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hillstone-restaurant-entrepreneurdexYou can tell a lot about the quality and type of service you will get as a consumer by visiting a business's restroom. When I go to a new restaurant, after being seated, I often check out their restroom to see the level of cleanliness.

Who gave me the authority to become a restaurant restroom inspector? My mother did. When I was a teenager growing up in America I cleaned the bathrooms in our home to make her life easier. Because of that, I am qualified to inspect any restroom — and within microseconds I can tell you whether it meets my high standards. I am not a neat freak but I can’t stand a dirty restroom.

I obviously can’t speak about the cleanliness of women’s restrooms, but it never ceases to amaze me how pathetic the male gender is about leaving a restroom clean. I still can’t figure out why most men are incapable of flushing the damn toilet. If women saw some of the “gentlemen's'" restrooms I've have seen, they would be a lot more selective about mating with our kind.

The Restroom Theory

From a branding perspective, if you’re a restaurant or any startup that deals with retail customers — keep your restrooms clean — at all times. I have a restroom theory. Consciously and subconsciously, when I see a clean restroom, so clean that I can eat off the floor, then I know the restaurant’s food is going to be superb.

I am a huge aficionado of the Hillstone Group restaurants, which is comprised of properties including Hillstone, Houston’s, R+D Kitchen, Los Altos Grill, Banderas, etc. If you have never dined at any of these restaurants, bless your heart, you’re missing out. In the 20+ years that I've patronized these restaurants, I have never, ever, seen their bathrooms dirty. You could eat off the floor. It is that immaculate.

The cleanliness of Hillstone's restrooms is a small—yet important indication of the type and level of detail they put into every part of their restaurant business. Every single item on the menu is absolutely incredible. Their customer service is more than superb. I frequently visit the Hillstone Restaurant in Highland Park, Texas. You should see the way they run it—any startup, growing business or even military organization can learn a lesson from their superior performance. From an industrial engineering perspective, they run a sophisticated operation using principles from the Toyota Production System—where they deliver superior service, real-time, just-in-time and all-the-time with efficient delivery procedures and methods.

The general manager of the Highland Park location, Chris Florczak, runs the restaurant flawlessly. Even when they make small errors with the customers, which is rare, they overcompensate with their incredible customer service. I am going to make a bold entrepreneur statement: Hillstone is the greatest service organization in America because of its superb consistency. I have frequented their restaurants thousands of times, and they might have made an error once. What was the error? I don’t remember — so that tells you that whatever error they made, they more than overcompensated in making good on it.

Lesson to All Businesses: Keep Your Restrooms Clean

Much can be learned from keeping restrooms clean and the super service provided by the Hillstone Group. As a venture capitalist, I loved meeting entrepreneurs in their startup offices to get a flavor of their company’s culture.

One of my investment theories is simple: If the startup’s bathroom is clean, this is a good sign. If it is dirty, this is a bad investment sign. 

My investor logic is simple too: Clean bathrooms are an indication of the entrepreneur’s personality and the startup’s culture.

Look at it from this perspective, the level of bathroom cleanliness provides you with an internal insight into how detailed the founders are in running their business. In Silicon Valley, the look and feel of the office is a key element to the formation of a company’s culture. And with the incredible amount of funding provided by venture capitalists, it becomes a case of keeping up with the Joneses in who has a “cooler and better looking” office. But the key question for me is whether their restrooms are clean too.

Nothing makes my investor mind more negative than visiting a startup with an extremely dirty restroom. I realize startups and growing companies don’t have the time to keep their bathrooms up to my cleanliness standard, but looking like a pigsty doesn't win any investor brownie points with me.

Most horrifying to me is when a startup plans to sell their service or product directly to the consumer. Keeping the restroom clean is the easiest way to impress a customer and get them to come back and buy more of your service or product. It’s simple for me: if a restaurant doesn't keep its restroom clean, I don’t come back. If they can’t keep their restrooms clean, how clean is the kitchen?

Hillstone should be your restroom metric. Hillstone should be your customer service metric. I could write a book on Hillstone’s legendary service and quality of food but if you really want to understand their incredible business model, just visit one of their restaurants. 

If you have never been to Hillstone, you can't go wrong. I have enjoyed pretty much every dish on the menu and I can’t tell you which is the better of the great.  But don’t forget to order the key lime pie.

Tweetable Quotes:

Clean bathrooms are an indication of the entrepreneur’s personality and startup culture. [tweet this quote]

When I see a clean restroom, I know the restaurant’s food is going to be superb. [tweet this quote]

© 2013 entrepreneurdex

Damir Perge, author of Entrepreneur Myths: The Startup Reality, is the founder of entrepreneurdex, a venturcelerator using complexity science to fund and launch startups.

An entrepreneur and investor, with more than 25 years experience, he's worked with ventures in the technology, internet, media and publishing, entertainment, energy, and manufacturing sectors raising more than $300 million in capital for various companies and investing more than $50 million into startup and emerging ventures. He's sat on the boards of 11 companies, served as editor-in-chief of Futuredex, a private equity magazine. Follow 

Pre-order Damir Perge's upcoming books at damirperge.com >

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