SME Spotlight

Burger bar with huge taste for customer service

Fatboy's has learnt that acknowledging customers and accommodating their needs let them know it puts in effort to satisfy them, says Mr Tay.
Fatboy's has learnt that acknowledging customers and accommodating their needs let them know it puts in effort to satisfy them, says Mr Tay.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Most of Fatboy's The Burger Bar outlets are in suburban neighbourhoods, a sign that customer retention is one of co-founder Bernie Tay's key business strategies. In the first of a four-part series on service excellence, Mr Tay tells Sheryl Leehow Fatboy's maintains its service standards.

Q When was the first Fatboy's founded and how has it grown over the years?

A My brother Kennie and I started Fatboy's in 2009 with $150,000 in savings.

We have since expanded from one outlet in Singapore to 16 outlets in four countries - the other three being Malaysia, China and Cambodia - hiring around 90 employees in total.

We are an all-American diner serving burgers and other comfort food, like fried chicken and steak, and each outlet's annual turnover can range from $800,000 to $1.8 million.

Q What is Fatboy's customer service strategy?

A We are very big on customer service and make sure our staff know that. There are four key areas we train them in.

The first is anticipation, which means that when serving, they should always think about what the customer would want next.

UNIFORM SERVICE

All our outlets have the same service sequence, which tells our staff what they have to do from the moment a customer walks in to when he walks out after paying the bill... It makes the entire process more uniform so customers can expect the same kind of service no matter which outlet they go to.

MR BERNIE TAY, co-founder of Fatboy's The Burger Bar.

It could be something simple, like if the customer is eating a messy burger or ribs with his fingers, we give extra napkins, but it tells the customer we are putting in effort.

Then there is acknowledgement, which is important especially when the restaurant is busy.

We train our staff to acknowledge every customer who needs our attention through making eye contact and hand gestures, so they know we will get back to them even if we are unable to attend to them right away.

The third is always having a sense of urgency to show customers we are trying our best. And lastly, not being defensive but taking complaints as feedback for improvement.

To keep customers happy, we also curate a song list that is uniform throughout all our outlets. We play only happy music, in particular 1960s and 1970s rock 'n' roll, because it has an upbeat feel and lifts your mood when you are eating.

Q How do you keep service standards consistent across all your outlets?

A All our outlets have the same service sequence, which tells our staff what they have to do from the moment a customer walks in to when he walks out after paying the bill.

Right now, it is a three-page, step-by-step guideline that includes details on everything from greeting customers to delivering drinks. It makes the entire process more uniform so customers can expect the same kind of service no matter which outlet they go to.

But it is true that having multiple locations makes standardising more difficult, so we are working with a consultant to formalise our staff training process by coming up with a series of training sessions.

This will be supplemented by a new staff handbook we are developing, with a more detailed service sequence. We will also be reassessing our staff evaluation programme, which takes place every six months.

Our new training programme is starting this month and developing it cost a five-figure sum that Spring Singapore is helping to fund under the Capability Development Grant (Service Excellence). Under this scheme, there are key performance indicators we have to meet and we will continue to measure things like customer satisfaction levels and delivery speed under the new training programme.

Q What's a tough customer Fatboy's has encountered and how did you cope?

A There was this customer who would visit repeatedly with a different complaint each time. He would tell us we were making our milkshakes or cooking our burgers wrongly and that we should try another restaurant where the burgers are better.

We did take his advice and try the burgers at that restaurant, and they were good, but you can't really compare theirs and ours because taste is very subjective.

In the end, we just adjusted the way we cooked this customer's burger so it tasted more like the other restaurant's, and because we did that he keeps coming back now, at least twice a week.

He brings his friends and feels proud that we know him as a friend and listen to his advice.

We generally try to accommodate difficult diners because most of our outlets are located in neighbourhood areas, so we try to retain customers as much as we can.

We've learnt that we cannot always meet everyone's demands because certain things like taste are subjective, but we can always acknowledge and accommodate so customers know we are aware of their needs and put in effort to satisfy them.

Q What are some challenges you face in training staff, locally and overseas?

A For our Singapore outlets, we have a big pool of student part-timers to supplement our full-timers, and because of the high staff turnover, it can be difficult keeping service standards consistent.

To reduce this problem, we assign student part-timers more senior buddies whom they can shadow and turn to for help.

For overseas outlets, we use the same service sequence but adjust it according to different countries' cultures. For example, we are expanding into Bali, where people are more laid-back, so the pace is slower.

It's generally easier to keep service standards consistent in other countries though. Labour cost in other countries is lower, so we can have more experienced full-time staff compared with in Singapore, where we have to depend on part- timers who come and go.

Q What's the difference between customer service at restaurants and quick-serve outlets?

A We have different service sequences for our quick-serve outlets and everything is done over the counter.

Restaurant service is more personal, which can make it harder and more tedious.

That said, I still prefer it because we get to interact with our customers so they can get a feel of the character of the place and our warmth and hospitality.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Burger bar with huge taste for customer service '. Print Edition | Subscribe