How do you handle long lines at your business? Do you berate your staff? Use new technology? Both? Join Elizabeth and Gene as they answer real business owner’s questions on the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.

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Links Referenced In this Episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast:

Questions Answered In This Podcast:

  • How do I manage long lines at my business?
  • What are some tools and apps I can use to shorten wait times at my restaurant?
  • What should you do to make customers more comfortable while waiting in line?
  • How can I cut down on business travel and still keep my clients happy?

Elizabeth: Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. Gene and I are here to answer all of your burning small business questions. Gene, what’s happening with you this week?

Gene: You talk about burning. We talked before about tattoo artists. That was definitely a burning question, for sure. You talk so much about what’s going on in my life, Elizabeth. Come on. What’s going on?

Elizabeth: What’s going in my life?

Gene: You got a puppy that woken you up in the middle of the night, you just told me.

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. She was doing so well with house training. Then all of a sudden the other night, I try to be really good. I try to get to sleep by 10, which is crazy, I know, and I fight it. I fight it the whole time. I’m like, “Oh, I should be watching more TV or scrolling through my iPhone,” but no. It’s like, “No, I should be sleeping.”

Gene: That’s another topic for a podcast is to talk about sort of the daily routines of successful business owners.

Elizabeth: Yeah, the daily routines, and also how you sabotage yourself. Actually I was reading about it in New York Magazine. People call it sleep procrastination. They fight going to sleep, even though they know intellectually. Anyway, I shoot for going to sleep at 10. I knew Gene and I were recording today, but I had some laundry to do. I’m like, “I’m going to stay up a little later.” Then I finally got to bed at 11:30. Then at 12:52 I hear the little whining. I thought, “Oh no, I got to get up,” and I live in an apartment building, so it’s not like I can just get up and open the back door and let her go out. I have to get up, I have to get dressed, I have to put the whole winter coat on, take her down seven flights. Yeah, so she woke me up.

Gene: I’m so sorry to hear that.

Elizabeth: It’s okay. It’s happened. I think this is the third time in six months. It’s not that bad.

Gene: You seem awake now, so that’s good news.

Elizabeth: Yeah, well I usually drink decaf every day, and this morning I asked them to put a splash of caffeinated coffee in it.

Gene: You can thank your puppy for that.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: The takeaway is nobody should get a puppy. Is that right? It’s really if you want to get a good night’s sleep.

Elizabeth: Here’s the thing with puppies. If you want a dog, I really think … First of all, she’s a rescue. Definitely get a rescue.

Gene: We got one, too.

Elizabeth: If you’re going to get a dog, I think get a dog. Don’t get a puppy, although I really wanted a puppy, because I have never … I had a puppy when I was five, but really it was my parents doing all the work. This is my first puppy as an adult. It’s really nice, because I feel like I’m training her and having a huge influence on her life, which you don’t get with an older dog. Yeah. House training stinks.

Gene: Yeah, it really does.

Elizabeth: It really stinks.

Gene: It really does.

Elizabeth: She’s getting a lot better.

Gene: Good, good. Hopefully I won’t put you to sleep on this podcast.

Elizabeth: All right. We’ll be right back with question one.

QUESTION 1: How Do I Manage Long Lines at My Cafe?

Elizabeth: We’re back with question one from Sebastian B. in Salem, Massachusetts. I really like how people are now giving us the initial of their last name.

Gene: The last initial, yeah. Salem, Massachusetts, as in Salem witch trials Massachusetts.

Elizabeth: Oh yeah. There’s a Salem … FYI, we’re recording this in Hartford, Connecticut right now, so I’m happy to have another fellow New Englander here, but there is a Salem in every New England state.

Gene: I didn’t know that.

Elizabeth: It’s a huge thing here.

Gene: I didn’t know that. That’s interesting.

Elizabeth: Yeah, there’s a Salem, Connecticut. Every state. It’s crazy.

Gene: But Sebastian’s Salem is the witch trial Salem, Salem, Massachusetts. Okay.

Elizabeth: That is the witch trial Salem.

