Great Service Builds Restaurant Customer Loyalty
by Stu Leventhal
Great customer service can catapult any restaurant onto a 5 star restaurant list. People don’t have to eat out. Even if they want to entertain family or friends, it will save them a lot of money throwing the party at their own residence. Tossing a turkey in the oven, tossing up a salad and cooking a few side dishes and asking one or two of your visitors to bring a dessert is not that hard, really. Just pop a few trays of appetizers in the oven and tune the big screen to the big game and the party is in full swing in no time. Going out is a conscientious choice and in most cases the food quality or drink variety is not the deciding factor nor does price figure into the decision of where people choose to go. Americans spend money to have fun! And when Americans are having fun, money is no object!
We can stay home and watch the newest release on pay per view TV, crack a case of beer, invite a few friends over and boil up a couple of pounds of pasta and be known as fairly decent hosts and hostesses. When we show up at a restaurants place of business, especially a high end establishment, it rarely is because we’re starving or even hungry! Think about what motivates you to want to go to your corner bar again and again. You are feeling a little down and want to lift your spirits up. You want to be around people who are going to cater to your ego. You feel like being pampered, jested with and made to feel special! This is the culture you as a restaurant manager or owner need to foster in your staff. This is the atmospheric goal you must strive to create if you want to have tons and tons of repeat customers.
Certainly, great food, unique dishes and innovative drinks that customers can’t get anywhere else is a plus. Cleanliness, especially clean and well stocked and maintained bathrooms are a must. Fast attentive service is an attraction too. But when it comes right down to it, if we have a choice, we are going where the fun is! And we are bringing plenty of cash to spend! Creating an openly, fun, receptive atmosphere takes real planning and training. Keeping the fun going constantly and consistently, day after day, hour after hour, takes hard dedicated work. If you can get your staff to buy in to the idea that they’re #1 job is to make the guests feel special, it won’t matter if your competition down the street gives out half price coupons or imports a celebrity chef who studied at a fancy culinary school overseas; your customers will not be lured away!
How does a good restaurant manager create a fire under the butts of his team concerning customer service? Let’s first look at how it’s not done! Great customer service is not accomplished by threatening your staff. Or, by posting a ridiculous long list of must follow requirements in the break room, that keeps getting bigger week after week. Those cute posters with famous sayings like this quote by Katherine Barchetti – “Make a customer not a sale!” can only go so far as a reminder as to who is really signing our pay checks, our customers!
First off, all great managers realize their staff takes their cues from their own actions and attitudes. This means, the staff is a reflection of you. As a manager you are always on stage. Your staff is watching you and paying attention to how you act and handle things. You are the Captain of the ship, so you set the tone. If you run your restaurant like a Gestapo agent, your staff will always be on edge. Up tight people can’t project a natural aura of friendliness and good cheer! Now is the time to set not only a good example but set the bar for how you expect everyone to act too!
Great managers walk the walk not just talk the talk. Show your staff how they should treat people, treat your customers and treat each other, by first treating your staff with the respect, courtesy, honesty and always giving them the full attention they deserve! Show your staff that these words are not just lip service. They are the values you live by. The same values you take into consideration with every decision you make. Set your restaurants standards of conduct high, starting with your own standards of conduct and those standards will rub off on your employees. Notice the extra efforts of your staff when they go the extra mile to please a customer and reward them with recognition, a smile, a thank you and with raises, titles and other numerous nonmonetary perks; choice of work schedule, a holiday or weekend off or by letting a high performing servers pick their work station.
Now for this article we are taking for granted that all the basic, common sense, customer service standards are already in place and being encouraged at all levels of your restaurant tiers. To elevate a restaurants service from good to great then to exceptional, there is going to have to be a commitment to putting into place some ongoing training. You may even need to revamp your recruitment criteria and train anyone involved with the hiring process to look for the traits that support your customer service mission first and start valuing those standards the highest among your hiring requirements.
Remember your restaurant is in competition not only with the taste and quality of the food served but most importantly with the atmosphere and pleasure of the dining experience you offer. There will always be restaurants nearby having a sale. The way to counter act that is to focus on always giving your visitors an over the top, exceptional, great dining experience! Learn your customers’ names and use them! When your restaurant or business is busy and a regular walks in take that extra minute and acknowledge them. Don’t chat for fifteen minutes neglecting all your other customers, just say hi, wave and make them feel special.
On that note, I’ll leave you with this famous thought. “Customer satisfaction is worthless. Customer loyalty is priceless.” – Jeffrey Gitomer