Building A Company Culture – One Case Study At A Time

By Inez Silva Reyes


It’s been 9 years since I left the corporate world to help Frank re-engineer, professionalize and grow the Reyes Barbecue business he created.

Today we are moving towards our 55th store, and I think that if you ask us the question  “how did you grow the business?, we can happily share some nuggets of wisdom.

For us, there is only one key lesson to share:

       “A business is not about the product, or the marketing campaigns, or the sales, or even the customers. For us, the business is about PEOPLE. The people in our organization.”

How did we learn this?

Here’s a thought. Businessmen typically say: “Hire good people and they will grow your business for you.” This was not true at all for us.

In my first three years of managing Reyes Barbecue, as Frank and I were building the organization, we would prioritize all applicants for the positions of store operation supervisors and managers if they had experience from the major fast food chains – Jollibee, Chowking, Greenwich. Because I had worked for Jollibee, I personally witnessed the high caliber of the organization and I expected that by hiring people from Jollibee and its sister companies, they would infect our organization with a strong performance culture.

Not only did this not happen, hiring people from the major fast food chains was a complete disaster for us. We aggressively opened new stores during this time, but the operations people we hired from the major fast food chains were ineffective: sales were low, standards were not being followed, morale declined, there were integrity problems, etc – eventually, these people we hired had to go, and we would start from zero again.

After 3 years of doing this, we concluded that people who came from big companies have great difficulty in adjusting to smaller companies and therefore will not be effective. So we changed our hiring strategy. We then hired from second level chains like Cravings, Congo Grill, Domino’s.

With this new crop of operations people from second level food chains, our sales and morale improved, but only temporarily, and still far from the levels we desired. After two years of this, our business situation became so bad we ended up closing a lot of stores.

Then suddenly, it was 2012 – the 10th anniversary of Frank’s founding and creating the Reyes Barbecue brand.

Realizing the significant occasion, plus the fact that with all our mistakes the business had actually reached ten years, Frank and I stopped, took a step back and started to think again. This time, we realized we needed to think about the FUTURE.

We recognized that while we had a business with a huge potential, we would not be here forever to manage it. So it dawned on us to ask ourselves two important questions:

  1. Who will manage our business 10 years from now?
  2. Who will manage our business 100 years from now?

It was these questions that forced us to think more deeply about PEOPLE – particularly, the next generation of Reyes Barbecue management. Our two sons were out of the question – ten years from now they would only be in their twenties, hardly qualified to manage an operation of our scale. Realizing this, more questions were now pouring into our minds:

  1. What are we doing wrong about hiring and deploying people? What do we need to change?
  2. What do we need to do to build a strong organization for the future?
  3. How do we build a strong organization for the future when today 90% of our people are only high school graduates?

We then decided that we needed to focus our attention and energies on ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT. So we took action on the basic organizational needs  : 1) immediately set up a Succession Planning Program; 2) re-organized and promoted the few good performers we had; and 3) re-engineered and improved our internal training programs. These moves were all well received by our people, and morale improved.

But so what if we had all these organizational programs? Is this it? Could we expect better performance from our people solely from these initiatives? Why do Starbucks employees perform so well, across the world, even when their bosses are not looking? Why do Uniqlo store staff across the world attend to their customers in the same energetic way without their bosses looking?

Then it hit us: we needed to do one more thing if we wanted to achieve the sales growth, organizational stability and consistency we aimed for: we needed to CREATE and BUILD a strong COMPANY CULTURE!

This realization in early 2013 that we needed to purposely create and build our own company culture gave us the “aha” breakthrough moment and pushed our minds to overdrive mode!

We were now very excited … So we asked ourselves another question: HOW do we create and build our own company culture? Facing a blank wall, the only thing we could do at this point was to research – by the way, we are avid readers so we enjoy research – we took a look at our library and reread the many books we had on building company cultures ; we went out and for weeks bought and read a lot of books on how organizations developed themselves or how entrepreneurs grew their businesses, hoping we would find some inspiration …

The more you read, the more ideas enter your mind, the more ideas in your mind, the more iterations happen in your mind, resulting to even more and better ideas … then slowly, but surely, the good ideas begin to get refined, enhanced, and suddenly, boom! The solutions just hit you.

Here are, what to us are, our GAME CHANGER IDEAS :

1st Big Idea : Stop Being Bosses. Instead, be TEACHERS.

We could not afford to hire topnotch executives to develop our people so we decided to stop being the bosses and instead take the role of TEACHERS in our organization.

But how would we “teach” culture? We remembered our MBA classes – the CASE METHOD was a more effective teaching method than pure lecture. So we decided to use CASE STUDIES as the method of teaching our people how to THINK, DECIDE AND ACT. We personally crafted our first case study and tried it out on our 6 operations heads. The response was very positive.

So in the first Monday of January 2014 we integrated a 3 hour Case Study Learning Module into our Monday Operations Review, during which all key operations people would be present. This was now a big group of 50 people – but again the response to the Case Study Learning Module was so positive that we made a personal commitment to create and teach a new case study to our key people every Monday of every week, January 1 to December 15 of every year without fail. (We are now on Year 4.)

The Case Studies we created were based on actual store issues – ex. anomalies, theft, insubordination, customer handling, leadership, etc. We spent time to carefully craft these so that our Case Studies were presented more as a story telling session, much like Jesus’ way of narrating the parables, but we packaged these in an “infotainment” style (ie “tele-serye” style), so that our people would be engaged and really listen as we discussed each case.

We would present the Case Study, then pose questions to the audience – the questions were actually an exercise for them in critical thinking and judgment – and we aimed to have the case solutions derived through the audience, through the discussions, through their own thinking  – NOT dictated on by the teacher-owners.

During these sessions we would have bowls with the names of everyone in attendance and draw these names randomly for each question. This way, everyone would have to be alert and listen – because you could be called to recite and think. Groups would be formed to meet and make on-the-spot presentations. Assignments were given and results shared in the following session. We would conduct our Case Study sessions in pretty much the same way teachers at universities would … Our aim was to create a culture within operations where leaders would think, decide and act correctly. To motivate our people, we would give tokens to recognize the best assignments and group presentations. Mondays then became our “Culture Building Day.”

