September 17, 2018

Taking Restaurant Customer Service to the Next Level: Strategies and Results

Taking Restaurant Customer Service to the Next Level: Strategies and Results
Welcome to the age of customer service.

More and more, consumers are choosing where to spend their money based on where they get the best service. Excellence isn’t a nice surprise — today’s diners expect it, and to compete, you need to deliver.

Making a conscious decision to up your customer service game is just the first step. Good service is multifaceted, and it’s going to take time and work to identify the changes you need to make in your establishment and to actually make those changes. But once you do, you’ll be rewarded with customers who recognize and appreciate great service, and spend their money loyally when they feel well cared for.

Here’s how to get started.

Learn the Basics of Customer Service

Across most industries, the core principles of customer service remain the same. What does “customer service” really mean? Put in the simplest way possible, it’s the act of taking care of a customer’s needs. But there are some ways to take that idea a little further, to go from standard customer service to a consistently excellent experience that will wow your guests.

Great customer service means giving professional, helpful service before, during and after a transaction is made.

In other words, customer service isn’t just about making a sale. It’s about providing a consistently excellent experience all the time, not just when the customer is actively giving you money.

Delivering quality customer service also means being prompt.

And that is multifaceted. From the minute a customer walks through your door, it’s time to start giving them that excellent experience. Greet them immediately when they enter your restaurant, but be authentic. No one likes walking into a restaurant feeling like the greeting they just received was scripted. Listen to customers intently. And don’t make them wait. Try to get the first round of drinks or appetizers to the table as quickly as possible-- drinks within 10 minutes of their arrival and appetizers within 15-20 minutes of their arrival ideally.

Promptness can be the difference between a happy guest who becomes a repeat customer, and a hangry one who never comes back.

Personalize your customer service to each guest.

It's another great way to deliver consistently excellent experiences. Maintain a guest database and use it to offer special promotions to loyal customers. Encourage servers to get to know regulars and address them by name. Train your staff to know the menu well enough to offer suggestions based on what customers like or what they’ve already ordered. Recommending the perfect drink or dessert to compliment a meal will make a customer feel especially taken care of.

Addressing problems immediately and to the customer’s satisfaction.

This is another necessary step to providing excellent customer service. If a guest has a complaint, listen intently without interrupting, and always offer empathy, not blame. Stay calm, especially if you don’t agree with the customer. Own the mistake, offer a genuine apology, and ask the guest what they would like — this will help start a conversation toward a solution you can both be happy with.

Filling the Gaps

If you feel like there may be some gaps in your customer service, go to your best resource: your customers themselves. Start employing comment cards, email surveys or some other method to collect guest feedback. Not only does this give you specific action items you can address to improve your food and service, but it makes the customers feel that their experiences and their thoughts matter.

You may be reading this and thinking that providing excellent customer service takes a lot of work. It does. But, it’s well worth the time and effort you invest. Happy customers are repeat customers, and there’s data to prove it.

A Harvard Business School study on Starbucks customers found that satisfied customers visited, on average, 4.3 times per month, spending $4.06 per visit and remaining customers for 4.4 years. That’s pretty good, right?

That same study found that highly satisfied customers visited, on average, 7.2 times per month, spending $4.42 each visit and remaining customers for 8.3 years. That’s a huge jump in revenue.

So what about the flip side? A Customer Experience Report survey found that rude customer service was one of the top reasons customers will abandon a brand, beating out other reasons by 18 percent.

These two studies show why customer service is so vital for restaurants: It truly can make or break your brand.

How Restaurants Need to Take Customer Service Further

Of course, customer service varies a bit across industries.

For restaurants, specifically, there’s food consistency to worry about.

Think about your restaurant’s signature dish. It’s fresh. It’s flavorful. Customers come back over and over because they crave it. Now think about how that would all change if the dish weren’t consistent every time a customer ordered it.

Imagine if a customer came back, specifically for that dish, and got something other than what they expected, what they’d had before. That’s why food consistency is vital to your customer service strategy and, ultimately, your success.

So how do you ensure the kind of consistency that will have customers coming back over and over for their favorite dishes?

There are a lot of strategies you can employ.

First, standardize your products and your process.

Make sure you’re getting consistently fresh, high-quality ingredients from your suppliers, and if you’re not, change suppliers. Eliminate variability in how different chefs create your dishes by documenting recipes and making sure everyone follows them.

It’s also a good idea to simplify your menu.

The more complex your menu or any given dish is, the more opportunities there are for it to vary. Find ways to simplify recipes without sacrificing flavor. Consider that when it comes to the size of your menu, less is more — focus on a smaller number of dishes you know your staff can execute perfectly, rather than an overabundance of choice.

In addition to standardization and simplification, train your staff.

Make sure everyone involved in cooking and food preparation understands the menu and the standardization process, so there’s no human error causing variances in the food. Train servers to know the menu inside and out so they can answer questions guests may have about specific dishes or ingredients.

And lastly, like with general customer service, take advantage of feedback from your guests.

Ask them for their comments and concerns, both to make them feel heard, and to gather information about whether your food is as consistent as it should be. Use their comments to identify any problems with your food consistency and address them head-on.

Modern customers, in all industries, have high expectations for customer service. But in restaurants, where there’s so much competition, providing customer service that wows your guests is necessary if you want to stand out.

Restaurant owners know that repeat business is a vital part of any eatery’s success.

Great customer service will beget happy, loyal customers who visit over and over again, which lays the foundation for years of success.

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