The cost of bad restaurant customer service can be bigger than some restaurateurs assume. Many foodservice businesses are still only meeting the minimum standards of guest experience. For an industry that so depends on repeat customers, that’s simply not good enough.
Even those restaurants with the tastiest dishes in town can’t afford to let their service be subpar. The Soup Nazi may be an indelible television character, but in the real world, restaurant customers won’t stand for bad treatment, no matter how addictive your Crab Bisque may be.
We’ve done you the service of collecting a few best practices for creating a truly welcoming guest experience for your restaurant.
1. Service Starts Before They Walk Through the Door
Service expert Jeff Toister advises restaurant owners to pay attention to their establishment’s signage. He notes an experience he had walking past a local restaurant with a rather off-putting amount of rules posted at their entrance. Toister feels the amount of signs “suggested the restaurant focuses more on making sure guests are well-behaved than providing a great experience.” Do an audit of your signage; are you as welcoming as you could be?
2. Don’t Rush to Hire
Restaurants face employee turnover like any other service business, but that doesn’t mean you must always be in a hurry to hire. Customer Care VP Marc Bernica reminds businesses that “the long-term cost of hiring the wrong person can be much greater than keeping those spots unfilled.” In restaurants aiming for head-of-class guest experience, even one discourteous dining room team member can have an effect on guest loyalty and word-of-mouth. This is particularly key for new establishments, when word-of-mouth is so very crucial.
3. Listen Effectively Online
We’re big on leveraging digital technology for the benefit of today’s restaurants. Today’s consumers are sharing their latest restaurant experience (good and bad) on their social media channels, writing about them on their blogs, and detailing their experiences on a growing number of review sites. Be aware of the major sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon.com and Trip Advisor, and find review sites that may focus on local establishments. You can never collect too much feedback from customers, and the negative feedback is typically the most valuable.
4. Policies are Good, but be Flexible
It’s fine to have policies, but make sure your team knows they can break the rules in the name of good customer service. Consider this example from acclaimed service guru Shep Hyken. The main takeaway from Hyken’s experience: “The employee was just doing her job. She was probably told by a boss not to seat incomplete parties.” Processes need to be designed to be customer-centric, rather than simply focusing on what makes life easier for restaurant staff.
5. Back-of-House is Part of the Service Team
The service in foodservice doesn’t begin and end with your waitstaff. Kitchen staff are part of the complete experience and can’t be left out of service discussions. Too many times, I’ve watched servers and cooks bickering about who’s at fault for a mixed up or forgotten order. And the person suffering the most from this in-house squabbling is the customer.
Consider regular staff meetings with both back and front-of-house teams focused solely on guest experience. Any service training literature given to new waitstaff should be read by new kitchen staff members as well. Everyone is on the same team!
6. Know Your Customers
Keeping with the idea of being flexible, author Ron Kaufman says the best restaurants will modify their actions (and processes) according to their customers. He writes:
“..if you have three types of customers come in – business people, tourists and a family with kids – each wants something different. One group wants privacy; one wants to be engaged and hear about the locality; and the other needs lots of attention because it’s a family. To create an uplifting experience, you modify your actions to provide value. You need to educate the waiter that the purpose of their job is – to take action to create value for whoever comes in.”
7. Send Them Home on a High Note
Micah Solomon says the exit experience is every bit as crucial to a guest’s perception of your restaurant. He advises that “even the slightest hint that a server is “over” one party and on to the next toward the end of a meal dampens the entire dining experience.” Are the guests obviously tourists? Perhaps they’d like entertainment recommendations, or even a cab. Service doesn’t stop when the credit card slip has been signed.
NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.