Here’s what he writes. “I run a small café. My lines are always too long, which is great, because that means I have plenty of customers, but I hate making people wait for their food, and I’m sure they hate it, too. How can I shorten my lines? If I can’t, is there a way to convince my customers that they’re happy to stand in line?

Elizabeth: For some reason, I just feel like this question was submitted by a millennial.

Gene: Yeah. Why do you say that, by any chance?

Elizabeth: Because you know baby boomers and Gen Xers would be like, “Happy to stand in line?” Okay, so I go to small cafes all the time. Actually, we haven’t had our Outback discussion yet, but we’ll have that next. I really try to go to smaller local eateries when I go places. Yeah, waiting in line totally stinks. My boyfriend and I go to this burger place once every couple weeks, and we’ll wait up to 45 minutes.

Gene: Oh my God, I would never do … For a burger?

Elizabeth: Yeah, they’re really good.

Gene: Jeez. Okay.

Elizabeth: It’s called Max Burger if you’re in Connecticut. What they do is you walk in, and they take your name, and they take your phone number, and they text you when your table is ready.

Gene: Sounds good.

Elizabeth: They’re located in West Hartford Center in West Hartford Connecticut. We actually go walk around. It’s right next to the post office. If we have any business at the post office, we’ll do that. There’s a spice shop right there. Then get the text. Also they say, “Oh, 45 minutes,” but it’s usually 30 minutes. They also have a separate area outside where you can wait, which is really nice in the summer months. Then you can always go to the bar and get a drink. In a small café, though, I don’t know. I think the texting idea might be a little better.

Elizabeth: Okay. The online waiting app, I think that’s just a must. If you’re a small business and you have, first of all-

Gene: Having to text somebody like that.

Elizabeth: Exactly.

Gene: I think it’s a great idea. There are a few restaurants that I had been to and a few clients that actually have apps that help them with online waiting. One is there’s a great app called waitlist.me. It’s an app that a restaurant can use so that you can sign in. It’s basically a waiting list on a restaurant, but it’s online. Then what it does is is that if your customers download the mobile app for Waitlist, it’ll show them where they are on the waiting list real time.

I remember I went to some Mexican restaurant. They had waitlist.me. They filled us out. They had an iPad, which is another thing you should be doing is walking around with iPads so people aren’t literally waiting in a line to be served. They get your name, and they get whatever, your cell phone number or whatever, and then they tell you if you download the app, you can see where you are. You go and you download it, and I’m like, “Oh, we’re third in line, we’re second in line. Oh, we’re next.” Then sure enough we got a message from them saying that we’re ready to roll.

It was a really cool application to get. Of course not all customers want to download another app to their phone, but at least you can give them the option. It’s all about choices in this world. You can say, “Listen, if you’d like to know where you stand, this is where you are.” I love the idea of testing. I think that’s great. Bigger chains give you those little unit things that spin around and make noise and all that kind of stuff. That’s also an option.

Elizabeth: The problem with those, though, is that if you say to your customers, “Listen, you’ve got an hour wait,” and they give you one of those big disks that you have to carry around-

Gene: Hate that. Hate it.

Elizabeth: You can’t go anywhere.

Gene: No, that’s exactly right. That’s why I like the waitlist.me and that’s why I like your getting texted as well. I think those are some really good solutions for people. The other solution, I just have to say, and this may not be your situation, Sebastian, internally, are you doing everything you can do? You made a joke about millennials and whatever, but are you doing everything you can do to minimize that wait time? We have a shop near us where we go and we buy … It’s a bread shop. It’s a bakery. We go there all the time to buy freshly baked bread. It’s really good. There’s people that are in there. It’s all very sort of hipster, very granola like, and it’s peace and all that stuff, and delicious product, but you go there, and there’s one person behind the counter while the other people are sort of doddling around. Then when it comes time to pay, God forbid if you have a credit card, because they have the credit card machine that’s hidden under the sink, and then they’re waiting for it to whatever. You’re just waiting, and you’re like, “Oh my God. Here, just take my money already. Here’s the cash.”

