When I ran restaurants, I approached service from the customers point of view. That is at least twice a week, I was a customer in my own restaurant.
Doing so gives you a really good understanding of what I call the “3 Most Important Attributes of any Successful Restaurant… Food, Service & Ambiance”. I routinely critiqued these 3 attributes provided by my entire team and the feeling I got sitting at different tables in my restaurants. We held daily pre-shift meetings talking about what the customer sees, feels and experiences “from the front door to the thank you and welcome back”. This exercise became a system that transformed our operation from the very beginning.
It all started with what I called my “Customer Pet Peeve” list. Now after selling my restaurants, whenever I dine out, I critique other operators against these critical pet peeves. Unfortunately in restaurants across America, they happen more frequently than not. Don’t let this be your restaurant.
Let’s begin with Curb Appeal. The way your restaurant appears on the outside to the public has a huge impact on new and repeat business. Go out and look at your space. Is the paint peeling or shiny and new? Awnings torn.. dirty windows, lights burned out, graffiti on a wall? How about staff visibly smoking or on their cell phones. Remember, first impressions are lasting. Would you want to eat here?
Next, how often do you go into a place and there is no-one at the host podium to greet you? You’re standing there unrecognized watching everyone run around in the weeds wondering if they’ll ever seat you. I’ve walked out of many restaurants for this reason and never returned.
Bathrooms are certainly an all-important “given” in the overall dining experience. A system needs to be in place to ensure there are adequate paper and soap supplies available to the customer, the counter tops are dry and the waste baskets are not overflowing. Imagine a female customer leaning in close to the mirror to apply lipstick and suddenly her skirt or blouse is wet from the edge of the counter. Hosts or bus staff should routinely monitor your bathrooms every twenty minutes during dining service.
When a restaurant is busy.. usually a Saturday night, the host will tell you there’s a wait. Is it really a half-hour or will it be much longer? The key here is to “under-promise and over-deliver”. Accuracy of the wait time is very important to customers and they will appreciate honesty and concern for their time and experience.
How about sound levels and lighting? There is a “sweet spot” where the music selection is appropriate to your theme and clientele, the sound is neither too soft or too loud and the lighting is not too bright, but adequate to read the small print on your menu.
Among the thousands of details in your restaurant, customers above all want to be recognized, acknowledged and served.
I had a hard and fast rule that once a new table was sat, the server greeted the customer by name within three minutes with a smile. They only needed to make eye contact, introduce themselves and inform the customer they would be right back to tell them everything that they would enjoy. This was possible since teamwork was routine among hosts, bussers and servers. Every Table is Your Table became our mantra.
Keep in mind that your customer’s time is valuable and must be respected. It is good practice to ask if guests are in a hurry or need to catch a show after dinner.
At the bar, how many times have you waited in a line five deep where the bartender is head-down and just focused on preparing the drink at hand instead of recognizing each patron with a smile or kind word until their turn to order?
Next, product Knowledge is really “Job 1” in any restaurant because you cant “Serve & Sell” if you don’t know the menu and what’s special inside out. Nothing is worse than getting an “I don’t know, let me find out” answer from a simple request. I’ve often gone to restaurants and ordered my favorite dishes only to be told “we’re out of that”.
Precise ordering and inventory control is a skill where popular items are never 86’d, yet you have minimal waste and spoilage.
How about when the food is delivered? Do your servers or expediters auction off the food… “who had the chicken, who gets the steak”?
Hot food prepared precisely to order and delivered immediately is the next order of business. Even if a steak is cooked precisely to order, if it sits too long under a heat lamp, medium rare quickly becomes medium well. Each and every presentation should also have what I call “WOW Factor”… that is, the customer looks at his plate and says “WOW” to the table and quickly pulls out their phone for a photo.
After dessert and coffee, is the guest check accurate and presented in a timely manner? Remember, your customer wants their check when they are ready, not when its convenient for your staff.
Finally, the last impression your customer receives is on their way out the door. My staff were trained to thank each and every guest that crossed their path with a smile and welcome back. It’s a personal touch to be sincerely thanked by several staff members as if you’re not a customer, but an old friend.
So every detail, no matter how small is important to your customer. Daily training is essential to any successful restaurant and really comes down to consistency, communication, teamwork and respect. Restaurants that treat every customer as the “Most Important Customer” will have a true competitive advantage in this most challenging of all businesses.
Go out there, get that restaurant wow factor, and Rock Your Restaurant!