When Phil Joseph and his sisters wanted to plan a memorable Thanksgiving dinner for their mother, Alice, they had a dilemma. They wanted to make sure that their elderly mother was able to fully enjoy a family holiday, without feeling the burden or pressure of preparing for guests. Looking for a family style meal in a home like setting turned out to be quite a challenge; the family began making phone calls to nearby restaurants, hoping for a solution. Assistant General Manager, Julie Slaughter, answered the call at the Bob Evans restaurant on McKnight Road in Pittsburgh and not only agreed to host the unconventional event, but adapted the restaurant’s usual operating procedures to suit the family’s needs. It turned out to be an ideal match; not only was the restaurant close to the octogenarian’s home, it was just the type of location that Alice used to enjoy visiting with her husband of 50 years, who passed away a few years ago.
“Mom’s 82 years old — She doesn’t travel well so we’re trying to give her memories of being in her place, but she has a small apartment” says son Phil Joseph when describing how he and his sisters considered possible locations for the family gathering. Key concerns for the family were finding someplace with a traditional Thanksgiving menu that would allow their mother to enjoy the gathering without feeling like she had to serve food or cook for the big day.
According to Phil, Julie rose to the occasion, helped plan the event and was very reassuring and positive about the idea of hosting the family event. She even contributed ideas beyond what was requested and really took the idea and ran with it—in short, she treated this family like her own and like treasured, welcomed guests.
Assistant General Manager, Julie Slaughter - Image credit: Bob Evans Restaurants
From the unexpected increase in guests (17 were expected, but 23 actually showed up) to the warm welcome the family received upon arrival, Julie and the staff of the McKnight Road location embraced the family with a true holiday spirit.
Serving a catering style meal inside the restaurant allowed the Bob Evans team to create a memorable event for the Joseph family. Julie added both coffee service and a pie table to the dining area and personally delivered each dish and entry as it was created in the kitchen. Julie and her team embraced the true spirit of the family meal that Phil and his sisters wanted to give to their mom – there were no menus, no premade plates, just food like it would be at home with 3 generations of family.
Alice Joseph was delighted to be with her two brothers and her extended family for a huge gathering, with no cooking or cleaning, just togetherness and fun. Since prior years were spent separately, this was the first chance for the extended family to gather together and celebrate. From 80 year old uncles to a 4 year old child, the entire family came together on this one special day and will remember the occasion for a lifetime. The family finished the event with a round of photos – and once again, Julie was able to offer assistance. Juggling multiple cellphones and cameras, she personally made sure that family members had a tangible memory of the day, and the smiling faces in those photos fully express the joy experienced that day.
Phil was so impressed with Julie dedication to making his family event something special that he took the time to write in to Bob Evans corporate office, letting them know how far one of their employees was willing to go to serve guests. Slaughter recalls the day fondly, and recounts the efforts made to accommodate the family’s request. By adding a dose of creativity and taking an innovative approach to the chain’s regular offerings, she was able to combine the best of both worlds for the Joseph family.
The holidays are a popular time for Bob Evans; the chain offers full catering for Thanksgiving meals. Since full catered meals are usually carried out, Julie converted space to use for the gathering by blocking off part of the dining room for the party. Offering the family style meal allowed for a traditional “passing the dishes” between the guests and tables.
This unique experience made a lasting impression on the Joseph family and they’ve been enthusiastically sharing their story with others ever since. Going the extra mile by being flexible and willing to not only solve customer problems, but to come up with creative and welcoming solutions for their celebration led to an amazing memory for three generations of family members.
Key Insight Genuine moments of truth that make a lasting impact on customers do not come along often for most businesses. Sadly, many of those that do are ignored or fumbled badly. Helping the Joseph family turn a difficult and unusual need into a memorable and perception-altering experience was just such an occasion. Fortunately, Julie Slaughter viewed this as an opportunity to shine by going above and beyond expectations, rather than a non-conforming request that might disrupt normal operations.
Ideas to Consider
Encourage Customization: Standard operating procedures are typically designed to prevent bad customer experiences. However, when implemented rigidly and inflexibly they make it impossible to deliver an outstanding experience. Staff members should be led to think of service standards as the bare minimum that must customers must receive, with encouragement to customize the experience liberally based on unique needs and circumstances. This leads to much more rewarding experiences for both customers and employees alike.
Recognize Mini-Moments of Truth: There are no universal rules of thumb on how to recognize a moment of truth when it presents itself, but recognizing staff members for even small gestures of goodwill toward customers will help ensure they are attentive and ready to serve when the big ones come along.
Make a Difference: Too often, businesses aim to provide a reasonably satisfactory product or service. Unfortunately, this is too low a target if you seek to build lasting customer loyalty that results in steady growth and healthy profitability. If you aim instead to find ways to make a lasting difference in the lives of your customers and employees, opportunities to deliver memorable and outstanding experiences will present themselves on a regular basis. Consistent loyalty and growth will follow!