You should always look at yourself first and say, “Am I doing everything I can do to maximize the time that it takes to deliver a product to a customer?” I think it’s very nice that you love these burgers so much that you’re willing to wait 45 minutes for. I can tell you, Elizabeth, that not everybody, like me, feels that way. I don’t know if I’d wait 45 minutes for a meal. It would really get annoying to me after a while.

Elizabeth: Oh yeah. If I’m hangry and we have had times where we’ve shown up there, and it’s a Tuesday night, and I haven’t eaten since noon, and it’s 7 pm-

Gene: You’re like, “To hell with this, man. I’m not going to sit around and do this.”

Elizabeth: I’ll just say, “No. We’re just going to go downtown to plan B. We’re just going to go somewhere else.”

Gene: Enough.

Elizabeth: But if it’s lunch on a Saturday, then it’s fine.

Gene: Fair enough, fair enough. I’m just saying you’re going to lose business. Sometimes you’re just overcrowded. You can’t do anything about it, but I don’t know. Sometimes there may be other solutions internally to improve the wait time the way people are working.

Elizabeth: I think that’s true. There’s a café near me that you can just tell that they’re not hustling as much as they could. I think it does hurt their business. They have one person at the counter. You walk in, and there’s a counter, and it’s a bunch of baked goods. There’s a ton of tea behind them. It’s actually a tea shop, and then there’s the coffee, which is not just drip coffee. It’s cappuccinos and lattes, and there’s one person. You have 10 people in line, so that one person is making tea, heating up the food, and making the coffee, and taking people’s credit cards or cash, checking people out. I always feel like you’re a coffee shop. You’re basically selling people the drug of caffeine.

Gene: Yeah, don’t make them wait.

Elizabeth: They’re on their way to work. Have two or three people up there. I don’t want to promote Starbucks, but they do it right. They’re very, very efficient. It’s a big corporation, but I do see people in the coffee shop, like someone setting up tables for later. If you see a line of ten customers, get over there. Have everyone there. Have it really efficient, efficient as possible.

Gene: It’s a management attitude and a cultural attitude, like an all hands on deck type of thing. Sebastian, if you’re like, “Dude, I can’t afford to have somebody else do that. I can only ever …” I get that as well. That’s fine. The question that you have to ask yourself, and you need data to do this. You have to watch and observe and keep notes. Maybe you can afford that person, because they will be able to churn more customers through, and there will be a return on investment. If you come back and tell me, “Listen, dude, even if I had another person in here, I’m still not going to be able to do … I’m not losing as much business that it would make it worth it,” then I’m agreeing with you. I’m like, “Okay, don’t do it just for the sake of doing it.” It’s got to have a return on investment.

Elizabeth: There are ways. Just because you say “café”, I keep thinking about breakfast food and coffee. It could be lunch, too, but when I lived in Brooklyn, there was a brunch spot. Of course brunch in Brooklyn, I know, it’s a cliché, but I would go there with my friends every Sunday. The lines were so long, and you’d have to sit on the stoop. What we would do is we’d get there, and you could buy a cup of coffee, and then have coffee. They had the New York Times out. While you waited, at least you had coffee.

Gene: That’s cool.

Elizabeth: When I wake up in the morning, as long as I have my coffee for a little while, I don’t need my waffles right away. As long as you have coffee … They also had fresh squeezed juice and that kind of stuff. You didn’t have to sit down to at least start kind of eating. Then the other thing that I didn’t mind waiting there was A, the product was really good, and they were hustling. I didn’t feel like you saw people kind of dawdling like, “Oh …”-

Gene: I got it. They were just legitimately busy.

Elizabeth: Yeah, they were busy. They didn’t have a bunch of empty tables and they just weren’t seating you. It was more of a … Also, stressing to people, “I’m a small business, I just got started. We’re working the kinks out,” you can be honest with customers. If people complain, you can say, “Listen, I know. We’re working on it. We want to get you seated as quickly as possible.” How you react to angry customers I think is also very important in that situation. It sounds like it’s something you really care about and you want to fix. Good luck with that. It’s great. Congratulations that you have that much business.

Gene: Agreed.

Elizabeth: That’s awesome. Okay, we’ll be right back with question two.