From January 2014 up to the present we have created over 80 case studies, continuously conducted our Monday culture building sessions and we intend to do this in the company forever.

2nd Big Idea : Use Books As The Foundation Of The Company Culture. Their principles will be the company’s principles or “Commandments.”

Our thinking here was that rather than impose only our own personal values, beliefs and principles as the basis of our company culture, we decided to rely on selected books as our source of company “Commandments.”

We identified 5 books to be read by ALL leaders in Reyes   

Barbecue (from Operations, Head Office and Commissary):

  1. Good To Great by Stanford Professor Jim Collins
  2. Setting the Table by New York Restaurateur Danny Meyer
  3. Food Service for the Professional by David Mizer
  4. Rubies In The Orchard by Advertising Executive and Entrepreneur Lynda Resnick
  5. Man’s Search For Meaning by Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor Viktor Frankl

The working plan was for all RBnian leaders to read all 5 books.

  • One book a year
  • One chapter a month
  • Monthly workshop per chapter conducted by Owner –Teachers
  • Exams after every workshop – results included in the Performance Appraisal

I’m happy to tell you that as of this date (May 2017) we are now on the last few chapters of our third book (Mizer).

Aside from books, we summarized key principles from the selected academic and literary materials and included these as part of our “Commandments.”:

  1. Marks Of An Educated Man by Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Columbia University President Nicholas M. Butler
  2. Articles on Integrity by various authors
  3. Articles on Managing Up by various authors
  4. Articles on Total Quality Management by W. Edwards Deming, the leading world thinker on quality management

What is the connection or relationship between the Monday Case Studies and the reading of our 5 books and other articles ?

We establish this connection by strictly implementing this rule during the sessions : In solving the issues and answering the questions of the Monday Case Studies, ONLY the principles from the 5 books and the additional identified materials shall be used. No other opinions or principles are allowed.

Through the practice of this rule, we establish the mindset of “One Company. One Language. One Way of Doing Things.” Any new person in the organization is immediately advised to “Forget whatever you learned in your previous company culture as none of it will be applicable here.”

3rd Big Idea : Mentoring As A Key Metric For Performance

We believe that it is the company culture that binds the organization and sets it apart from other companies. The best way to ensure that the company culture is passed on from one generation to another is to institute the practice of mentoring down the line.

For us, “mentoring” means “teaching the person reporting to you, everything that you know about your job, and everything you learn from the Monday Case Study sessions.”

We promote people on the basis of how many and how well they mentor, and we discovered that with good mentoring, our internally developed high school graduates can be better store supervisors than college graduates with store experience learned from a different company culture. Our greatest satisfaction as Owner-Teachers is seeing our own students become teacher-mentors.

By persevering in our Monday culture-building sessions and constantly emphasizing the role of mentoring, , we have witnessed the steady transformation of the Operations organization into a smarter, more focused, more aggressive, more results driven one, whose members take pride in being a Reyes Barbecue “RBnian.”

We started our Monday culture building sessions in January 2014. That year we had a sales growth of 20%. For every year after that,  up to this year, 2017, we continue to have double digit sales growth rates.

Please note further that we achieved these sustained annual double-digit growth rates without tv advertising, without consumer promotions, without product discounts, without price increases, without offering unlimited rice or unlimited whatever, without increasing salaries across the board annually, without adding any benefits across the board. We achieved this by focusing on PEOPLE and CULTURE.

On the people side, anomalies like theft, absences and resignations were all significantly reduced, and company-wide morale has increased and has given the company stability.

While most companies like to claim that they treat and regard each other as part of a “Family,” we ask our people to see our company not as a family but as a “University” – where one needs to LOVE CONTINUOUS LEARNING, where one can pass or fail, graduate with honors or get kicked out – so to speak – depending on how much effort is put into studying and learning. For us it is critical to develop in the organization the attitude and mindset that loves continuous learning.

Because of the success of our culture building strategy, we now see the future for Reyes Barbecue as being very bright and exciting.

But beyond the business, we are even more pleased to see the improvement in our brand health, as monitored through our annual focus group discussion series among eat-out customers.

While we have always been noted for our good taste and quality, and are labeled as the “sosyal na barbecue,” for the first time in the 5 years we have been monitoring brand health, we now hear customers say two important things:

  1. “Kapag barbecue ang crave ko, sa Reyes ako.” 
    Meaning : we are the current standard for barbecue taste.
  2. “Consistent ang Reyes dahil may sistema sila. Pareho ang lasa at portion nila sa lahat ng stores – hindi gaya ng ibang brands.” 
    Meaning : we not only have high quality – our quality is reliable and consistent, which means we are a professionally run organization.

We consider this feedback as a positive acknowledgment of our taste and quality dependability, and we believe that our earning this reputation is a direct result of our consistent culture-building initiatives.

We are not saying that our culture is perfect, but we believe that it is strong. And we will continue to make it stronger.

What is your Family Business’s DNA?

Inez Silva Reyes has successfully transformed herself from corporate executive to business owner/entrepreneur.

An Economics graduate of the University of the Philippines with an MBA from De La Salle University, Inez was also a former President of the Marketing and Opinion Research Society of the Philippines (MORES).

She spent more than twenty years in the corporate marketing world, handling executive roles in major beverage companies – Ginebra San Miguel and The Coca Cola Export Corporation.

She capped her executive career as Vice-President of Marketing for Jollibee Foods Corporation, where her five-year term saw the Jollibee business transform itself via numerous product and brand innovations.

She retired from Jollibee in late 2007 to become Chief Executive Officer of Reyes Barbecue, a 50-store barbecue-focused food chain founded by her husband, Francisco “Frank” Reyes.

Today, at the helm and as owner of Reyes Barbecue, she continues to rely on her management and marketing expertise, but now with an entrepreneur’s perspective.

On a lighter side, Inez is a wide reader of history and dabbles in writing. She won the Grand Prize of My Favorite Book 2012, a nationwide book review writing competition established by The Philippine Star and National Book Store.

Recently, my husband Frank and I attended a special seminar conducted by Butz Bartolome entitled “Strategy and Managing Growth of Family Business.” Our objective for attending was to listen to an expert third party’s experience with other family-centric organizations, and hopefully to pick up a good number of ideas and insights we could use to help ensure the longevity of our own business, which we are passionately working tirelessly to strengthen and grow.

