Keeping Customers Satisfied (and Satiated)

with De Dutch Pannekoek House Restaurants Inc.

MEET DE DUTCH

De Dutch Pannekoek House Restaurants was started in 1975 by a Dutch immigrant, John Dys, when he grasped the potential for the Dutch pancake—a tad thicker than a crepe, with a variety of savoury fillings—in Canada. The operation now stretches to 21 locations (17 franchises and 4 corporate) and employs around 600 employees across its locations. President Bill Waring became a franchisee in 1978, as well as Dys’ business partner when the operation hit five restaurants.

1. Have the right attitude

President Bill Waring describes how, like many companies, De Dutch has volumes upon volumes of information on staff training and what people need to know during their time with the company. But more important is the right attitude, which is a metric in De Dutch’s franchisee recruitment process. You must have the right attitude, Waring says, because it filters down to all of the employees.

2. Train the staff thoroughly

“When De Dutch selects employees, it’s not simply the case of someone walking into the restaurant and [getting] a job,” Waring says. “There’s a process.” All employees are introduced to the company’s practices through an online training program. New employees wanting to be servers must first work their way up through a variety of other positions. If they want to become servers during this process, there’s a written exam they have to take, designed by the company to ensure that the employees know what will be required of them in the position.

3. Improve the “one percenters”

Waring subscribes to the philosophy that it is more realistic for an organization to strive to do 1,000 things one percent better than do one thing 1,000 percent better. “In our restaurants, our ‘one percenters’ are things such as the china—high-quality English china—and the cutlery that we use,” Waring says. “The cutlery has our windmill logo embossed on the handles. It feels like you have something in your hand—it’s not a cheap piece of cutlery.”

4. Offer something “eggs-tra”

“We’re in the breakfast business, and at the centre of every breakfast platter out there is an egg,” Waring says. “How much does an egg cost? We sell them for a couple of bucks. They certainly don’t cost us that, so what justifies the extra money? The guest is buying far more than just the egg; they’re buying the totality of the experience, and some restaurateurs forget that.”

An important part of the experience for De Dutch is the atmosphere within the restaurant itself. The company recently invested a quarter of a million dollars renovating a restaurant. “It’s designed to make a customer feel comfortable and safe,” says Waring of the new, memorable décor.

5. Think hospitality

Waring recently visited De Dutch’s restaurant in the interior of British Columbia. While there, he went out for dinner at a neighbouring restaurant. After talking with the servers there, he gave them complimentary cards to try De Dutch for breakfast. “I got a text message that weekend from these servers who, after visiting our restaurant, raved about how good it was and said that they would return,” Waring says. “For me, that is the essence of this business. People forget that the restaurant business is the hospitality business. If your guests feel special, important, then they’ll return. As president of the company, that comes from me and is then reflected throughout the rest of the company.”

6. Reward loyalty

De Dutch sourced its customer-reward software from a restaurant show in Chicago. At the time, De Dutch had a limited knowledge of who its customer was from a demographic perspective, and the software promised a solution to this issue. “I bought the program and implemented it, and for the first two years it was utter hell,” Waring says. “The software didn’t work properly, then the hardware went down. I was ready to pull the whole thing, but our investment was so substantial at that point we had to stick with it.”

Today, De Dutch has worked out the bugs and has tens of thousands of paid-for members on its program. Waring believes the program is successful because the customers get rewarded quickly. It has also helped the company get a handle on the profile of its customers, and De Dutch uses this information to tailor its service and to better select locations for new franchises.