Everyone has had a bad dining experience. You walk into a restaurant and wait 30 minutes for your table. The server is unresponsive and treats you like a nuisance. The food is cold and subpar.
Would you go back?
Customer satisfaction drives every success restaurant. In an industry notorious for narrow profit margins and high turnover, you need to pay extra attention to the details that notch up customer appreciation. Here are ten quick ways to boost your restaurant in the new year:
Add Bread Service
Most restaurants eliminate free services like a bread basket on the table because of the extra costs. It may make sense from a financial perspective — Park Tavern in San Francisco, for example, spends about $2,600 on its request-only bread service. But diners delight in the small luxuries, and amazing bread will bring repeat customers back for more.
If you can’t afford to offer free bread, consider elevating it to a paid appetizer. Pick a specialty bread — baguettes, old-fashioned biscuits, or focaccia — that aligns with your brand, and make it the best in town. Add a signature spread, high-quality EVOO, or compound butter for even more flavor.
Read Online Complaints
Even the most acclaimed Michelin Star restaurants receive bad reviews from diners. Reading these complaints — as irrational as some of them may be — helps you to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your restaurant. If you notice, for example, that reviewers describe a particular server as rude, you can address the challenge before it gets out of control.
Some restaurateurs choose to respond to reviews, either privately or publicly. If you take that route, remember your intention: diffuse rather than escalate tension with an apology. The last thing you want is bad press from a restaurant rant on Facebook or Yelp.
Offer Prix fixe Dining
Pre-fixe menus offer customers an elegant dining experience without the hefty price tag. Most restaurants use them for special occasions and restaurant weeks, but if you make them a regular occurrence, you can get even more customers through the door. Draw a business crowd with a lunch pre-fixe menu or make it a part of your regular dinner service. Diners love to splurge a multi-course meal within a lower price range.
When servers or cooks make mistakes, it’s their mistake, not the diners’. Even if it’s unclear whether a miscommunication took place, you should still comp the dish. Here’s why: most diners want to have a wonderful experience at your restaurant. By giving them a free dish — or if something goes really wrong, paying for the whole meal — you leave customers with a positive feeling. This perspective redeems restaurants in the long run, making clients more likely to come back regardless of the original issue.
Start Files on Regular Customers
The best servers and chefs know their regular customers. Top restaurants typically assign one staff member to track and record the preferences of VIP guests in an online system like OpenTable, SevenRooms. SevenRooms enables your team to track the number of visits and food preferences of clients. If you don’t want to invest in an online system, still encourage your servers and kitchen to take a more personal approach to hospitality. Treat loyal customers who visit three or four times a month something special now and then. It doesn’t have to be extravagant — a splash of wine or dessert.
Keep It Clean
Have you ever seen an investigative news report on dirty restaurants? Yuck! When kitchen and waitstaff fail to meet high sanitary expectations, it can doom a restaurant. Managers should also ensure that bathrooms are always clean and tidy — understandably, anything dirty in a restaurant is a big turn off for diners. Ideally, every establishment meets stringent regulations set by state law. Retrain your staff in expectations over the course of a pre-service workshop. Some restaurants even implement sanitation quizzes to ensure that the staff understands the importance of high standards.
Pare Down Your Menu
Slimming your menu down by a few choices can actually boost customer satisfaction. According to a Harvard Business School working paper on the topic, people prefer limited choices when dining out.
A paired-down menu also gives the kitchen an opportunity to hone their craft. By focusing on making fewer dishes incredibly well, you carve a niche in the restaurant world. Make sure that each dish adds value to the menu and clearly differentiates from other offerings. Despite fears to the contrary, a smaller menu doesn’t necessarily have to limit diversity.
Seat Reservations on Time
Nothing upsets diners more than waiting for a table they reserved in advance. To please first-time visitors and locals alike, seat visitors as soon as possible. If you’re reservation system isn’t working, consider redefining your slot times or speaking with the kitchen about speeding up their process. Efficient service is essential, not only to customer satisfaction but to profit margins. When you fail to sit guests on time, you’re taking revenue away from the company.
Train Your Staff in Allergy Awareness
Because of the gluten-free trend, a lot of restaurants fail to differentiate between serious food allergies and dietary preferences. As an establishment, it’s particularly important to take food allergies seriously.
At the beginning of every meal, have servers ask diners if they have any allergies or serious restrictions. Doing so gives your kitchen a heads up. Keep a few planned, off-menu dishes in rotation to meet extreme needs: lactose intolerance, celiac disease, or veganism. A restaurant that serves delectable fare to everyone — not just the average eater — will inspire loyalty and become a “go-to” establishment for families with restrictions.
Say Thank You
Appreciation goes a long way. Whenever diners leave your restaurant, make sure that their server and the hostess give genuine “thank you” with eye contact and a smile. Many servers also choose to write a note on checks when they pass them to — these small acts add up to big results for restaurants.
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