QUESTION 2: Consolidating Your Business Travel

Okay, we’re back with question two, and this is from Yevgeny V. in Youngstown, Ohio. That’s a mouthful. Yevgeny.

Gene: Yevgeny, okay.

Elizabeth: V. from Youngstown.

Gene: Youngstown Yevgeny. Okay.

Elizabeth: He asks,

“I travel a lot for business, and sometimes I end up visiting the same city twice in one month. It can be pretty wasteful. Is there a way for me to consolidate meetings without losing business?” I guess he just doesn’t feel like he wants to say, “Hey, I’m going to be there in two weeks. Can we move this meeting?”

I think that’s the obvious answer. If he could do that, he would, but for some reason, he can’t do that.

Gene: Yep, then suck it up, dude.

Elizabeth: You got to do it.

Gene: Yeah, that’s my answer. First of all, I’m going to say, you talk about having to do things. Everything in life is a choice and an option. I’m not saying that you travel to Youngstown, Ohio to Los Angeles twice in a month for two lousy prospects. You have to judge what’s going to be worth your time. I will tell you when I sell, we sell to customers all across the country. There are sometimes I will go on a plane to meet with them. Most of the time we don’t, because we can accomplish what we need to accomplish on the phone, or using online collaboration tools, like join.me or even a Google hangout or a Skype call. We can see each other that way. People are pretty open to that stuff nowadays.

Having said that, we close more deals when we’re face to face. There’s a human thing that’s really important. The ones that I go out to face to face is when I’m qualifying my prospects. This is what you should be doing, Yevgeny, is when you’re qualifying your prospects. When you talk to somebody that there’s a certain dollar amount involved, it’s significant enough, then yeah, get on a plane, even if that means you’re going back to the same city twice in a month, do it, because if the money is there, you want to follow the money.

If you qualify a prospect and the dollar isn’t there, if it’s less money than is really necessary or it’s just a lower priced deal, I wouldn’t hesitate from saying, “Hey, can we do this on the phone or can we do this via Skype session or a Google hangout?” Or, “Listen, I’ll be in LA on the 18th. Can we schedule a time there?” It’s all about the money. It’s following the money and going after the deals that are big enough. If I told you if that guy there had a suitcase with a million dollars in it if you go there, you’d go. You’re going to choose when you’re going to get in a plane or not, depending on what the value is of the deal.

Elizabeth: Definitely. All right, we’ll be right back with our words of brilliance from Gene.

Gene: Words of brilliance.

Elizabeth: You can get excited. Okay, I actually have something to recommend. I’m just trying to find what it was called.

Gene: Okay.

Elizabeth: Oh, I think you’re going to like this. That was our last question, by the way. We’re done.

Gene: Oh good. Okay. Are you going to offer some words of brilliance?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Good. All right.

Elizabeth: I have one.

Gene: Do you want to go first, or you want me to go first?

Elizabeth: I’ll let you go first.

Gene: Okay.

BONUS: Words of Brilliance

Elizabeth: All right. We’re back with our words of brilliance. Gene, go for it.

Gene: I have two words of brilliance for you today, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Gene: Two words. It’s actually a name. The first name is Joel and the last name is Osteen. Joel Osteen. Do you know who Joel Osteen is?

Elizabeth: No, it sounds familiar.

Gene: You don’t know who Joel Osteen is?

Elizabeth: It sounds very familiar.

Gene: Joel Osteen is a preacher, a Christian preacher who you can see, you can listen to. He’s got his own channel on Sirius. If you Google him, he’s all over. He is an Evangelical preacher that speaks to … He has a stadium, an arena I guess in Texas or wherever the guy’s from. I don’t even know. 20,000 people every week come. He’s one of those guys that gets up there and talks, Evangelical stuff.

Now the reason why I bring Joel Osteen up is because I wrote about this recently. It’s for the series that we’ve been doing on presentations. Joel is, when people ask me … I wrote this blog about my favorite speaker. When people ask me who is my favorite public speaker, my favorite public speaker is Joel Osteen. Now I want you to know something. I am Jewish. I am not a Christian. Not only am I Jewish, I am completely non-religious. My only involvement in my religion is I play on my synagogue’s softball team once a week during the summer. That’s about as religious as I get. I just want you to know I am not a religious guy in any way.

