Posted by Colin Ransom on 11 Mar 2013

I went out AGAIN on Wednesday evening (I know, right? TWICE in one week??)

I went to a local place in Leeds with an old friend for dinner – I arrived before him. I entered the restaurant and was met with one of those “Please wait here to be seated” signs – I personally don’t like these as I like to be greeted by a person, not a wooden sign.

I was offered a table by the door. Whilst I wasn’t too pleased about this at first, I do like this on some level as tables located in close proximity to the door offer a certain vantage point from which one can observe most of the goings on in a place. I am very nosey!

The restaurant was very busy and so the door opened and closed frequently. On top of the draught, clouds of cigarette smoke poured in from the outside “smoking” area, aka the entrance doorway. Now I don’t consider myself to be a non-smoker, worse still, I’m a REFORMED smoker. The worst sort, to be sure!

The restaurant got busier while we were there and there ended up being a queue at the door on the inside. A queue that was ignored by the staff as they prioritised other tasks. See, the wooden sign just couldn’t cut it like an effective door host could’ve.

When the duty manager appeared, things all made sense, however. Suffice to say she didn’t really look as if she was happy in her work.

The experience got me thinking about the essentials of customer service in restaurants, and how these could’ve made a difference to the overall experience on this particular eve.

  • Everything starts with the manager! That’s right, so people will always follow the example of the manager on duty, who should LEAD the team, rather than manage them.
  • Have somebody on the door. Because if you don’t and it’s busy and people have to wait longer than a few seconds before even being acknowledged, they’re more likely to go on to complain about other things later on in the visit. This has been proven in research by Mintel.
  • Have a waiting area if you can. That way, waiting can be built into the overall experience, and be made to not feel like waiting.
  • Employ staff who care. We’ve all been served by someone who’s only there for the beer tokens. It’s important to ensure this is dealt with, rather than brushing it under the carpet. This is such a high priority. These people are damaging your business. This is a fact.
  • Maintain the appearance of the restaurant area – clean tables as a priority. Cigarette breaks etc are NOT more important. Pick stuff up off the floor. It IS your job. This is so basic. Who wants to eat in a restaurant with dirty napkins on the floor? This tells your customers about hygiene standards in the kitchen, too.
  • If your chefs are going to come out of the kitchen, great, but make sure their uniforms are clean. You know what I mean, right?
  • Thank your customers – there’s nothing wrong with a little ego massaging. You should make your customers feel as special and important as possible. This WILL make them come back.
  • Be sincere. But don’t over-do it. Be careful of terms like “hey guys”, which should only be used in the right context. Your older customers won’t appreciate or relate to this.
  • Be attentive – KNOW when your table are ready to order. DON’T go over every five minutes to ask if everything is ok. Once is fine.
  • Tell, don’t sell. I AM a believer in up-selling, but this too has limits. Don’t offer an extra with EVERY dish ordered. It’s annoying. Better to point out a specials board or the side orders section on the menu when the customers are seated. This way, the customers can decide at their leisure, rather than being forced into making a snap decision which may lead to an over-inflated bill. If your customer leaves having paid more than they wanted to, are they as likely to return?
  • Handle complaints with the attention they deserve. This is SO important. THANK your customer for the complaint. It’s through this kind of feedback that you can find out what’s going wrong and make the necessary changes, yet managers are still reluctant/lack the skills to deal with this. Do you need to carry out training around this?
  • De-brief. OK so if you’ve had a disastrous shift, it needs to be discussed and learned from. This is where a de-brief comes in. It’s important to document any issues that arise and decide who you’ll handle similar situations in the future.

These points are specific to my experience on Wednesday and are only the tip of a very large iceberg.

If you’d like to chat about the level of customer service in YOUR organization, get in touch for a free, no obligation chat.

Colin – RH

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