Illustration: Tiago Galo

Andrew Oliver, president and director of the Oliver & Bonacini restaurant empire, reveals the tactics that equip his 1,200 employees to deliver amazing customer experiences.

Since I was old Andrew_Oliver-Oliver_and_Bonacini-Pickup_300x300enough to sit at the grown-up table, I’ve always noticed service. It’s now at the point where when I go out for dinner with friends, they find how much I comment on small details a bit obnoxious, whether it’s at one of our own locations or at another great restaurant.

It’s a habit I really picked up from working summer jobs with Oliver & Bonacini during university. That experience—going through the training process myself and spending time working as a bar-back and bartender—gave me so much insight for what I do now.

As a server, it’s your job to make your customer’s day. As a leader, it’s my job to give staff the bandwidth to figure out how to do that. We have things we call “moments of truth,” which is the name we’ve given to instances in which our staff go above and beyond to differentiate themselves. There’s one example that always sticks with me: We had someone who was visually impaired come to dine at one of our restaurants, [Toronto’s] Auberge du Pommier. When the server found out this person was celebrating a birthday, during service they asked the pastry chef to use wax to write “Happy Birthday” in braille on the dessert plate. Afterwards, the customer wrote to us and said that was the first time someone had done something like that for them. It was really amazing.

Part of ensuring excellent service is offering extensive training, which for our employees includes classroom-style and online instruction and on-the-job scenarios. That’s when you learn the technical details, like how the cutlery is laid out and how each napkin is folded. But maybe more important than training is the recruitment process. Emotional service is one of the biggest things we try to offer. That’s where we strive to be different—to be sincere and intelligent. And all that comes down to recruiting. It’s harder and harder to find great people in our business, and we have a great team of people who help us find the best and brightest.

With more than 1,000 employees working at several different locations, I can’t be there personally to make sure everyone is delivering excellent service during every shift. I rely heavily on the management team, and where I have an impact is looking at the company’s overall values and confirming we have the right leaders with the right attitudes in place to make those values work. I ensure the people managing the businesses believe in our brand, believe in our culture and believe in the service we aspire to deliver. If your managers are fanatically enthusiastic about the work your organization does, that kind of engagement infects everyone else.

This article is from the August 2016 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!



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