Inez & Frank Reyes with their teenage sons Patrick Francis and Pablo Gabriel

At least 30 other family business representatives were in attendance, representing enterprises from Manila, Laguna, Batangas, Tacloban, Davao and General Santos, in business areas ranging from hardware to food to education. The second-generation owners dominated the audience profile – only 20% of the audience was of the first generation founders.

While much of the discussion focused on the current challenges of weaning out the “outdated” management style and culture of the first generation, there was one question The Business Mentor asked the group which jolted my husband and I to thinking more deeply about our own business strategies and long-term direction.

His question was: “What is your Family Business DNA?”

In the marketing world, the concept of a “Brand DNA” is not a new one, and all brand marketers are confident champions and protectors of their brands’ unique selling proposition or differentiation, which is another way of expressing a brand’s DNA.

However, in the fledgling world of family businesses, the concept of a “Family Business DNA” seems to strike something deeper. And sure enough, the audience’s reaction to that question was a few minutes of mild shock, followed by silent serious thinking.

Imagine yourself as any of these: the founder of a chain of five successful restaurants in a minor city in the Batangas province, or the eldest daughter and heir of the owner of the biggest hardware company in General Santos city, or the fourth generation great-grandson and future CEO of a conglomerate of educational institutions founded after World War ll? Why would you even bother thinking about what your “Family Business DNA” is?

In an exhilarating discussion facilitated, from thoughts and insights thrown around and across the room in rapid sequence, the answer emerged and enlightened us all:

“A family business is unique in the sense that it has an emotional dimension surrounding its very being. This emotional dimension is actually its STORY – the background of its founder; the distinguishing qualities of the founder that enabled him/her to face struggles; the values of the founder that kept him/her going day by day, taking risks and facing failures, turning the small triumphs into bigger victories. The stories of smart moves, shrewd decisions, ingenious ideas, and the sparks of inspiration to take the bold steps that brought the business to where it is today.”

Most family businesses forget to write down their own stories. Very often the founder’s story is the passed down orally, over family meals or during family gatherings. But it is actually this story, and the extraordinary details surrounding it, that is a very precious legacy of the founder, and can be considered as a pillar of the “Family Business DNA.”

The founder’s story is the source and inspiration of the family business’ core values and principles – which ideally would become the foundation of a family business’ company culture.

The message to all family businesses, therefore, is: write down your founder’s story and unite your own family as well as your company on the basis of the legacy of values this story imparts.

From this, the other good practices of managing a family business – like formulating a family constitution and drawing up a solid succession plan – will surely follow smoothly.

Big or small, old company or business newcomer – whether selling screws, Chinese cuisine or pet accessories – each founder’s story is not only a source of wisdom and inspiration, it could possibly be the strongest rallying point for a family’s unity and harmonious relations.

After the seminar and on our way home, my founder husband and I drafted and implemented an enhanced culture building program for our company, integrating three generations back of his family history into our own brand story. This move has served to elicit feelings of company pride in our people even more.


Being in the food business, I love to eat out, and do so nearly every day. My routine takes me occasionally to fine dining, often to casual dining, and even more often to simple (ie carinderia or hole in the wall) dining. From this routine of mine, I’ve seen a whole range of service levels, and I’ve personally witnessed how many establishments handle “difficult” customers with both difficulty and success.

We’ve had our own share of these “difficult” customers in our Reyes Barbecue chain of stores. This is part and parcel of the business we are in. For us, every “difficult” customer is a great source of new learning on what we need to improve on to take our organization’s service culture to the next level. But to develop a good service culture requires a lot of thinking and hard work – from hiring, to the development and enforcement of systems and procedures, to constant customer feedback sourcing and analysis, to systematic documentation, and finally to constant upgrading of internal training systems.

Our story starts with customer feedback. Have you ever experienced a waiter or server replying with these tactless statements and excuses when you raise a valid complaint to them about your meal or the speed of service :  

  • “Trainee lang po ako.”
  • “Sunog daw po talaga iyan sabi ng manuals namin.”
  • “Ewan ko po Ma’m, di ko kasalanan iyan. Tinanggap lamang po namin mula sa commissary iyan.”
  • “Absent po kasi ang supervisor namin.”
  • “Binyag po kasi ng anak ng isang waiter, nag-ninong yung supervisor kaya tatlo lang kami dito at hindi lima.”
  • “Yan lang po kasi ang turo ng head office namin sa amin.”

Or were you ever in this situation in a hole in the wall restaurant or food court stall :

Customer : “Pahingi ng extra sabaw please.” (As the broth was quite tasty). Server (with a glare) : “May bayad po yan!” – as if the customer  could not pay for a measly cup of clear broth … Why could the server not have simply smiled instead and said “P25.00 lang po, isa po ba ?”

During the early stages of Reyes Barbecue, this was the way some of our service staff would handle customers. Because we were a new brand and wanted to tap all opportunities available, we expanded very quickly, not realizing that our organization’s service skills development could not keep up with the speed of our store expansion.

Thankfully, because we have always prominently displayed our company contact emails and numbers in our stores, customers did give us the feedback I mentioned earlier. Reviewing all these negative customer feedback on how we handled those situations really made my hair turn white. We immediately decided to slow down our store expansion and focus all our efforts on fine-tuning our organizational training system.

What is a Difficult Customer

To us, a difficult customer is one who is :

  • A person who goes to Reyes Barbecue to have an enjoyable time with our food, service and ambience.
  • A human being with feelings and emotions, not just cash in our cash register.
  • A great potential ally.
  • The reason why we are in business.

In fact, isn’t it a likely fact that the country with a relatively high proportion of difficult, demanding customers, will also be the country that will create the better brands ?

When a customer has already become angry or upset, for one reason or another, we can only control this anger to a certain extent. But as a food service brand, what is most important for us is to ensure that this customer’s anger has not been in vain – for him/her and for our organization.  We need to make sure that from this experience, our organization will adapt, adjust and improve.


Acronym For Handling Difficult Customers“L-R-E-A-A-R-D”


After a number of years of being in the food service business, we’ve managed to develop a systematic internal process for handling customers, which in itself is also in a constant state of evolution and improvement. These are the key elements :




  • Do not focus on the cursing and yelling.


