Are you a restaurateur or a Broadway director? If you’re doing your job right, you probably feel like a little of both.
Directors of stage productions have the responsibility of choreographing an audience’s experience from before the curtain rises to the final ovation. Restaurant owners must do likewise, expertly funneling their customers through a rock-solid experience that leaves them giving great reviews, relishing their memories, and, best of all, coming back.
How important is an amazing customer experience to a restaurant? In today’s world of instant social media and extreme competition, it’s everything. Besides, it costs up to 16 times less financially to consistently wow loyal customers than it does to try to get new customers to stick with you and your establishment. Those are serious dollars to keep in mind.
To help you hone your directorial skills, it’s time to take a fresh approach to your role as the head of your restaurant.
‘Little’ Things? They’re Never Little to Customers
Mapping out a typical customer’s path to and through a dining experience (and then tweaking problem areas) is simple. Just consider the top five spaces most people complain about:
You arrive at a popular dining destination, only to find there’s no parking. Sadly, there’s also nonexistent — or unfathomably slow — valet service. Now, you’re irritated. You’re worried you’re going to miss your reservation time. And that snow coming down? The last thing you expected was to trudge through it so you could eat and drink in cold, wet shoes and clothes.
Even if your restaurant is quite the draw for foot traffic, always consider customers who drive. Nightmarish parking encounters cause patrons to enter your establishment in a foul mood, which isn’t what you want in a first impression. If your restaurant is in a busy area and parking is limited, hire friendly, knowledgeable, background-checked valets — and be sure to appoint enough of them to handle high-traffic times like Valentine’s Day.
Have you ever had to wait for a table while crushed against other would-be diners in a restaurant doorway? Or, worse yet, have you ever been sent outside so Mother Nature can blow cold air down the back of your neck? This will cause significant customer losses you’ll never know about until you read the poor reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp.
You don’t have to overhaul your restaurant to offer a space for guests to congregate while waiting. Many intimate places just add cozy chairs by the hostess stand. Doing so can make all the difference for patrons being told they have to wait for a table.
“Where would you like to sit?” doesn’t work for every restaurant and could cause serious organizational difficulties for servers. However, “Would you like to sit at this table by the window, or do you prefer a booth in the back?” gives guests the exact same sense of control while maintaining your hold on order.
Within reason, start asking your patrons if they have a preference for where they would like to eat. Show them no more than three choices. You’ll give them the sense that you care about their needs.
A huge trend in the food service industry is that guests want to be able to customize their meals, especially Millennials who are eating outside the home in record numbers. About a fifth of Millennials choose restaurants based on the freedom to modify dishes. Some want gluten-free options, others lean toward dairy-free dishes, and many want to know where their food comes from (wondering whether they’re locally sourced or sustainable).
Your servers and kitchen staff should not only be aware that customers will ask for substitutions, but they should also accommodate guests to the best of their abilities with a smile and an open mind.
Millennials and Generation Z members are the first groups of humans to have constant access to technology. They’re consistently searching the internet and looking for restaurants that offer exciting opportunities. Your goal is to show guests that you embrace technology and innovation, just like they do, and that includes making payment easy.
Make a lasting impression when your patrons leave by streamlining paying as much as possible. Emerging restaurant software allows for easy check management arrangements, such as splitting the bill. This results in no sour experiences — just great endings to an overall fantastic visit to your establishment.
When you pay attention to all these potential customer pitfalls, you can glean the benefits. Happy patrons will continue to come back, and they’ll bring their friends. Reviews improve alongside your restaurant’s overall score on popular sites. And your restaurant becomes known as a place that puts the customer first. Each of these advantages brings you one step closer to filling the house, night after night, and enjoying a steady round of hearty applause.