The restaurant industry is nothing if not unpredictable. Of course, that’s why many go into the business—a new guest experience every day. Diners, however, tend to stay the course. They find their favorite restaurants and return often. When they try a new spot, they compare it with their tried-and-true venues.
So, what is it that makes guests brand ambassadors and life-long enthusiasts of your dining establishment? It’s the experience.
Excellent customer experience is the backbone of any successful establishment. It’s what sets them apart from their next-door competitor as well as the one across the street and the one on the next corner. It drives loyalty, pure and simple.
While we may be going back to the basics, it’s an important place to revisit. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day affairs of running a business that we forget the cornerstone of our success, until one day we notice the numbers dropping off and the wait times not what they used to be.
Personalized and Prompt Service
An analysis of almost 332,000 online reviews for more than 1,300 restaurants revealed that “service” was the most frequently mentioned keyword. Do you have a system to help your servers remember your repeat guests’ names and favorite menu items? It’s the repetitive nature of learning that’s the key. Make sure they introduce themselves, ask your patrons their names, and then use them during service.
Prompt service offers an effortless experience for your guests. It’s not overbearing but a streamlined event. Your guests are greeted when they arrive, receive their beverages promptly, and are served by someone that knows the menu items inside and out. A question like, where did the salmon come from, is not answered with a glassy stare but with a quick and knowledgeable statement.
As with any industry, this requires training—consistent, established protocol.
Consistently Excellent Food
Recently, I was excited about trying a new restaurant I’d just discovered. It was close to home and located on the water—a beautiful setting. The first time the food was excellent, and I thought I’d found my new Friday evening venue. The second time, the quality had diminished considerably. I gave it one last try and, unfortunately, will not be back. About half of your guests will never return after one bad experience.
Quality control ensures consistently great food. Do you have someone checking the food before it goes out to the guest? An expeditor should prioritize outgoing meals, ensure the food is up to your standards, and maintain a steady flow from the kitchen to the dining room. Think Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen, without the “hell.”
Of course, many other factors go into the guest experience, such as a memorable ambiance, but it’s the service and food that define excellence.
What creates a memorable dining experience?
Every once in a while, we need to break the mold and head into a restaurant we’ve never been to. I know many restauranteurs and operators that make it a point to go into a new restaurant every week, while others have their tried-and-true establishments that have become their comfort zones. Still, others find it hard to find time to go home, let alone to another eatery.
The next time you take a break from the hectic pace of restaurant life, whether a new establishment or your old favorite, experience it as if for the first time. What made the meal enjoyable? What memory did you take away?
You’ll find that there are some restaurants where the quality of food offers the ultimate guest experience. These restaurants typically have a unique offering or provide the best cuisine in their particular culture, whether Italian, Japanese, Indian, French, or American.
Others blow you away with the surroundings that evoke all of the senses—the music, smells, colors, textures, design, and lighting take you to another world. And then there are those that take “experience” to a whole new level. These restaurants delve into the world of high tech and offer automated and electronic indoor games, impressive movie experiences, or otherworldly virtual realities.
What is the second most important factor in the customer’s mind when choosing a restaurant?
Like me, you may have taken a second glance when you saw this question. I mean, why the second most important factor—what happened to the first? Or, you may be quicker on the uptake than I am, realizing that delicious, fresh, and unique food takes the top spot.
A survey on why a customer chooses a particular restaurant when eating out proved me wrong. The top priority varied based on the occasion. For instance, the price was the most important element for quick meals and social occasions. On the other hand, brand reputation took the top spot when it came to business meetings. And world-of-mouth recommendations became the number one reason diners chose a restaurant for a celebration.