“The best people in service operations are also the best listeners. They deal with upset customers every day, and sometimes call after call. They do not focus on the cursing or yelling, but instead they go deeper to understand the reason for the frustration and strive to find a solution within their own toolbox. These skills are extremely relevant throughout an organization.”

Frank Eliason (SVP for Social Media of Citibank New York)

    • Look the customer in the eye.
    • Listen intently.
    • Listen with the intent to fix the system. Do not pretend to listen while preparing in your mind the alibi that you shall declare to the customer, in an effort to protect your own image. We reiterate to our crew the value of always thinking of the bigger picture : think of the company’s lost image and goodwill, and the effects on your job, rather than on that temporary bruise on your personal ego by the customer.
    • Do not interrupt. Let the customer vent it all up.







  • Restate only after the customer has finished speaking.
  • Repeat the words of the customer verbatim to show that you understood and cared about what the customer said.
  • Never argue, never point fingers to the kitchen or commissary or anyone else. Own up to the mistake even if it was not your own fault but that of your co-employee.


In the rare but possible situation where a complaint actually has no basis, and the customer is in reality attempting to use his/her stature to intimidate the server and pull a fast extortion on the store, this could be an effectve way to handle the situation (a true story) :

Problem: A policeman in uniform ordered and paid for a Boneless Chicken Barbecue Meal. After consuming three fourths of the entire meal, he calls the crew and demands that the meal be replaced “because the skin was burnt,“ brandishing his police badge for the crew to see.

Solution: Crew must say “Parang awa niyo na po, Sir. Ako po ang sisingilin ng company auditor para sa meal na hindi nabayaran.”

Result: Immediately the police smiled, agreed not to pursue his replacement demand, finished his meal, and left the store feeling good he had helped the server and “forgiven” the store.


    • While you are restating the complaint, it is best to put yourself in the shoes of the customer.
    • Make the customer feel you and the company are on his side.
    • Share in the customer’s suffering. Share in the customer’s feelings.
    • Remove the line separating yourself from the customer. Imagine that you and the customer both love Reyes Barbecue and are just having a “meeting” on how to improve Reyes Barbecue’s service.



From our experience, the only problem with empathizing is the situation in which a particular customer insists that we “overcook” our Boneless Chicken Barbecue or Pork Barbecue (ie a deviation from the company standard). To us, eating overcooked meat is like eating cardboard. But we also have to recognize that there is a segment of the Pinoy eat-out population that is culturaly inclined to have their meat cooked “well done.”

How do we resolve this ? Chefs all over the world recommend a little pink in the middle as the right doneness for meat. The Japanese even have sashimi which they don’t cook at all. Five-star restaurants serve steak tartare which is like beef sashimi. According to our resident Food Technology Consultant Dean Teofilo Mejia, the inner part of meat is aseptic, meaning there is no harm in having the middle part a little pink so long as the outside is blackened well.

My wife, Inez, also prefers her steak cooked well-done. What I notice is that when she makes this request in fine dining restaurants, the restaurant does not do an actual “well done,” but cooks the meat just a few seconds more from medium. This is a happy compromise, and my wife is usually satisfied.

Our standard is for our pork barbecue to be grilled to 90% of the internal temparature for medium doneness. Therefore, when faced with requests for “well-done” cooking from Reyes Barbecue customers, our crew is instructed not to immediately grill the pork barbecue to the “well-done” level (ie 110% of target internal temparature), but instead to cook it a little bit more, up to 95% of the medium-well temparature. With this, the customer is satisfied, and our pork barbecue is still very juicy, so it is a happy compromise. If, however, in the rarest circumstances the customer is still not satisfied at 95%, only then can the meat be grilled to the deviation level of 110% of doneness.


  • An apology is necessary, but simply saying “sorry for what happened” to the customer is not enough.
  • Apologize by replacing the item immediately, if that was the problem.
  • If the store’s lapse was so major that the customer was justifiably upset, give the customer something extra, like a “peace offering,” such as free meals to take home or free dessert or drinks to go with their current meal.
  • If the customer is hospitalized right after eating in the store for whatever reason, send someone there to assist and pay the bills immediately. Do not be stingy, as long as this is within reasonable bounds.
  • What the customers are actually looking for is our corrective ACTION.
  • Communicate with the aggrieved customers as soon as possible via email or social media to inform them of exactly what actions the organization is taking to address the service weaknesses they experienced.
  • Remember that 93% of what we communicate is done through our non-verbal, unspoken actions or gestures. Actions are more important than words.

Most of the time it is a wiser move to give dissatisfied customers more tokens than necessary. Major complaints are very rare in occurrence and a company will not go out of business just because it was extra generous in giving free meals to these rare difficult customers.


In addition, other gestures that could turn such difficult customer situations around are :  1) ask for their email address and send them meal certificates on their birthdays – this way, you could convert a difficult customer into your most effective mystery customer ; 2) if these converted difficult customers happen to be students, you could even hire and actually pay them as your own mystery customer researchers.


Future customers should benefit from a customer complaint. The point at which the customer is pacified and has left the store is just the starting point of Reyes Barbecue’s task to upgrade and improve its service level. At this point, Reyes Barbecue management processes and analyzes the store incident. A text broadcast to Store Team Leaders of all the other Reyes Barbecue stores is immediately sent so that the others will be alerted and enjoined to prevent a similar situation from happening in their respective stores. It is our strict rule that a complaint in one branch is texted by the concerned Store Team Leader to all the other branches within 1 hour.

Way back in 2006 we had a complaint about an allergic reaction to one of our seafood meals. The customer’s allergic reaction was so severe that she had to be hospitalized. We paid the bills accordingly and ordered the removal of the item from our menu pending the investigation and research on the allergic trigger. Interestingly, the hospitalized customer was with a group of five officemates, all of whom ordered the same seafood meal. But only one of the five had an allergic reaction. We researched and found out that the allergic reaction experienced has a 1 in 5000 chance of happening. Therefore, it is entirely possible that we would experience a similar situation again in our other stores. Thus, we took steps to educate our store teams on this matter, document the situation as well as the manner of handling, and incorporate these into our Operations Manual and training modules. Today, not only is our seafood handling manual enhanced, our teams better trained, our stores are also all prepared with the prescription of a simple allergy tablet as first aid, in case this situation happens again.


