HOUSTON — Rachael Ray, Food Network television personality, told attendees at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's seminar and expo that she knows the value of good customer service, and offered them some advice.
“I've worked in restaurants since I was 12. I'm still a waitress,” Ray said, adding that she considers her television viewers her customers.
“I think about them, and try to give them what they need, or want,” she said. “For example, I'll give them several recipes using the same ingredients so they don't get stuck with [ingredients that could go to waste].”
Ray said she also encourages her viewers/listeners to find substitute ingredients if they can't readily lay their hands on what a recipe calls for.
“I'll give them an idea of what's a good substitute. Maybe substitute a Fontina for a Gruyere.”
Ray, who grew up in her family's restaurant business, and has spent her career educating herself and others about food, is also an inveterate food shopper.
In that regard, she said she particularly notices when supermarket associates lack knowledge about the food they're selling.
“It's so frustrating when they don't know the difference between cilantro and flat leaf parsley, or you ask where you can find something, and they don't know.”
But Ray, who hails from upstate New York, cited Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., as a good example of a supermarket that trains its associates well and that offers good customer service.
She urged retailers to tell their customers more about the food they're offering.
“Give them food knowledge and recipes. Tell them how to control their blood sugar” by eating the right foods.
She said that since so many more people are cooking or, at least, preparing meals at home, that presents an opportunity for retailers to educate customers about nutrition, safe food handling and easy ways to serve a meal.
“People want knowledge and convenience,” Ray said, adding that when she did a live show of her television food show, “Meals in 30 Minutes,” it was quickly sold out.
Ray suggested that an interactive website is an excellent medium for supermarket operators to communicate with their customers, offering a retailers an opportunity to communicate directly with their shoppers, and giving shoppers a chance to interact with one another to discuss recipes and other ideas.
“Give them a voice. Give them a space [on the website] where they can blog,” she suggested.
“Ask them how they liked a recipe, how their kids liked it. Make it really interactive. Find out what they want.”