I certainly don’t buy into a lot of the stuff that Joel Osteen talks about, but I will tell you this much. If you are looking to hone your skills as a public speaker, if you really want to be good at presentations to a group, small or large, watch Joel Osteen a couple of times, because he is as a speaker a compelling speaker. He works without notes. I don’t even think that he has a prompter or whatever. He tells stories. He is engaged with his audience. He repeats themes again and again so that they sink in. He talks in a very level way. He’s not manic and crazy. He’s not a low voice kind of guy. He’s a very even-keeled energy guy. He’s passionate about what it is he talks about. He’s engaging. You’ll like him. He’s smiling at you. You like him, what he’s saying. It’s a younger guy. He has this message that he gives.

He is, as a public speaker, I always talk about, and I’ve written about this before for the Hartford that I talk about giving tips on using PowerPoints really well. I’ve written two pieces about both using PowerPoint in a presentation, using PowerPoint designing tips. Joel Osteen does not use a PowerPoint for his … The great speakers that I run into in this world, they don’t use PowerPoints. They get up, and they can talk. I’ve known speakers that you can say, “Listen, I need you to talk for a half an hour on how to drink a glass of water.” If you’re a great speaker, you can get up and tell a story and engage your audience about drinking a glass of water. That’s what Joel Osteen does. I think he is just a wonderful way that he presents himself.

My brilliant words of wisdom this week for anybody who is looking to improve their skills as a public speaker, of course you can read and go to TEDtalks and all that kind of stuff, but check out Joel Osteen. Guy gets up there for a couple of ours at a time. You’re just mesmerized by him. I think he’s just great. Those are my words of wisdom.

Elizabeth: As always, we’re going to have all of this in the show notes. Don’t take notes. We’re going to have them for you. I have some words of brilliance.

Gene: Yes, you have some words of wisdom. I’m sorry. Go ahead. What are these?

Elizabeth: Yes. Words of brilliance, not wisdom.

Gene: Sorry, words of brilliance, words of brilliance.

Elizabeth: Okay. This is a new, I guess you’d call it a product I found that I think is so cool. A lot of people are not writers. You and I write everyday.

Gene: We do. Yep.

Elizabeth: That’s all we do, but a lot of people out there just are not writers. They’re brilliant business people, but they don’t write. There is a company called Love, Business Owner. It is over 300 scripts that you can download to respond to an annoying client or respond to a great client, or use if you’re having a difficult conversation with a client. You go through their database. You can search by keyword, tag, or category, whatever issue you’re facing as a business owner.

Gene: Can you put in a keyword like “deadbeat customer” and I’ll get the script or something?

Elizabeth: Yeah, “customer won’t pay”.

Gene: Yes, yes.

Elizabeth: It’ll pop up with a … Obviously-

Gene: Lying is a good one, cheating, is that right? Yeah, overcharging. You can find all that stuff. Okay.

Elizabeth: Yeah, so let’s say someone’s not paying you. You go into their database, which happens all the time, and you search for “client won’t pay”, and script pops up. You can customize that.

Gene: Can you add in your own profanity, or does it come with its own profanity?

Elizabeth: You can add that in. It’s plug and play.

Gene: Okay, that’s good to hear. That’s good to hear.

Elizabeth: It’s $99. You get access to their entire directory. It even goes as far as using it by industry. It even has scripts in there for having difficult conversations with your friends and family.

Gene: Oh my goodness. Can you imagine?

Elizabeth: If you’re just a terrible communicator, there’s-

Gene: “Son, I’d like you to clean up your room, but I don’t know how to communicate that to you, so I’m going to read from this script here. Let me take it from the top.”

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh.

Gene: That’s funny.

Elizabeth: I’m going to go over some of the collections that they have. Working with business partners, so if you need to work things out with your business partners, they have a collection for that. Taming the client beast, I’m sure that’s a big one. Prospects and inquiry calls. What do you say to someone? Let’s say you’ve had three calls with them. You submitted your proposal. You haven’t heard from them. What do you send to them? Awkward moments. I’m sure that’s a good one.

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