4 Lessons Black Businesses Can Learn From TikTok Influencer Keith Lee’s Stop In Atlanta

Food & Drink

Maintaining positive experiences and relationships with customers is crucial for a business’s cash flow and sales growth. According to research done by Bain & Company, increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Overall, pointing to the fact that an increase in customer retention can lead to a huge increase in profits.

Customers are less likely to return if they have negative experiences with your customer service. Therefore, it is essential to allocate resources in your business’s operational plan to train employees to provide exceptional customer experiences and to focus on hiring individuals with the right skills and a passion for serving customers.

The internet is currently buzzing with intense debates concerning Keith Lee, a famous TikTok food critic. This debate started when he, along with his family, arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, and felt like customer service at many Black establishments did not meet his expectations as part of his series featuring pop-up food tours in various cities. Keith Lee also uses his platform to showcase and support various Black-owned restaurants through his content.

Following the viral circulation of Keith Lee’s videos, it became apparent that two renowned restaurants he patronized — like The Real Milk and Honey and Old Lady Gang, owned by the singer/songwriter and reality star Kandi Burruss — reacted in a way that might be viewed as dismissive, somewhat indifferent and unprofessional in response to his and others’ candid online feedback.

Additionally, these business owners seemed unenthusiastic about engaging in a communal conversation that centered around setting expectations, elevating the customer service experience, extending quality treatment to all, irrespective of their celebrity status and offering convenient solutions for all patrons.

After analyzing this situation, these are the four main lessons that Black businesses and even restaurant patrons can learn:

Professionalism Is Capital

The importance of upholding professionalism in business communications cannot be overstated. Maintaining professionalism at all times plays a pivotal role in shaping the company’s image and building trust among clients, partner, and the public. This trust hinges on the perception of competence and reliability that professionalism conveys.

Furthermore, it contributes to a cohesive and highly efficient work environment and promotes respectful interactions among team members and with customers. Beyond these immediate benefits, professionalism is integral to the broader organizational perspective, as evident in The Milk and Honey and Kandi PR crises.

Collaborating with professionals who excel in projecting outcomes, risk analysis and scenario assessment is a mandatory measure to avoid such crises and prevent loss of business. The unfortunate experience and responses of The Milk and Honey management team and Kandi Burruss’ brief commentary shows the consequences when we don’t carve out space for strategic planning and professional expertise in safeguarding a company’s reputation and ensuring long-term success.

Constructive Feedback And Criticism Is A Source Of Business Intelligence

Constructive feedback and criticism provide valuable insights. When you embrace criticism, you can understand why some customers no longer visit your business. This information helps you adjust your marketing and customer service strategies. By analyzing data, you can identify customer profiles at risk of leaving and take actions to retain them. These metrics guide when and how to interact and engage with customers and what services or items to offer.

If your goal is to scale your business and maintain steady sales, it’s essential to encourage and incentivize feedback as part of your performance measurement and marketing plan. Identifying recurring mistakes in your restaurant is important for improvement and growth.

Investing In The Right Areas

Making strategic investments and improvements to your operational and brand plan is crucial for success. This is why Black restaurant entrepreneurs should invest in and prioritize improving customer service to enhance efficiency and competitiveness and attract opportunities for scaling their businesses.

To achieve this, careful planning and preparation are required. This includes maintaining consistency in food quality, internal communication, and service standards. Defining core values, setting daily goals, creating scripts, and leaving communication memos are key to making sure that your staff always operates cohesively. Implementing a structured training process and standardized procedures eliminates variations in rules, operating hours, experiences and food handling.

Moreover, recruiting dependable staff who demonstrate responsibility and enthusiasm for their work is a must.

To work through these challenges, consider collaborating with a strategist or consultant who can assist you, as a restaurant owner, in enhancing customer retention. Customer retention measures a company’s ability to keep customers over time, typically expressed as a percentage of customers retained by the end of a specific time period.

Respect Black Business Owners Methods

While it may be frustrating to some, there is still significant value in small businesses that prioritize heritage preservation and forgo extravagances like interior design, customer service, trends, technology, and even modern appliances that can decrease food preparation and wait times.

This, however, highlights the importance of businesses understanding their customers and their expectations. There are patrons who actively seek out authentic, no-frills dining experiences and are willing to wait a bit longer for freshly prepared dishes.

It’s important to note that these behaviors and characteristics extend beyond Black business owners, as exemplified by Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares show. Ramsay made a career out of helping struggling and disorganized small restaurants improve their daily operations.

I believe that internalized bias can sometimes lead our community to overly criticize behaviors otherwise widely accepted in society. In my opinion, Keith’s feedback aligns with common experiences at any other small, family-owned business that values authenticity over presentation, structure and ambiance.

