Restaurant Customer Service Tips: Creating the Ultimate Customer Experience

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Customer loyalty is the key to success in the restaurant industry. While extraordinary food will get customers to walk through the door for the first time, it’s excellent customer service that will keep them coming back.

Let’s take a look at some restaurant customer service tips to inspire you and your staff to serve up the ultimate customer experience.

Hire the Right People

Before your business can be successful, you have to have a team in place that can execute your vision. Hiring the right people, or hiring the wrong people, can make or break your business.

Employees are the face of your company. They’re the ones customers interact with the most, and the reputation of your business relies a lot on their attitude. When hiring for your small business, the most important thing to remember is that you can teach skills. Attitude, on the other hand, is an organic, psychological construct that is much harder to transform.

Train Employees Properly

Once you have the right people in place, the next thing you’ll need to do is train them. Thoroughly trained employees will have the right tools to provide the best customer service possible.

As part of your overall employee training program, make sure to provide specifics on how you expect the front-of-house staff to deliver first-class customer service. No detail is too small. Here are some examples you’ll want to include when training employees:

  • The hosts must open doors and greet all guests as they come into the building.
  • The servers must greet their table with an introduction within the first 30 – 60 seconds of being sat.
  • Always anticipate the needs guests such as refilling water glasses before they’re empty or bringing extra napkins when the meals arrive.
  • Update customers on the status of their order if the kitchen is particularly busy so they know you don’t forget about them.
  • Periodic check-ins or walk-bys — servers should always be visible to their guests.
  • If the customer pays with a credit card, it’s a nice touch when the wait staff addresses them by the appropriate surname prefix that appears on the card.

Look and Act the Part

Whether you like it or not, first impressions go a long way, and that’s why all employees need to talk the talk and walk the walk. They must have excellent people skills. It’s almost just as important for waitstaff to have a clean, put-together look to enhance the overall mood.

Establish a clear dress code policy about hair, make-up, attire, and whatever else you deem necessary to include. Creating a clean yet straightforward uniform policy makes everyone look presentable and professional. It also makes it easy for customers to distinguish the waitstaff from other employees or patrons.

Eliminate Wait Times

In today’s fast-paced world of instant gratification, it comes as no surprise that people dislike waiting. Waiting for a table, waiting for drinks, waiting for a meal, can all be very frustrating and lead a lot of “hangry” customers.

Here are a few ways you can cut down on wait times and create a better workflow.

  • Look for chokepoints
    A big reason your restaurant might experience higher than average wait times is that certain areas in the restaurant cause a lot of congestion and foot traffic. To avoid this, move around tables to incorporate a better traffic flow or add additional workstations for employees.
  • Accept reservations and walk-ins
    While some patrons prefer making a reservation to ensure seating, others are a little more reckless and walk-in. Although high-end restaurants rely more on reservations than a casual eatery, it’s essential to find the right balance of reserved seating and walk-in business for your restaurant.
  • Transform the waiting experience
    Offer to get people drinks while they wait or even pass around small samples of food. This strategy can soothe customer frustrations while they wait. A mobile ordering or pay-at-the-table solution can enhance this line-busting strategy by allowing you to easily take drink orders and transfer the check to their table once they’re seated. For hectic times when there’s a lobby full of customers waiting for a table, this tactic will work wonders.

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Focus on the Menu

Friendly, efficient, and respectful are necessary qualities for a good staff member, but basic training doesn’t stop there. Front-of-house employees need to know the menu inside and out. Many customers look to the server for recommendations and questions about the menu — especially first-time customers. Getting a blank stare in response to their questions is a clear sign the staff isn’t invested in the restaurant.

Knowing the menu items is also vital in case a customer needs to know about a dish for food intolerance, allergies, or any other special dietary needs or restrictions.

To ensure employees are taking the initiative to learn the menu, you can ask them to complete quizzes on the different menu items. If you want to make it more fun, host sessions during the pre-shift meetings to play educational training games. These games will help servers memorize the content of the menu in a fun way. You can also offer the staff a sample of a different menu item each shift so that they can make first-hand recommendations.

Handling Complaints

You’re never going to be able to please every customer, every time. Customer complaints should be seen as an opportunity to do better and improve your business. You should train your staff how to effectively handle complaints since many customers will judge you for how you deal with a complaint rather than their initial grievance.

Train your staff to always hear the customer out before reacting. Even if you can’t make everyone happy, employees should always practice professionalism and empathy when a customer files a complaint.

If there is a common theme to grievances, you should look into the situation and make changes to address any underlying issues, whether it’s a particular menu item, staff member, or restaurant policy.

See Also: How to Keep Employees Motivated (When Things Go Wrong)

Customer Feedback

While some customers have no qualms about complaining directly to management, others are more passive. However, that doesn’t mean their opinion doesn’t matter, or that their feedback is not valuable.

Allow every customer the opportunity to provide feedback. Make brief stops at their table with customer comment cards when they appear close to finishing their meal. Emphasize questions about the quality of service, and what aspects of their experience they would recommend to a friend, and what areas weren’t up to par.

Some pay-at-the-table devices, such as SkyTab, include a built-in customer satisfaction survey to incorporate feedback collection right into the payment process.

To thank them for their time, provide vouchers for a free dessert or round of drinks on their next visit. Such measures and concern make diners feel valued and make them want to come back.

Incorporate Technology

When it comes to creating the ultimate customer experience by virtue of excellent service, technology plays a significant role. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Point of Sale (POS) Systems

When a customer walks through your doors, one thing they’re looking to do is satisfy their most basic physical survival need — they need to eat and drink. The term “hangry” didn’t come about out of thin air; it’s human nature.

The best way to facilitate communication and get food and beverage to the customer faster is to use a POS system. The server (or cashier in a quick-service restaurant) inputs the order into the point of sale system via a touchscreen device. The order immediately routes to the kitchen or appropriate prep station via a printer or digital display system for BOH staff to begin prep. The quicker the front-of-house (FOH) staff can communicate with the back-of-house (BOH) staff to fulfill the order; the better the service will be.

You can even take this a step further with tableside ordering solutions that integrate with the POS system for maximum efficiency.

Free WiFi and Table Games

As much as we hate to admit it, technology is making us dependent on being “connected” and “entertained” 24/7 — even at the dinner table. Although we believe gathering for a meal is a time to push technology to the wayside and engage in face-to-face interaction, we also know that not everyone shares that same sentiment.

Depending on your clientele, offering free WiFi is a simple way to ensure customers can stay connected. It also makes it more convenient for customers to take and post pictures of their food on social media, which will help increase brand recognition for the restaurant.

On the other hand, you can completely scrap the tech and invest some classic table games to entertain customers while they wait for a meal. Cracker Barrel is the perfect example of this because they’ve taken the world by storm with the infamous Peg Game.

The Bottom Line

In the hospitality industry, customer satisfaction (and customer loyalty) all boils down to good customer service. Making customers as comfortable as possible during their time with you will result in a positive customer experience. These restaurant customer service tips will get you on the right track to success.

About the Author

Caroline Crofton

As an English major at North Carolina State University, Caroline is also the marketing intern for Shift4 Payments. She is leveraging her previous experience in the retail and hospitality industries to create engaging content for small business owners.