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Managing email

When bombarded by customers, staff and suppliers, here’s how restaurateurs stay sane.

To foster a dialogue with its customers, White Castle will publish the email addresses of its departments on its website this fall. “There’s a lot of nervousness around this, because we don’t know what the volume will be,” says Kim Bartley, vice president of marketing.

This isn’t the Ohio-based burger chain’s first time opening up the email floodgates. Previously, it launched My Voice at White Castle to promote internal dialogue between employees and owners of the privately held QSR; emails from workers to My Voice were fed directly to the inboxes of White Castle’s president Lisa Ingram, chief people officer John Kelley and Jamie Richardson, vice president. While it wasn’t an overwhelming amount, the team received a steady flow, says Richardson, and handled it in stride.

The new department email addresses will farm customer messages to White Castle’s department heads, district managers, GMs and others. The company is tasking each team to develop its own response guidelines, though it is suggesting a 24-hour turnaround. “We think this is important. We don’t want people to jump through hoops to speak to us,” Richardson says.

Even without such mandates, staying on top of chronically overflowing inboxes isn’t easy. We asked several restaurateurs how they keep from feeling overwhelmed by emails from customers, coworkers and suppliers; here are their tips. 

Adopt a two-minute rule

“If the email will take less than two minutes to read and reply to, then [I] take care of it right now, even if it’s not a priority,” says Francesco Tardio, general manager of Filini Bar & Restaurant in Chicago. Most emails, he says, require a simple “yes” or “no” or just need confirmation; those take about a minute. He flags longer emails and schedules time later to deal with them all at once.

Don’t answer just to answer

“You don’t always need to be the first one to answer when there are multiple people [copied] on an email,” says Philip Schram, executive vice president of development for 45-unit Buffalo Wings & Rings, based in Cincinnati. “If I let someone else reply first, he or she may have more expertise or be able to make a decision without my input. This saves me a lot of response time.”

Divide and conquer

Jenny Kim, owner and partner of Ruxbin and Mott St in Chicago, has four inboxes: one for each restaurant, one for job-posting replies and her personal inbox. “When I’m working on an inbox, I turn off alerts for all the others,” Kim says. “So I’m more focused and productive.” Having four also helps Kim find emails and stay organized, saving time, she says. 

Customize alerts

Assigning specific alert tones to important emails on his phone helps Ryan Indovina, director at Four Corners Tavern Group, figure out what’s worth dealing with. Nonurgent emails get no alert, so they’re not disruptive during shifts. “It’s been a game changer for me. I never miss an email from my five to 10 most important contacts,” says Indovina. 

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