3 Keys that define GREAT Restaurant Customer Experience
Updated: Jun 21
Customer service can make or break your restaurant. No matter how good the food is or how fancy your setting is, if the service is inconsistent and we are not determined in exceeding our customers' expectations, we are gradually going out of business.
If the service isn't where it needs to be, we are in big trouble.
Here's what I suggest you do, have a conversation with your managers or if you are a restaurant manager, ask your team in your next meeting to define their last customer service experience.
One of the challenges that we are facing is that a lot of our employees can't afford to go to fancy restaurants and they have never experienced great service.
Now if they don't know what to expect, they don't know how it looks like, how are they going to practice it in our own restaurant?
Perhaps you have this image in your head as a restaurant owner or as a manager of how you want your service to look or feel like.
The question is, how are you going to translate that in your people if they, themselves have never experienced that great and phenomenal service that we are talking about?
So let me share with you the 3 keys or factors that define great customer experience. I love to talk about this because this has been dear to us, to me and my husband.
We have to define each of these 3 factors for our restaurant as to what are going to be our standards and what are the pieces of training that we are running to provide for our team, front, and back.
These 3 factors are not just theories, in fact, we put in an enormous amount of work behind to make sure that we consistently provide that great service to our beloved customers.
1. The speed of service
The first factor that defines great customer service is the speed of service.
This one can literally make or break the experience the customers are going to have in your restaurant.
That's why we need to have systems in place, we need to have standards to follow and we need to track and measure every single ticket we have.
Nowadays, with the fancy POS system that we've got is easier than ever to track a lot of these things.
Customers have already set their expectations
It does not matter how friendly your people are or how clean the bathroom is, it does not matter how the food taste or how beautiful your decor or anything.
If it takes a customer a long time to get their food, the only thing that they can remember is a bad experience from our restaurant.
When people are hungry and they come into your restaurant with an expectation, like if we go to Chick Fil A or McDonald's and it takes like 5 minutes, we would have already been asking what is taking it so long, right?
Obviously depending on the kind of restaurant you are, the reputation you have, people have previously set their expectations. If you are a fast-food, or you have a fast-casual setting, or do you sell pizza, or do you sell tacos?
People already have expectations, and we need to always exceed that expectation, the speed of service is one of them.
Here is the reality, we live in a society where instant gratification is king, including for you and me.
Whatever we want, we want it now, we get frustrated with waiting. And of course, the same applies to our customers, they want what they want and they want it now.
If they wanted to wait for 45 minutes for a pasta dish, they would have made it home, and they would have not come over to you and pay for it.
They go to our restaurant because they are hungry and they want their food now.
Customers determine the terms of the transaction
We need to be very careful in providing our customers with an outstanding speed of service.
When we fall short when it comes to speed of service to a table, we feel like, if we are to explain to the customer and say, "Oh, we are sorry, we are short of staff, our cook is..."
The truth is whatever our reasons may be, the customer does not care.
Do you care if you are in a restaurant and it seems like it's taking them forever to serve your food especially when they don't proactively come and inform you about the delay?
Or even if you've already been sitting there for 45 minutes waiting for your food and then someone came and said"Oh, I am sorry, it can take another minute", it does not matter because we are paying for our service, we are going to demand something, right?
The same thing goes with our customers. So if you feel frustrated with your customers when they demand those things, know that they can only expect that they are paying for the service.
So don't be there explaining to the customer why this happened and that happened, it's all irrelevant. It only comes across that you are coming up with some excuses and again, customers are giving us money and they determine the terms of the transaction.
Define the standards
So when it comes to speed of service, I want to ask you, do you have standards for your appetizers, for your entree, for your desserts in terms of the speed of the ticket.
How long it takes before the customers receive their appetizer? For instance, you own a pizzeria, on average, what are your ticket times?
I will share with you ours since we own a pizzeria.
Our average time for dine-in is 10-12 minutes, for pick-ups, it's like 15-20 minutes, and for deliveries, we want it within 30 minutes out the door.
We call this standard the "10-20-30 Rule".