The detailed narratives, findings and advisories gathered from the Action-Relay-Document section of our crisis management process are chronicled in our our A.I.R. (Action Incident Report).

Here is our flowchart. It looks complicated, but rest assured, in terms of execution, it is not.




If the case involves our service system, the Store Team Leader with the assistance of the Area Group Store Head emails an A.I.R. to the whole organization within 48 hours. The A.I.R. would contain management directives on how to handle the situation.

If the case involves our food, the analytical process is more complex, and thus the A.I.R. for this would not contain any immediate management directive on handling or resolving the concern.

We would typically take a month to study and process the report findings concerning any aspect of our products, as we would pull out the statistical and narrative records on similar or related complaints, and allow a reasonable period of time for our R&D to study and determine if there is a need to adjust anything on our product’s recipe, preparation, cooking, handling or storage procedures.

This is the advantage of having many stores. The mistake of one becomes the strength of all.

To win back the trust of the customer, we must email them, thank them for taking the time and effort to give us feedback, even if this was negative, and invite them to come back, to visit any store to see the improvement that was inspired by their feedback and concern.

How To Minimize Difficult Customers

Over time we have realized that you can actually minimize the number of your difficult customers. This can be done by :

  • Active Small Talk.
  • Advertising Corporate Social Responsibility Activities Of The Company.

Small Talk.

  • An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. If your staff learns the art of Small Talk, you shall never experience any difficult customer. Reyes Barbecue is still in the learning stage. We are currently polishing the Small Talk Training module for our store teams.
  • Active Small Talk is about establishing a personal relationship with the customers so all avenues of communication can be opened.
  • Active Small Talk is the friendly gesture of saying anything relevant to the customers to make them feel they are not only welcome but are also warmly regarded as friends. The following are examples:
  1. Suggestive sell. Example: “Are you in a hurry? Our quickest dish is our best seller Boneless Chicken Barbecue. If you are not in a hurry, you can order our grilled tuna which is delicious but needs 30 minutes to prepare, grill and serve.”
  2. “Ang daming taong nanood ng Katy Perry concert, Sir, diyan din ba kayo galling? Maganda ba yung concert?”
  3. “Taga FEU po kayo (customer wearing FEU jacket), sino po ang nanalo sa basketball kanina, NU o FEU?”   … “Congratulations, Sir!”
  4. “Did you enjoy the Boneless Chicken Barbecue you ate the last time you visited us, Sir ?”
  5. Talk about the weather. “Malakas po ba ang ulan?
  6. Talk about the food. “We have Sinigang sa Miso on pilot here, Sir. Would you like to try this instead of your usual soup ?”
  7. Talk about where he ate the yesterday. “Wala po kayo dito for lunch yesterday, Sir. Saan po kayo kumain ?”
  8. “Hi, Sir ! Bakit ngayon lang po kayo nakabalik …?”
  9. “Bukod po dito sa anong branch po ng Reyes Barbecue kayo madalas?”
  10. “Ang ganda po ng damit ninyo.”
  11. “Ang cute naman po ng baby ninyo.”
  12. “Sir ako na po ang kukuha ng litrato ninyo para kumpleto kayo sa picture.”
  • Through Active Small Talk sincerely made, we win the trust and goodwill of the customer such that when they encounter our rare but possible service or product lapses, they will treat these with understanding.
  • One case that happened a year ago concerned a new customer who walked in ordered a breakfast meal. Unfortunately, the store was packed the previous day and had not yet bought the necessary groceries to replenish their stocks, which included the eggs. The customer had to wait, was of course annoyed, and lodged a complaint. In such cases, we advise our stores that instead of making the customer wait for an hour while the crew rushes to buy the eggs, confront the brutal fact of a service lapse, tell the customer the truth, own up to the lapse, and suggest to the customer to order the best seller Boneless Chicken Barbecue instead.
  • Bear in mind that not engaging in Active Small Talk is like encountering a classmate in a party and never even bothering to approach, say hello and talk to him about something the whole night. Service crew members are required to engage in some small talk, no matter how briefly.
  • If your crew member engages a customer in Active Small Talk, this customer will not be difficult, and will simply whisper in his ear, saying gently … “My friend, there’s a fly in my soup, please just replace it quickly.” … With no one noticing, thus deftly preserving the crew member’s and the brand’s dignity.
  • A wise practice is to expect all customers to be potential difficult customers. With this in mind, one can see why Active Small Talk must be done constantly, aggressively.
  • If your store receives a customer complaint posted through social media, this is a clear indication that your store team has not not been actively doing small talk with their customers.

Advertise Corporate Social Responsibility Activities Of The Company.

  • Knowing that your company gives back to society makes customers more forgiving and supportive.
  • Put eco-friendly notices in your packaging.
  • Feature in your in-store televsion any CSR projects being undertaken by the company.
  • Do you know that for every Boneless Chicken Barbecue you order from Reyes Barbecue you are actually helping the poor ?  The bones we get from your Boneless Chicken Barbecue are made into lugaw for our school feeding program with Makabata Foundation, outreach feeding programs with Golden Acres, Mandaluyong Medical Missions, and food donations to Kaisahang Buhay Foundation

Aggravating Circumstances – How Regular Customers May Become Difficult Customers – Mismanagement Signals

Always remember that our customers’ understanding and patience can only stretch so far. Even our regular customers expect and deserve our consistency, and their regard for us can change if we do not pay attention to important details. Let us not take details for granted. Signs of store mismanagement are communicated to customers immediately by examples such as these :

  • Some letters of the neon signage are busted.
  • Crew are visibly chit-chatting with each other – an annoying distraction from the customer’s perspective.

The crew are paid for their time so when they are on duty, full attention must be given to the customers whether they are needed or not. Horse playing and gossiping scares customers. They are telltale signs of the probability that the food wasn’t handled professionally.

We tell our people, “instead of gossiping among yourselves, why don’t you just entertain yourselves by doing Active Small Talk to lonely customers. Ask them for service and menu suggestions. Ask them to help our stores by telling their officemates to try us too.”