It’s also worth noting that Keith Lee acknowledged multiple times in his review that he didn’t feel like he was the target customer for the type of experience these restaurants offered, which is a valid perspective, given the fact that individuals social, environmental and geographical influences do play a significant role into their dining choices. People have diverse dining preferences, and it’s also acceptable for a restaurant to uphold rules and traditions that make them unique.

In addition to my thoughts outlined above, I wanted to check in with Brand Strategist and Creativity Consultant DeAnna McIntosh who has an extensive track record of collaborating with various retailers and brick-and-mortar businesses, to ask her to share some tips for readers interested in this topic from a tactical perspective. I had the privilege of speaking with DeAnna, who is also based in Atlanta, Georgia, where everything has transpired. She provided powerful insights on ways small business owners can measure the success of projects related to their operational improvement and customer service enhancement plans.

When asked about the usage of key performance indicators (KPIs) for such projects, DeAnna provided the following valuable recommendations:

  • Comparative Sales Analysis: Begin by assessing Comp or Same Locations Sales TY (This Year) versus LY (Last Year). This initial assessment helps determine whether your business is growing, declining, or maintaining itself. Additionally, consider breaking down your sales by channel, such as dine-in, delivery, and takeout, which is crucial, especially for restaurants recovering from the pandemic.
  • Gross Margin and Food Cost: Keep a close eye on your gross margin and food cost percentages. As food costs continue to rise, profitability relies on maintaining a healthy margin. Look for opportunities to innovate and diversify, whether it’s through new menu items, productizing elements of your business, sourcing from different suppliers, or simplifying operations.
  • Return Customer Rate: Recognizing repeat customers is a strong indicator of success. Implement formal reward systems to track this metric, reinforcing customer loyalty.
  • Employee Turnover Rate: Understanding employee retention is essential. Know why employees leave and where they go, as this insight can lead to improvements in staff management and satisfaction.
  • Employee Satisfaction Rate: In the face of ongoing staffing challenges, nurturing employee satisfaction is critical. Show your employees that you value their feedback, set standards of excellence, and actively acknowledge their contributions.
  • Customer Satisfaction on Review Sites: Customer feedback on platforms like Google and review sites holds significant influence. It’s vital to recognize that local critics and regular customers have a long-lasting impact on your success. Use their feedback as a valuable source for growth and innovation.
  • Innovation Factor: Regularly introduce new dishes, services, menu design, and enhancements to keep customers engaged and excited to return.
  • Customer Engagement Rate: Monitor the impact of events, social media engagement, and loyalty programs on sales and reservations. Strategies like text and email marketing, as well as offering gift cards, can help maintain customer interest.
  • Community Engagement: Assess your role in the community. Strive to be an essential staple that the community would miss if your establishment were to leave, rather than just another place to eat.

When also asked what type of tailored solutions should be created for restaurants looking to meet the specific needs of their clientele, DeAnna offers the following recommendations:

  • Renew Your Vision: Start by reevaluating your company’s vision. Understand the initial reason for starting your restaurant and whether it still aligns with your current operations. Consider potential product development opportunities, additional locations, or launching sub-brands. Regularly take time to redefine your business’s future.
  • Customer Deep Dive: Be aware of trends and changes brought by social and economic circumstances and conduct thorough customer research. Understand your current customer base, their preferences, and their expectations at every touchpoint. Utilize technology to enhance convenience and identify aspects that might drive customers away.
  • Competitor Analysis: Study your competitors to identify customer expectations specific to your restaurant format. Visit competitors and assess various aspects of the customer experience, from parking to reviews. Compare this with your own restaurant to make sure that you at least meet the standard expectations of your clients and industry and identify what sets you apart.

Additionally, DeAnna advises local Atlanta restaurants replacing the wording “house rules” with company values because the term “rules” and similar language have negative connotations of control and inflexibility and can result in an attitude of disdain by customers. Instead, using the word ‘values’ in their communications gives positive connotations of care, thoughtfulness and protection. Something as simple as this can significantly improve a brands identity and how people perceive it.

DeAnna McIntosh’s comprehensive insights offer an introductory roadmap for businesses seeking to measure and enhance their success in terms of operational improvements and customer service.

As we continue to learn, grow, discover new areas of opportunities and stand behind Black businesses and entrepreneurs, it’s necessary to acknowledge the importance of continuing to nurture their individuality, creativity and innovative spirit, which may look differently for each person’s entrepreneurial process. It’s our responsibility as supporters and as a community to understand this and keep them motivated and thriving, which, in turn, contributes to the well-being of the Black community and our economy as a whole.

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