Communicate the standards to your team
Again you need to have standards and the other thing that you want to do is the most important part, and that is for your people to know these standards.
So when we talk about a violation of the "10-20-30 Rule", we want our people to know what we are talking about.
So first, define the standards and then you need to make sure that you communicate these standards to your people.
Have training in place and set up quality control checkpoints
The next step is to train your people to follow the standards. You can't expect people to have a 10 to 20 minutes ticket time if you do not have tactical tips for them.
To be able to achieve that, you need to have the training and an ongoing basis for this. The other thing you want to have is a quality control checkpoints to manage the ticket of the speed of service.
So the folks who work in the makeline need to know by when the food needs to be out of their hands for it to be smoothly passed on to the next person whose in charge of cutting until it goes to the driver for delivery.
Everybody just needs to know about those things. I would strongly recommend you to have a logbook for you to take note of everything that happens in the restaurant daily.
By the end of the morning and evening shifts, one mandatory section that our people need to fill out in our logbook is our "10-20-30 Rule" section.
We have a station in the middle of our hallway, we call that "5 Gems" who are actually our servers, they are the "guest experience makers".
They make sure the ticket time of every single ticket that leaves the pass bar is written down in the logbook. We can look it up in the POS system, we average and that defines the time that we communicate to the customer.
When a customer calls for pick-up, for instance, we want to tell them exactly how long is the average time it will take them to come over and pick up their order. We document those and all goes into the logbook.
If this is a factor that matters to the customers, this matters to you as a restaurant owner, and we have to make sure that our team knows that it matters.
One of the ways to do that is to track this every single day and we kudos the team when the ticket times are within range or exceeding expectations and then look into coaching them if they fail to do that.
2. The order accuracy
The next factor that defines great customer service is the order accuracy.
I personally don't eat spicy food much, I go to a restaurant, hypothetically I order a chicken tortilla soup. But I want it with no chilies or hot peppers in it because I don't like spicy food. But then the server comes back with hot peppers in it, and now I have to go through this trouble, I don't want it but should I get another one?
Sometimes you don't want to deal with that so you'll just take it however you are unhappy with the overall experience.
Order accuracy matters a lot, people have an expectation that we provide them with what exactly the food they ordered, which sometimes includes special requests from them.
The accuracy means the ingredients as well as the portions. For instance, if somebody orders for breakfast, like an egg or spinach something and there is too much spinach in it that they asked to get removed, they are going to complain about it.
It's not just that all the ingredients need to be in the dish, but also the portion and the quantity of each ingredient in the dish can also make or break the experience.
So again, if it matters to our customers, it matters to us. Our managers need to know that this matters to our company, this matter to us, we have training for it.
Quality control checkpoints in place, tactical training and we are measuring this every single day.
We do measure the number of our mistakes every single day.
That goes into the logbook and this is something that we needed to talk about because it is a huge factor in affecting the experience of our customers.
Our training and checkpoints in place
So we have many positions in the restaurant.
For example, a server answers a phone call from a customer who placed an order of a 16" supreme pizza with no black olives in it.
It goes to the kitchen but the server forgot to say that it should be without black olives.
The ticket prints into the kitchen, the guys in the makeline then makes a supreme pizza, then it goes to the cut station and there's a quality control there to verify if the ticket matches the food.
And it goes to the pass bar and our "five gems" check as well to make sure the ticket matches the food so that's our third quality checkpoint.
And then when a customer comes for their pick up, we open every single box in front of the customer and we describe it like this, "we'll here is your 16" supreme pizza..." and then that's the time when customer will say "I didn't want the black olive on it".
And when you look back at the ticket, you were like, the ticket says 16" supreme pizza but it did not tell it has to be with no black olives so you will say sorry to the customer and tell that we need to make a new one real quick.
So we came up with our checkpoints and quality control points and training associated with those according to all the problems we had.
We had this problem with a customer going to their home, gave us a call and said that we did not give them their cannoli, and they demanded a driver to bring them cannoli now for no charge.
Out of that pain, a problem we had we decided to open every single box for every customer if they leave the restaurant so in cases like this, we can tell them that we actually showed the food before they went out of the restaurant.
