Earlier tonight at the recommendation of friend and colleague Lara Dulaney I stopped for dinner at Uncle Julio's in Allen, TX. Knowing that the rest of the Nashville contingent had gone home a day earlier, and that I was dining by myself, she told me that the food was good and that I could get a full meal at the bar. I thought that was a good idea because you're not so noticeable as "dinner for one" eating at a crowded bar.
I drove the extra exit up from my hotel in Allen and found the place on an out-parcel in a shopping center that had TJ Maxx and Dick's Sporting Goods among other stores. It was mid-priced/low-upscale so nothing that felt like a waste of money. Unlike the eerily deserted restaurants I saw during lunch in the Plano area Uncle Julio's was busy at 8:00 p.m. and had the appearance of winding down from the dinner rush.
So I sit at the bar and here is where the story really begins. One of the two bartenders stuck out his hand, said, "I'm Jeff what's your name?" and asked me where I was from and had I dined there before. I told him I hadn't and he made several recommendations. What I had isn't important, but it was good. Jeff came around and made conversation. When I asked for the check he said he'd bring it but that he had something for me.
When next I looked up there was a manager standing there with plate of soppopias and honey. He also stuck his hand out, introduced himself (Josh, I think, but I may not have heard him correctly). He said, "Jeff tells me you're here for the first time. We wanted to give you a little something special and ask you to come back." I tried to share this plate with everyone at the bar because there were enough for four people.
As I'm leaving I thought about what had just happened. A fully engaged and well-trained employee made a special effort to connect with me on a first-name basis and identify me as a potential new customer. He passed that along to his manager who similarly made a first-name connection and gave me way more than I had expected. I don't believe for a minute that its coincidental that Uncle Julio's parking lot was full while others were empty.
Business is about people and human connections. Business people tend to think its about finance, but finance is to business what a score board is to the football game. It doesn't play the game; people play the game. What a company's financials tell us is what happened between people in the act of commerce. When restaurants in this area are having the same predictable Board of Directors reaction to slash expenses and cut their way to prosperity, Uncle Julio's is reaching out and taking their fair market share, and then some, by engaging employees and connecting with customers.
If your parking lot is empty, either the customer lot or the employee lot, maybe your should listen to your Uncle Julio.