Business Lessons from a Hibachi Chef

How can an informal night out help you grow your plumbing business?
Business Lessons from a Hibachi Chef
Steve Huff

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Earlier this year, my wife and I traveled to visit another plumbing company that had asked for our help getting their business straightened out and headed in the right direction. I felt like we had made great progress on several fronts in the day and a half we spent with them, but I still had my doubts until they took us out to eat on the last night we were there.

Where they took us was a Japanese hibachi restaurant in a neighboring town. For those of you who may never have been to one these restaurants, here’s how it works:

You are seated around a large flat top grill, and since most of them seat eight, they will fill the other seats with whoever is next in line.

This is the first lesson; it’s a good way to practice your conversational skills with someone you have never met, because when you go to a new customer’s home that is something you need to be able to do. You have but a few minutes to talk to them in a manner that gets them to like and trust you. If you can’t do that, then your job of getting them to buy from you is that much harder. So practice this skill every chance you get.

The next thing that happens is someone comes around and takes everyone’s order. One of the things I noticed was all the other waiters/waitresses took orders in the same way; clockwise around the table.

Next someone brings out all the food for all eight orders on a big tray followed by the chef who is going to prepare the meal. He also has with him the paper that the first person wrote the orders on, and while he is cooking he will continually refer back to what was written down.

The chef then will spend some time banging his cooking utensils around, setting the grill on fire, stacking up onion rings to make a volcano, juggling an egg with the spatula and generally putting on a show.

Once he had done that, he went around the table and confirmed everyone’s order and the cooking began. Even though everyone had ordered something different and wanted it cooked to their individual tastes, he was able to get the food on all the plates at the same time.

After we had enjoyed our meal, I asked the couple we were with what business lessons they had learned from the experience. After they sat there a few minutes with this “huh” look on their faces, I finally gave them a few hints, and she, more than he, was able to name most of them.

This made me feel better about the time we had spent with them and that maybe they would actually take what we had taught them and implement it to improve their business.

One other lesson to learn here is that no matter what business you are in you can always learn ways to improve and make more money if you just pay attention. What lessons did you learn from this story?

Here are a few hints:

  1. Talk to someone you just met. Strike up a conversation. Put your customers at ease. Once a stranger, make it a point to leave as a friend. Tip: Document your talk. It’s a good icebreaker the next time you get a call.
  2. The chef has a copy of the order and refers back to it: Confirm everything’s in order before you begin a project. Plan your plumbing work; then work your plan.
  3. Train everyone to take orders in the same direction around the table: Teach your employees to follow best plumbing practices and work safely. It’s time well spent and money saved.
  4. Fill all the seats for maximum efficiency; get all the food on the plates at the same time: Limit trips back to the shop. Make sure you have all the tools and parts you’ll need to complete the job.
  5. Bring all the food on the same tray: A place for everything and everything in its place. Organize your plumbing vehicle so tools and parts can be easily found.
  6. Banging utensils – presentation: Make a good first impression. Well-dressed employees and clean service vehicles are a direct reflection on you and your company.
  7. You can always learn from others. What did you learn from the hibachi chef that you can use to grow your plumbing business? Please share your comments below.

About the author: Steve Huff is president of Steve Huff Plumbing in Kingsport, Tennessee, a company built on customer satisfaction. Founded in 1975, Huff was a good plumber but a poor businessman. In 1999 he faced bankruptcy. Seeking outside help, he learned how to run a business, not own one. Today, Steve Huff Plumbing is the largest service and repair business in the area. Now retired, Huff devotes his time to advising and mentoring other struggling businesses.


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