The reality is you make mistakes and everybody makes mistakes. If you are processing hundreds of tickets every single day, then you are going to make mistakes at some point.
So it is critical to set up these checkpoints to catch those. And this started because the person who took the phone did not hear the part that there shouldn't be black olives and did not write it into the ticket.
So we have two techniques in place to combat that, we have trained our people with training videos that I created for these so everybody is equipped with the proper knowledge.
One of them is what we call "talk as you do" technique. This is whenever you take an order from a customer, you talk as you're writing it down, you are talking as you are collecting the order and then write everything down.
The second technique is at the end of the order, our servers must repeat back the order, that's another layer if somehow, I make it wrong, the customer's telling me a lot of things, so if there's an issue, we can immediately catch it.
It is possible to reduce the number of your mistakes to have on a Friday night where we process two hundred or three hundred tickets in a day to have like only 3 mistakes.
It's just a little bit of work to set the standards, train, communicate and hold your team accountable, and then track the numbers.
3. The friendliness of the service
So the speed of service and order accuracy are two very important factors when it comes to providing service to your customers.
Last but not least, let's talk about the friendliness of your service. You knew it that matters excessively because people demand the service to be friendly.
Friendliness can be defined in many ways, smiling, the posture and the attitude of our servers, their body language, the words they use, and from the minute customers walk into the restaurant to the second they leave, it needs to be exceeding their expectations in the friendly department.
I tell our people all the time that this is the friendliest place in town. We have the friendliest service in town, that's who we are in this company, we want to share our identity, our standard and this is the team you are in.
How do we develop friendliness in our service?
You may want to have a lot of training for the friendliness of your team because it is very critical.
One of the factors that we need to keep in mind is that it's easy to be friendly to friendly people. And this is not what we are talking about when it comes to the restaurant business, what we are speaking of is being friendly and smiling big in circumstances when it is really hard to do that.
Circumstances such as there is an issue with an or order or a customer just being rude, this the best time to be friendly and smile.
Killing people with kindness in those challenging times. Exceeding expectations by showing customers what they don't expect from you to do.
Like when you get yelled at, and they are expecting you to get defensive, you are not going to meet that expectation and you are going to exceed that expectation by reacting totally the other way, apologizing, smiling, and saying "I fully understand where you're coming from, I am sorry about that. Let me take care of this..."
Redefining friendliness when it comes to providing great customer service in your restaurant can go a long way. Utmost courtesy in dealing with somebody with these issues, that is the art that we are training our people to do.
The art of training our people to handle these different circumstances, having role-plays, not just for upselling but also role-plays for managing difficult customers like a pro.
We need to train our people by all means because you can't just expect them to know how to behave in these tough situations. And if they are not handling it well, it is on us to train them up and equip them to do well.
What are some of the ways that we can measure friendliness?
Rate your staff based on observations - One is you can ask your friend of the house manager like "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you think so and so are doing when it comes to service this or that?" That's one way to gauge each of your team member's friendliness.
Check customer's feedback - The other one is by verifying the feedback that the customers give you.
When you look upon your reviews that hopefully left with lots of 5 stars, is there a mention of service? You need to read your reviews with the front of the house manager and brainstorm what is the mention of service and what can be the things that your customers appreciate very much.
We want our service to be friendly, and check your reviews if they do it consistently.
Again, the consistency of whatever we do matters tremendously.
For us to provide great service, and be consistent in giving that to our customers, we must define what great customer service is and what it looks like.
In fact, it is not only important for you and me to do this, but it is necessary that every team member in our restaurant.
Whether they are folks in the kitchen or in the front of the house, understands what great customer service is so we can all be on the same page.
We have to remember that what defines great customer service depends on what our customers believed to be great customer service, they determine how they want to be served.
It is not about you and I debating our opinions on things, but rather, again what matters to our customers, because after all, they are the ones paying for our great service.
If we ensure that we provide the most prompt service, always deliver accurate orders, and give the friendliest assistance to our customers, there's no reason they wouldn't love and trust us.
It's the great service that would always matter the most to our customers and keep them coming back to us.
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