music, etc. – can all affect a customer's intent to return.

4. Embrace technology. The restaurant industry is notorious for balking at technological investments and adoptions. Often the ROI doesn't come quick enough, or the bandwidth to train staff and customers doesn't exist. But Apple is the largest publicly traded company in the world for a reason. It's what consumers want and know, and it's time for restaurants to embrace it.

5. Innovate past failure. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1984 after the Mac fell short of expectations. Fortunately, that didn't flatten his drive to keep innovating. From a restaurant comparison, even McDonald's has rolled out abject failures. Remember the McLobster?

6. Anticipate trends. One of Jobs' favorite quotes underscores his successful philosophy. "There's an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love: 'I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.' We've always tried to do that at Apple." Nearly every iDevice was created by anticipating future trends, sometimes at the risk of another signature product. The iPhone was invented with a potential trump of the iPod because market demand was barreling toward mobile, for example. Would restaurants be willing to drop a signature item in anticipation of something new?

7. Business is more than the bottom line. Revenue, profits, same-store sales and happy investors are important, but there are more pieces to the puzzle and Jobs solved it. "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me," he said. Everywhere you look, restaurant brands are putting forth time and effort to causes from breast cancer research to fire safety awareness. And customers are responding with their loyalty.

8. No man or woman is an island. Steve Jobs didn't conceive or grow Apple on his own; he surrounded himself with the right people. He had people like Steve Wozniak, Tim Cook and John Lasseter to help him. Just like Fred DeLuca got a boost from Dr. Peter Buck to come up with the Subway concept. David Edgerton and James McLamore worked together to turn a struggling unknown restaurant into Burger King. Ray Kroc didn't think of the McDonald's concept, he purchased the rights from brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald. Never underestimate the power of teamwork.

9. Employees reflect the brand. According to Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., founder of the Food Innovation Institute, Apple's sales philosophy is not to "sell," but rather to help customers with their problems and understand their needs. Employees aren't rewarded with commission, but are expected to sell service packages along with their devices. Those who fall short of sales targets are re-trained. "It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led and how much you get it," Jobs said. Is your employee training sufficient? Are your incentives?

10. Keep it in perspective. Jobs relentlessly demanded perfection and occasionally displayed a temper, while also walking around the office barefoot and subscribing to Buddhism. He was the poster child for striking a balance between detailed focus and big picture perspective. "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose," Jobs said during his iconic commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. "You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Stay hungry. Stay foolish."

Alicia Kelso is editor of QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com.

Photo provided by fotopedia.


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Customer Service / Experience , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management , Staffing & Training


Alicia Kelso / Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.
View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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