  • Some crew members are not in proper uniform, not wearing standard identification.
  • A customer from another table who arrived later got his meal first.
  • Aircon is not cold enough.
  • Surroundings are not clean, not spic and span, tables left uncleared.
  • Poor customer traffic.
  • Crew members do not project a smart, energetic image. Fumbles, slow movement, lack of confidence, hesitation, shyness, absence of eye contact.
  • Crew member is holding a cellphone.
  • Crew are not paying attention, not alert, not informed, not service-oriented.

When customers see these signs, even the most loyal ones may voice out nasty complaints, aggravated by these signs of poor attention to details, which communicate a low level of professional work ethics, which reduces the value of their over-alll dining experience in the store.

Check Social Media Weekly For Any Customer Review or Feedback

We in Reyes Barbecue are grateful for any and all customer feedback – positive and negative – because we believe that customer feedback is the best source for identifying the areas for improvement we need to focus on. The challenge for us is how to source this useful feedback.

The challenge stems from the fact that most Filipino customers are too polite – we consider it bad manners to complain or create a scene in public, and we do not feel comfortable giving negative feedback thinking it will offend (even if we end up complaining about our negative experience to all our friends).

There is also the element of fear, and lack of understanding of the role of feedback in business. We see this in some of our store crew who hide customer complaints from management thinking they will be penalized for them, when in actuality, they will be thanked for raising these to management attention, even if these complaints were actually due to their own lapses.

We try to address this crew attitude by inculcating in them the idea that job security actually comes from loving the company organization more than oneself. The idea that if one’s mistakes are shared with all for learning purposes, these mistakes allow the individual and the organization together to become stronger, not weaker.

However, over time we have noted that only five percent of negative and therefore useful customer feedback comes from our stores. Ninety-five percent of our useful customer feedback comes from social media (texts and emails from friends, postings on our Facebook page, reviews by bloggers), and reviews of our numerous roving company quality auditors.

The lesson here therefore is, regularly check social media, for you to know the real situation from the point of view of customers, and take all these blogged comments seriously. Have all your store teams read these blogs regularly and include these blogs in your future training modules on customer service.  

The Reyes Barbecue Culture With Respect To Handling Difficult Customers.

  • We in Reyes Barbecue have decided that the best assurance of business longevity is consistent high quality. Therefore, rather than engage in promotions or other gimmicks that produce short term effects, we have embarked on a strategy of quality. The faster you run the more likely you will stumble. We want to attain success slowly but surely through the shaping of a strong culture of quality. Our time and efforts are now focused on putting in place the systems that will ensure this. We are aggressively preparing our people.
  • An important point is that we have a very good Quality Head, who walks the talk.
  • We focus on correcting the system rather than superficially concentrating on diffusing the anger of a difficult customer. We deem as unacceptable a statement from our crew to the tune of “Sir, hindi naman po nagalit yung nagreklamo noong nasa store siya.” We reiterate to our staff that a comment is important whether or not the customer shouted or created a scene in the store, or quietly left.
  • We abide by the wise words of the successful and popular New York restaurateur Danny Meyer who said … “The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.”Anybody in business makes mistakes. What is important is that you grow from these mistakes. Have an open mind and never assume the customer is unreasonable.
  • Reyes Barbecue is proud to be now 12 years old and 45 branches strong. We were able to document and create solutions for all the complaints we received throughout the years, and implement them in all our branches. You may not see us as perfect now, but wait and see, as we are just building up our momentum. Our documented experiences will help the future generations of Reyes Barbecue management achieve our goal of busines longevity. We aim to be globally competitive in 3 to 5 years.


Reyes Barbecue is a medium-sized, emerging food service player with a clear market positioning. Like many of our fellow entrepreneurial companies, we have limitations on capital and employee skill. Because of this limitation on employee skill, the most difficult part of managing the company is to ensure that our huge investment in training delivers real results.

Customers today are more sophisticated and more demanding. Imagine the challenge we have – most of our employees have never had any exposure whatsoever to world class service, paying attention to details, reading and following a manual, adhering to processes and systems, taking proactive measures, acting in a professional manner, thinking and communicating thoughts clearly and all other professional practices needed in the conduct of business.

Hard handed enforcement, regular classroom training and having a detailed Operations Manual are simply not enough to ensure that training will deliver results.

We discovered over the years that the key to a sustained successful business is a strong and effective company culture.

We realized that we should build our own distinct Reyes Barbecue culture, and this culture will itself galvanize the organization and steer our people toward getting their acts together. Thus, for this year, our 12th year of operations, we are heavily investing on culture-building rather than on store expansion.

Our A.I.R. flowchart is posted to all stores. We conduct a weekly Case Study (Harvard style) Training to our 40 key company people. Husband and wife Frank and Inez prepare the weekly lesson plan, and facilitate the three hour training themselves.

We pressure the “wrong” people to resign and look for the “right” people to replace them. We have an available Crisis Manual, in written and audio formats.

After almost a year of undertaking this culture building initiative, we are gratified to see all the positive results – in sales, in employee morale, in employee pride. Watch out for Reyes Barbecue three years from now or even next year!!! You shall surely enjoy our food and service even more.

Inez Reyes : A Delicious Legacy

Feature in Starweek Magazine

MANILA, Philippines – Inez Reyes may be petite in stature, with an energetic and bubbly personality, but with more than 20 years of experience in the corporate world before becoming CEO of Reyes Barbecue, she is a formidable business woman and entrepreneur.

Reyes started as a market research analyst, and eventually went up the proverbial corporate ladder to hold senior marketing positions in food and beverage corporations including San Miguel, Ginebra, Coca-cola and eventually Jollibee.

“Among all the jobs in the corporate world, food is the hardest,” Reyes says. “Food is an everyday thing, therefore everyday you have to push. Especially with Jollibee whose market is young and old, rich and poor, you have to come up with campaigns targeting each of them.”

Reyes adds, “That experience gave me the skills and the right preparation for more pressure-filled jobs in owning your own business.”

Reyes decided to transition from her corporate job to joining the team of Reyes Barbecue when, four years after her husband Frank founded the restaurant, the couple realized that they could really grow the business.

Coming from a big corporation to a then little company, from focusing on one thing to doing everything, was a challenge for Reyes, but she saw the potential of Reyes Barbecue.

