The old cliché goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and at our business, that is absolutely the case.
Being a public-facing business with an emphasis on service with a smile, it’s doubly important that our staff are switched on when it comes to customer service, and it’s our company’s ethos too.
As we serve a whole host of people, from young families to the older generation, our staff need to be able to hone their skills to deal with a myriad of situations. From a mother with a baby who needs her milk warming up, to the older customers who struggle with mobility, they all need our help.
Over the years we’ve got to know our customers well and as a result, all new members of staff who join us are encouraged to chat. This is essential in our line of work; service is at the heart of what we do, and getting staff on friendly terms with customers is something we encourage from the start. This not only fosters great relations with our loyal regulars and new diners, but also makes staff feel like they are part of the wider community and welcomed into the often familial and comfortable way we treat customers.
Train to welcome
At our business, much is done to welcome staff to the culture we encourage. We have a bespoke training programme that covers all aspects of our business. This includes basic health and safety training, frying and food preparation techniques, and customer service.
We also encourage shadowing of more experienced staff in order to pass on experience and knowledge. This is not only to ensure that new staff are taught the uniform way to fry our fresh fish and chips, but also to pass on a sense of responsibility to both new starters and experienced workers to maintain standards and take pride in their work.
This is backed up with three-monthly reviews, which is not simply a box-ticking exercise in our case. An in-depth appraisal takes place, which includes comments from fellow staff and customers as well as guidance and observations from line managers. While this is not unusual in itself, we feel that our reviews are integral to development and having this constant learning strategy in place forms the environment our staff want to be a part of.
Going the extra mile
We set and maintain standards at our premises that attempt to go above and beyond national levels. This applies not only to our cleanliness and standards of food, but also to staff knowledge. The fish and chip trade is one that changes constantly. One good example of this is fish species. We are proud to be accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council. This means we are aware of where our fish are caught and by which vessel, providing a traceable link to sustainably caught fish.
Staff are encouraged to remind themselves of which fish have been caught where each week and to be aware of the fishing policy that MSC vessels follow in case customers are interested. We do this alongside encouraging customers to select a fish dish whenever they visit.
This knowledge is further reinforced and developed in staff by encouraging them to research and take on board as much information as possible. Finding out about suppliers, ingredients and the industry is incredibly important. Over the years there have been visits to places as diverse as potato farms to find out how crops are grown and harvested as well as trips out to sea with our trusted suppliers to really get a feel for how we come by our fish.
We have found that, over the years, investment in people proves to be the most effective form of asset management. Some of our staff have been with us for many years and it’s down to the caring and supportive way we feel we have looked after them.
Often the rewards are invisible until they present themselves. For example, if one of our members of staff takes a holiday or is off ill, concern often appears on our regular customers’ faces who want to know how they are. This loyalty and care for our staff is something that is reciprocated by customers and we feel that’s how a business that serves its surrounding community should be.
The concept of a happy family is one that is often bandied about, but in our case it’s true. Our staff are our eyes and ears as well as the friendly faces that serve fish and chips to our customers every day.
Rachel Tweedale is manager of the Sleaford branch of The Elite Fish & Chip Company.