Where's Your Salt Shaker?

By Mary Flannery, D.C.

It’s a Saturday night, and you’re going out for dinner. How do you go about choosing a restaurant? 

Some of you carefully choose a restaurant, factoring in the recommendations of friends, the location and the price point. You consider the kind of food you prefer—Sushi? Italian? Vegetarian? You think about the atmosphere—Is it a date? Are you bringing the kids? You balance out all these elements and make a deliberate and conscious decision.

But some of you make these decisions without even thinking. You just go to the place you’ve always gone. The place that is close to home. The place with comfort food. The place that is convenient and affordable. The place where you can grab takeout and run. You choose the place where they know you well and will take care of you.

Are you ever reminded of your chiropractor’s practice when you make that decision? Because choosing a restaurant is a lot like choosing a chiropractor. 

How Is a restaurant like a chiropractic office?

You may find the analogy between a chiropractic practice and the restaurant business a stretch, but both businesses are built on a few fundamental business principles: convenience, perceived value, how well your product is delivered and, ultimately, how the customer feels when they visit your establishment. 

Success in a restaurant is all about service. Service comes in many forms and can be delivered many ways. Success in any business, including Chiropractic, requires the examination of these ideas and will test your ability to execute this set of values. 

Can you learn something from your favorite restaurant?

Danny Meyer, the author of “Setting the Table: the Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,” thinks that any businessperson can learn from fundamental principles underlying his many successful years in the service industry as a restaurateur. Meyer has opened many successful restaurants in one of the toughest possible restaurant markets on earth—New York City. He is famous for not only delivering amazing food, but understanding the subtle, yet critical, aspects of service necessary to truly succeed in today’s marketplace. His book uncovers many lessons a chiropractor could use to develop and maintain a strong chiropractic practice by focusing on principles of service.

Restaurants, like chiropractic practices, are typically owned and managed by a single person—a small business owner—who is juggling many things, such as hiring and training staff, creating an environment that reflects the owner’s vision of the business and keeping all the details together in the heat of operation. This small business owner is typically not formally trained in business, but has a passion for his or her work and considers the work and business a labor of love.

Service is at the very core of a restaurant’s success, just as service lies at the heart of most successful chiropractic offices. Service is that ineffable aspect of any practice that allows each patient to see who we are as chiropractors and the truth that lies in our hearts.

Service vs. Hospitality

Meyer clarifies two aspects of what we think of as service. First, he defines service a “the technical delivery of a product.” In terms of a restaurant, this would be the basics—the right food is delivered to the right table at the right temperature at the right time. Meyer says that as a fundamental principle of your operation, service is a monologue. The proprietor chooses what the business is and what it does and doesn’t do. It is not open for debate with customers. The job of the business is to know exactly what they technically do and to deliver that product perfectly and seamlessly every time. If a business struggles with consistency or identity, it is critical that the owner examines this core idea of service.

According to Meyer, the second aspect of service is hospitality. Hospitality goes far beyond the technical delivery; it is how the technical delivery of the product makes the customer feel. Meyer says that hospitality is a dialogue. “To be on the guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense and following up with a thoughtful, gracious and appropriate response,” he says.

Hospitality is the part of our practice in which we recognize the individual needs and personalities of our patients. The back and forth relationship we have with our patients is what causes them to feel a certain way about their experience in our office. How we feel—the emotion carried about anything or any product—is the thing that really sticks with us.

Emotions make a big difference 

You can remember exactly where you were on 9/11. You remember the weather, who you were with, what time of day it was and exactly how you felt in that moment when you understood the tragedy that had struck our country. You will never forget it. That is because of the strong emotional response that resonated in you at that particular moment. The searing level of remembrance associated with emotions or strong feelings is a fundamental part of being human, and it is a critical factor to remember in your business. 

Your patients will definitely have feelings about your practice. Your first goal is to make sure that they are good feelings. Next, you want  to create an environment in which they can continue to feel good about their experience. You want every patient to walk out of your office not just lacking the subluxations they walked in with, but also feeling like the time spent was productive and worthwile. You want them to feel like they matter, and that you and your staff care about each of them as an individual.

Your patient will experience your service—at least what they perceive of your service—whether you choose to deliberately shape it or not, and the emotions associated with that experience are based on how well you handle the hospitality portion of the service equation. 

The Salt Shaker Principle

In his book, Meyer describes a pivotal encounter with a mentor who was coaching him as he struggled in an early start-up. He had been battling to keep his restaurant and staff aligned with his vision for excellence. The people around him were testing his vision and pushing the limits.

His mentor, Pat, led him through the following exercise: Pat asked him to take everything off a table in his dining room except for the salt shaker. Then he asked Meyer to put that salt shaker on the table exactly where he wanted it.

Meyer placed a salt shaker dead center on the table on top of the pristine white table cloth. Pat stood up and pushed the salt shaker out of position. Then Pat challenged him: “Where do you want it? Put it back where you want it.”

Meyer put the salt shaker back in its original position—dead center. Again his mentor moved the salt shaker, and again he challenged him. “Okay then, what are you going to do now?” Pat asked. Once again Meyer replaced the salt shaker back in the centered position.

Pat then explained, “Your staff and guests are always moving your salt shaker off center. It is not your job to get upset. That’s their job. It is the job of life. It’s the law of entropy—your job is just to move the salt shaker back each time and let them know exactly what it stands for. Let them know what excellence looks like to you. And if you’re ever willing to let them decide what the center is, then I want you to give them the keys to the store.”

Meyer says that the idea of the salt shaker is one of the ultimate keys to his success. The first step is understanding exactly what your personal salt shaker is for your business. The salt shaker represents the core principles and vision which underlie everything you stand for. 

The next part of applying the salt shaker principle is being the person who can apply calm and gentle pressure every time the salt shaker is relocated or altered. As Meyer says, it is not your job to get upset. It is your job to react and to apply calm, gentle pressure every time by keeping the salt shaker in its proper position.

There are many people who may come along and interfere with your salt shaker: staff, patients, family members, even well-meaning colleagues. Be prepared to apply calm and gentle pressure and keep your salt shaker in the place you have designated for your practice. This will not only increase your success, but it will make everyone’s roles clear and their duties more apparent. The salt shaker principle is a powerful reminder of the sacred trust we hold in our practice and our duty to guard it well.

Making It Applicable 

For those who want to apply this information to their practice, here are a few action steps that could give these ideas traction. Spend a little time reviewing the steps below first by yourself, and then get together with your staff and make sure that they are part of the conversation as well.

What is the service in your office? What exactly are you delivering? Do you deliver it well? Are you at the top of your game for technical service?

Now consider your hospitality. How do patients in your office feel? Do they feel that way every time? How do you know they feel that way? What do you do to promote that feeling? Can you do more? What would that look like? What would that feel like for your patients?

What is your salt shaker? Do you know exactly what you stand for in practice? What is in your mission and what is outside of your mission? Once you know that, then you must consider, does your staff know exactly what your salt shaker is and where you want it? Like Meyer, you must be clear with your staff and yourself, and then you must be willing to exert calm and assertive pressure to make sure your salt shaker—your principles—always remain exactly what and where you want them to be. 

There is much to learn in business by exploring lessons from parallel industries such as restaurants. The next time you go to dinner, think about the service and the hospitality. Meyer says that we must have both service and hospitality to be truly successful. You will begin to see the flaws and cracks in places you go, and you must always be willing to turn that same scrutiny on yourself and your business. Define your service, your hospitality and, most importantly, define and place your salt shaker.