As joint CEOs of Reyes Barbecue, Inez and Frank divide their responsibilities according to each one’s strengths. “Thankfully, my husband and I like different things,” she says.

“We have an agreement that I will defer to him completely on any decision that has to do with food, especially the taste, the portion and the pricing. He has the better instincts when it comes to that,” she says. “While he will defer to me completely on everything else that I am in charge of – marketing, HR policies, how to manage people.”

“Ever since I joined, we’ve been trying to level up our organization so we can have longevity,” says Reyes.

To ensure longevity, Reyes sees the importance of training their next generation management.

Since Frank comes from the family that started the iconic Aristocrat restaurant, the Reyes couple is keen on passing on the leadership of their own family business to their children.

Whenever they travel, they take cooking lessons as a family, Reyes shares. Their eldest son Patrick already shows talent in cooking. Reyes stresses, however, “they have to learn to be employees. To be a good boss, you have to learn to be a follower first.”

Reyes shares, “As a brand, you have to stand for something. We would like to be known as the barbecue brand with a heritage. We have more than a 100-year heritage, coming from Frank’s great grandmother to him, and hopefully our son.”

As a business leader, Reyes was a guest speaker and mentor at the recent Women’s Business Summit organized by the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines.

She highlights the fact that the Philippines is among the top five in the world in terms of percentage of women executives. “The women are quite popular, actually. We work harder,” she says.

“The main challenge of being a female in the corporate world is not the work, but achieving work-life balance,” she says on having to juggle the demands of being an effective executive and spending time with her family and on her own hobbies.

“I would bring my children to my midnight final checking of advertisements that would air the next day,” she says on how she managed when she was in the corporate arena.

When she does have time, Reyes loves to read and write. In fact, she has been published in The Philippine STAR for writing about her favorite books, and won the grand prize in the 2012 My Favorite Book Awards.

When asked for advice for those wanting to start a successful business, Reyes says, “Go for your dream. Like Frank, he really just went for it. So if you have something in your gut, you must always try it out… You can only be successful in business if you yourself like the product you are selling.”

She adds, “At a certain point, like what happened to us, you really have to professionalize, if you want to grow.”

On her hopes for the future of the company, she says, “Ultimately, our goal for Reyes Barbecue is to achieve longevity. We would consider ourselves really successful if we achieve longevity, 20 to 40 years in the business. We are not about size, but quality. We aim for an ASEAN store, maybe in the next three to five years.”

She adds that this can be achieved by continuing to develop the organization.

I like food and I like working with people. I enjoy analyzing numbers and planning things, so I guess I have it in my character to enjoy this kind of a role,” Reyes muses on what motivates her.

“But maybe deep down, what really motivates Frank and me is leaving a legacy for our kids… Something that is good, respectable; something that people enjoy. To achieve that kind of legacy, you have to be the best at what you do, so we really aim to be the best in barbecue.”

Reyes reiterates, “Our brand has more than a hundred years’ legacy. As parents, we would really like to instill in our children valuing this legacy and sustaining and building it in their own way. To everybody with a family legacy and heritage, build on it.”


A Review by Inez S. Reyes
2012 Grand Winner of Philippine Star’s
My Favorite Book Contest

My discovery of the sublime enjoyment of food came late in my life, upon marriage, in fact, to a man who was born to a culinary heritage. In his family gatherings, there would be endless discussions of the best way to prepare this dish and that dish, where to source the best type of this ingredient and that ingredient, debates on how their Lola would cook the old family recipes … At first I found it amusing. Later on, as I moved up the corporate ladder and was benefited with a representation allowance that allowed me to try all of the latest restaurants, I slowly discovered that indeed, food could be really, really marvelously cooked, and as such, could be an experience like no other …

It was then that I began to collect cookbooks. While I certainly did not have the talent for actually cooking a meal, I loved the culture and history behind cuisines and dishes, and I had actually dreamed of becoming a food writer.

Then, lo and behold, the joys of the cooking shows ! I first saw these in the United States, then to my great delight, they were now being aired in local cable television ! Cooking shows became so addictive, my favorite stress-reliever.

One day, I saw our two young sons watching a DVD of a television series called “Hell’s Kitchen,” starring a supposedly famous British chef, Gordon Ramsey. The kids were totally engaged in the plot – group of hopeful contestants competing for Chef Ramsey’s approval in a pressure-filled restaurant kitchen. The kids simply loved Chef Ramsey’s fiery temper, tantrum-like behavior, balanced with uplifting, sincere encouragement when a contestant would outstandingly deliver.

From then on, while I did not particularly enjoy the “Hell’s Kitchen” show, I did become a fan of Chef Ramsey. And if there was anything I admired in him, it was his constant passion for perfection.

Naturally, I started to seek out his cookbooks in stores, bought them, and encouraged our then eleven-year-old budding chef son to try cooking his recipes. One summer, we discovered just what a genius Chef Ramsey was. Every Friday, for that entire summer, we would invite my siblings to our home, and our son would cook a three-course meal for them, all coming from the recipes of Chef Ramsey’s cookbook entitled “Fast Food.” They were all simple recipes, but nevertheless, all special in their own way, and every single one of them – absolutely delicious.

Needless to say, we have a collection of all of Chef Ramsey’s cookbooks available in Manila. Not only are the recipes great, but because the books are written, in the masterful tone and honest eloquence of Chef Ramsey, one cannot help but read them over and over again.

So you cannot imagine my happiness when, a few months ago, I came across Chef Ramsey’s autobiography “Roasting In Hell’s Kitchen.” What a find ! What a find!

I could not put it down, I was totally absorbed. Written in the engaging and  straightforward Gordon Ramsay style, you actually feel that you are watching him tell his story. And what a story it was – the stuff made for films, really. From a practically poverty-stricken childhood with an abusive father; to that moment when he realized that indeed, he could do this – he could cook ; to the competitive, intense, sometimes cruel, but always  fired-up experiences he went through as he trained and worked (at  times for free), with the world’s greatest chefs ; to his eventual success with one restaurant after another ; to his breakthrough in the United States market ; to his still being dragged down to this day by a drug addict brother  whom, like his father, he could not seem to bring himself to shake away from his life.But what a success he had, and how valuable the lessons he shared about the road to becoming a consistent Michelin Star Chef. “No lies. No dirty chefs. No clock watchers. No Mummy’s boys. No fat chefs.” One appreciates even the business lessons – “Choose partners that share you attitude towards running a restaurant business. Put only your own trained chefs in your next restaurants. Check the market before you decide to take the lease.”

