Your Money

- By keeping employees satisfied, restaurants can ensure happy customers.

By Linda A. Fox, The Toronto Sun

David Lipton and Craig Henry have a lot of work on their plates. And sometimes that work amounts to a chip or a crack in the porcelain. The pair run Sensors Quality Management Inc.(SQM), a small business that helps the hospitality industry keep its house in order.

Lipton, 32 and Henry, 31, met while both were attending Ryerson's Hospitality and Tourism Management Program. After graduation, they gained experience at a variety of jobs both in the hospitality field and outside. In addition to delivering the Sunday Sun as a kid, Lipton put in a few years at McDonald's, Delta Hotels and Resorts and Regal Hotels. Henry spent time with the Sheraton Centre Hotel, Valhalla Inns and CP Hotels and Resorts in capacities ranging from front desk to management.

But when the recession loomed, like many others, Lipton and Henry both found themselves on the laid-off list. From personal experience the men knew the hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels, air lines etc.) didn't always measure up. And that most of them didn't even know where they fell short. Enter SQM. "We were in a situation where we needed to invent our own jobs," says Lipton, "but in a field that we both knew well."

With about $2,000 in savings from each partner, SQM was born. From there followed cold calls to prospective clients. First a couple of major hotels came on line and now, as Lipton puts it, "our growth has been a gazillion per cent."

The company goes in a evaluates a hospitality company from the customer's perspective. Is the front desk running efficiently at the hotel? Is room service available during hours advertised? Is a restaurant's dinnerware chipped, cracked or worn? Is "last call" really "last call" at the bar? "These are all things a customer takes note of," says Henry. "And if the wrong impression is created, that customer may take his money elsewhere next time."

Lipton says SQM tries to make its hospitality industry clients aware of the shortfalls in their service and how to rectify the problems. And just what kind of shortfalls have Lipton and Henry been finding in the year-plus SQM has been on the prowl? "Well we've found a fresh fly in a 'fresh' salad, chipped wine glasses, a dangerously frayed cord on a floor lamp in a hotel room, a cracked in-room coffee pot among other things," says Henry. "All problems that could all be potentially dangerous."

After its appraisal of the situation, SQM submits a written report to the client. And it's not just the externals that are judged by SQM. It could be the ins and outs of the accounting department, reservations desk, or in whose pocket money from the bar tips winds up.

And if you work in the industry, you probably won't even know SQM is on your premises. The two guys ordering a burger at the table by the window might be from SQM, or the man telephoning to ask about a room reservation for the weekend might just be the one. Lipton and Henry do a lot of their work as "undercover customers."

SQM has its sights set much further afield than the hospitality industry, not that they are up and running. "We feel there is a niche for our kind of quality investigations in the retail industry, banking, or automotive," says Lipton. They already have representatives working for them right across Canada, making SQM a coast-to-coast company. And in the future, the pair would like to end up as a management company in the hotel and restaurant field. Lipton says business in Canada has to follow up on the notion that it is world class by "proving we can give the level of service that merits that label."

So often, the management of a hotel, restaurant or retail store is the last to notice the little things that drive a customer crazy," he says. "That's where SQM comes in. We serve as damage control."

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