Casual and Fine Dining Customer Experience

As the owner of a restaurant, your brand look and feel, service, menu, pricing, and yes, customer experience are all under your control. Let's look at how the customer experience can help drive higher profits.

A restaurant near my home closed recently with online reviews from patrons posting comments regarding the taste of the food as not that great. Another restaurant I visited; the owner was talking about how they are just hanging on. The taste of their food is fantastic. Reviews from patrons include comments such as "absolutely delicious." Their menu is good. The price is reasonable. So why are they just getting by with their restaurant business?

It's no secret that costs are up across the board: labor, utilities, wholesale food prices, and vender services. So, what can a restaurant owner do to entice customers to return even with the reality of higher prices. The answer is to focus on the customer experience. But what does that mean? The customer experience is how your brand interacts, communicates, the atmosphere, and the level of service that patrons will either enjoy or be turned-off by from the first interaction to the last. Your customers may start to interact with your restaurant online. Do you make your menu easy to navigate? Do you offer an online reservation system that is easy to use? Who answers your phone? Are they friendly as well as knowledgeable? Can a customer easily place a pickup order? Do you offer local delivery? Do you make placing an order for delivery easy? How easy is it to make a reservation by phone? Think of your customer experience as all interactions online, by phone, and in person.

The customer experience begins with you. Your first goal is to define an experience strategy for how all interactions with your brand will play out (dining in the restaurant, online ordering, take out, events, and reservations.) Once you have your experience strategy defined, then you must communicate your expectations to your staff. Employee training is important so that your staff provides the exact experience that you have defined. Take time to create a training program for your staff so that your employees are well prepared to interact with your patrons. Lastly, you must implement a common process improvement tactic to improve your customer experience over time. Process improvement in a nutshell is to monitor, adjust, implement, and continue to train your staff with your processes.

Let's look at one of the ways a restaurant can lose clients when the solution is easy to fix. I watched a patron walk-in to a restaurant to place a to-go order. There was no greeter stationed at the front of the restaurant. The customer waited a good ten minutes before a server walked up to them and asked if they would like a table. The customer replied that they wanted to place a to-go order. The server took out an order slip and wrote down the customer's order, then, walked to the back of the restaurant to enter the order into the computer system. My first thoughts are, where is the greeter? This could have been a pleasant experience for the patron if they were promptly greeted. Next, why not invest in a computer terminal for the front of the restaurant so that to go orders could be keyed into the system without the need to write it down? It all boils down to the customer experience. I would be very surprised if the customer returns again to place another to-go order.

Restaurant menu's is another sticking point. Are you a restaurant that wants adults as your patrons or are you striving to serve families as well? I dine at many different restaurants and always look at the patrons that are dining at the restaurant as well as the menu. What I find is a correlation between the items on the menu and the patrons. For example, if you are wanting to attract families, while having an avenue in place to earn profit, then why are menu items designed for adults? Let's start with appetizers. Most of the appetizers that I see on a menu, a kid would never eat. While offering fun or high-end foods for adults is great, why not add a few family-friendly items that could be sold to families? Lastly, many menus have a small menu option for kids. Kids have a choice of a burger, grilled cheese, or chicken tenders. Where is the fun for kids? If you make a menu fun for kids, in terms of the food offerings, they will also want to come back.

Lastly, I would like to touch on the check. I have had many experiences where the server brings out the meal, and then immediately drops off the check usually with a comment about when you're ready. The server just closed a perfectly good opportunity to make an additional sale without much thought. By returning to the table and asking about how the guests are doing, refilling drinks, asking if they need any condiments, and so forth, they build the level of service, thus the desirability of the restaurant. Once they see that the patrons have completed their meals, the opportunity to make an additional sale exists. The server should bring a dessert menu and ask if anyone would care for some coffee service. A server that drops-off the check with the meal signals to the patron that they are done serving you. As a restaurant owner, your server has failed you. They just closed the door on any add-on sales including the opportunity for take-home orders. Multiply their action by the number of tables that you serve each night. One can easily see money that is being left behind.

When you are ready to transition from the mindset of being a restaurant that serves food to understanding that you are a business, and with that, taking care of your patrons is your top priority (by managing the customer's experience), that's when you will begin to earn the trust, return business, and top ratings from customers regardless of your menu's price. Corporation Associates provides help for restaurant owners with operations, as well as sales training for your staff. Our Associates are available to help you make the change to a process driven enterprise that caters to your clients.