Today, my husband and I run a fast casual food chain, and our son is clearly Chef-CEO material, having reached a finalist position in a local kiddie reality cooking show. We sat down and talked about Chef Ramsey’s lessons about work and success. Whatever background you come from, success is there for your taking. But you must want it. And work hard for it.

If I could turn back the hands of time, it would have been great to be a chef working with Gordon Ramsay. But since that is not possible, I will content myself with being an expert on his cooking (at least theoretically), with thinking about the life lessons he shared, with planning and saving for a trip to visit all his restaurants around the world, and most of all, with being inspired by his life, which was really all about being passionate about perfection.

And by the way, he was simply great at the Master Chef series.

EAT MY GLOBE By Simon Majumdar

A Review By Inez S. Reyes   
2012 Grand Winner of Philippine Star’s
My Favorite Book Contest

It’s interesting how one’s perspective changes as we grow older. When I was in my twenties, travel to me was all about shopping. When I reached my thirties, travel was now mainly about visiting all historical and cultural landmarks possible.  Today, with all the global brands available in Manila, shopping as a travel priority, has taken a back seat. And while visiting landmarks is still a great motivator, I find that I have the greatest  motivation in building my family’s annual travel plans around  what special dishes we are going to eat, what restaurants we are going to try, and what cooking schools in that country we are going to enroll in for our family’s cooking lessons.

I am even more inspired now after reading the funny, amazing and truly enjoyable “Eat My Globe,” a one-year odyssey of going everywhere and eating everything, written by a half-Bengali, half-Welsh, food blogger who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, left a twenty-year career in publishing to concentrate on food writing !

Simon Majumdar is one joyous travelling soul – while his detailed descriptions of the dishes he tasted and how they were cooked were nothing short of delectably outstanding, it is his observant eye, and down-to-earth honesty as he comments on his experience with a particular country’s culture, that makes the book not only an extremely interesting, but certainly a highly educational read as well.

I could personally relate to his experience in mainland China, where he shockingly saw men eating their noodle bowl supper while simultaneously stooped over the toilet doing their thing ; and where local Chinese tourists would all wear matching caps as a group, and would do only what their guide would tell them to – sit here, take photo here, wait there – with no one  showing any individual thought or initiative. But the highlight of  Simon’s China saga was truly his vivid descriptions of encountering braised dog, fried pig’s penis and stir fried dried cane rat – and having to eat them all too ! Hilarious !

Reading on, one becomes really engaged with Simon’s adventure, as his entire trip incredibly spanned the totality of the eating world – starting in London and Ireland, crossing North America, South America, Scandinavia, Europe, North and South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa.

Because Simon is half-Bengali, his chapters on India are to be read and chewed on slowly, for best enjoyment. He visits Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata (city of his roots) – and concludes that even if India had the lowest standard of hygiene among all the Asian countries he visited, and the stench in the Indian markets make China’s markets “smell like a bed of roses,” still and all – it is in India, in Simon’s opinion, that the food “cannot be bettered anywhere for its range, variety and quality. “ And he further explains why – the seven union territories and twenty- eight states that form the giant Republic of India are showcases of influences that today we call “fusion”- “where the Mongols in the north brought grilling and the subtlety of cream and almonds, to the southwest where the cooking of Goa shows the Portuguese influences of garlic, chilies, tomatoes and vinegar.” What a learning ! And, what a wonderful mélange of cultures  and flavors India apparently is – which certainly inspires me to research more on Indian food and to plan another trip there, now with the aim of experiencing this great gastronomic capital.

But India was not the book’s biggest surprise for me. It was,happily, excitedly – the Philippines ! And what a thrill to read our chapter ! The side story here was, Simon Majumdar actually has a Filipina aunt, Evelyn, who persuaded him to include the Philippines in his itinerary. At first hesitant, because of the Philippines’ image from Western media stories of crime, corruption and crippling poverty, Simon relied on the feedback of a fellow-food writer, Robin Eckhart, who called Filipino food “one of the undiscovered treasures of Asia,” and on this basis, he proceeded  to Manila. The result was a jubilant entire chapter filled to the brim with glowing praise and admiration, not only for his newly discovered cuisine, but equally for the hospitality and goodwill of the Filipino people he encountered, and the breathtaking sceneries he saw while travelling to the outskirts of Manila!

How observant Simon was to point out that if there is anything Filipinos love, it is talking ! And if there is any topic we love to talk about, it is food. From his viewpoint, food was like a psychotic obsession of the Filipino people, a kind of obsession which, he claims, he has not seen elsewhere in the world except in Mexico, which, curiously, shares a Spanish heritage with the Philippines.

I could not help but feel proud and happy for our own culinary icons led by gourmand Claude Tayag, who together with his wife, patiently brought Simon through an unforgettable voyage of culinary discovery which propelled his imagery of Filipino cuisine to new, towering heights. With the Tayags, Simon tasted paco salad, bulanglang, fried hito with balo-balo, and a seafood kare-kare, that was so delicious it turned up in Simon’s list of the best twenty dishes of his trip! Also to be mentioned is magazine editor Carlo Tadiar, who took Simon to taste other Filipino dishes – daing na bangus, chicken gallantina, camaru, Bicol express, Cebu lechon, sinigang, crispy pata and adobo – for sure, all perfectly cooked from family heirloom recipes, and all excellently chosen to demonstrate our “clean, sharp, savory flavors and the crunch we demand from at least one dish in every meal.” I could only say to myself – thank God they did not expose Simon to balut !

Eat My Globe is the result of a visit to thirty countries, documented through twelve thousand images of encounters, with hundreds of foodies across the world.

If you love to travel and food is your focus, if you need a reference guide and ideas on what to eat and where, around the world, if you enjoy reading cultural observation and exploration written in a witty and humorous, but vividly descriptive style, then  “Eat My Globe” is the book for you.  Without leaving your home, you will feel like you are right there with Simon Majumdar, with all your senses alive and kicking, taking every step, enjoying and savoring every bit of his amazing eating adventure ! Enjoy !