From quality food to smiling staff, your guests expect a certain experience once they walk through your doors or order online. After all, restaurant customer service is critical to successful outcomes, such as repeat visitors and word-of-mouth referrals.
But service expectations vary by concept and clientele. What works for a small cafe may not go over at a high-end establishment. That’s why it’s essential to build strong customer service objectives that support your restaurant culture and customer base.
For best results, develop a guest service plan that considers your individual circumstances. Then take active measures to build a strong strategy to address in-person and online customer service.
Things to consider when trying to improve your restaurant customer service
You can’t change your customer service overnight. Instead, you need a communications strategy that gets buy-in from your restaurant crew. Specific techniques, such as setting clear standards on how to greet customers, can improve service almost immediately. Your tactics only work, however, if you tailor them to your restaurant and develop an ongoing program.
Before diving into new restaurant service ideas, study your ideal guest personas, key restaurant offerings, and team culture.
1. Determine what your ideal restaurant guests want
Putting people first is vital to your sales, marketing, and customer care objectives. You have to know who your target market is and what your customers need.
For instance, a quick service restaurant (QSR) operating in a rural area may focus on a mature, less-digital-friendly population, so a short message service (SMS) or text campaign requiring a smartphone may not deliver the expected return in that market.
However, the same technique deployed in a college town delights a tech-savvy crowd. Uncover details about your restaurant guests by:
• Reviewing data analytics on existing platforms like social media or your POS system
• Combing through the feedback left in-house or via online reviews
• Developing polls or surveys to gauge expectations or desired experiences
• Using your experiences with guests to further define your personas
As consumer behaviors change, it’s important to continually update your personas. When selecting restaurant customer service tactics, each should reflect the demands of your target market.
2. Examine service priorities related to your business model
A fast customer service response time is crucial to most business models. Don’t leave customers waiting for your answer on the phone, social media, or in-house.
For many restaurants, tight profit margins and tight staffing impact response rates. It’s tough to stay on top of call-outs on Twitter or Facebook when you’re busy managing a hectic shift. Yet, a slow reply is detrimental to your restaurant. So how do owners balance resources and timely customer service?
• Set guidelines for each customer service touchpoint. These may vary widely from less than five minutes for a manager’s floor visit to 30 minutes for a private message on social media.
• Prioritize communications. Teach staff to rank issues, know when to escalate, and understand your chain of command.
• Pinpoint spots to highlight brand standards. For example, put a note in your menu about longer wait times for in-house or delivery food items.
• Invest in a social media monitoring platform. This tool alerts your staff whenever comments get posted online, enabling a much faster response.
3. Assess how your restaurant culture impacts training
Happiness is contagious, and employee satisfaction radiates to customers. Your staff should echo your brand’s core values and mission. Your customer service tactics must reflect your vision and brand.
Producing a customer-centric restaurant culture requires an ongoing training program. Think about critical customer service skills and how you’ll get your crew on board. Consider these methods:
• Gamify the experience with rewards for knowing the answers to top customer service questions.
• Help team members connect service goals directly to your mission statement and core values.
• Encourage open communication between management and staff to address service issues immediately, without negativity.
5 ways to provide exceptional customer service at your restaurant
Few guest service experiences start or end in-house. Your diners may interact with your brand on Facebook, look over your menu online, and read reviews. Before they arrive, guests already have expectations of your customer service delivery.
Ensure uniformity by assessing all touchpoints. Each service technique should reflect your target market, brand vision, and service model.
1. Improve real-time communication efforts
When a guest asks for a manager, what’s your server’s reply? Here’s the thing, diners watch your staff interact. A server explaining the problem to a manager using hand motions and facial expressions is noticeable. The longer your guests wait, the more impatient they get.
The same goes for online interactions. People expect a timely response. Research by SuperOffice shows, “Over 87% of customers expect a response from your business within 60 minutes — 30% expect a response within 15 minutes or less.” For good service, your tactics should take a proactive approach to customer reviews, feedback, and outreach.
• In-house customer service: Set guidelines for quick information sharing. Get employees in the habit of telling the manager the table number, guest name, and the diner’s chief complaint. Your manager can assess the situation by looking at your point-of-sale (POS) system and review other details later. Right now, they need to go to the table and fix it.
• Online restaurant customer service: Use customer service software to listen for and analyze brand mentions. Social listening tools like Sprout Social alert you to social media posts about your brand or product. Deliver a fast response using personalizable templates. Plus, write down a process and goals for each platform. By prioritizing real-time communications, you’re able to maintain your reputation on and offline.
2. Develop robust customer appreciation and outreach campaigns
If you sit down with your restaurant crew, they’ll give you a list of common diner questions. You’ll also see repeat issues pop up in restaurant reviews or feedback. Identify and focus on recurring complaints. Look for ways to improve customer service using appreciation, loyalty, and informational assets. Service industry examples include:
• Adding self-service options on your website to answer frequently asked questions about delivery times, safety precautions, or food ingredients.
• Employing a social media or messenger bot to respond to queries or complaints in real-time while escalating issues on an as-needed basis.
• Strengthening your customer appreciation program using platforms your diners are familiar and comfortable with.
3. Smooth over customer care pain points
From concerns over ingredients to hard-to-use technology platforms, guests turn to your restaurant crew for help. These problems are amplified if the restaurant staff doesn’t know how to explain the difficulty or ease the friction.
While it’s best to fix the faulty software or have ingredient lists available, it’s not always financially feasible. Instead, give your employees access to the right answers and the most helpful responses.
For example, your guests may complain that they’re not getting a loyalty club coupon until after the expiration date. Or diners may dislike your no-check policy. Create scripts and walk teams through scenarios, so they’re comfortable and confident responding.
4. Refresh and redefine crew training programs
Sitting your team in front of a TV doesn’t work for training today’s employees. Instead, develop a multi-faceted approach to customer service training. It should include interactive experiences for visual, written, and hands-on learning styles. Combine a smartphone application with in-house mentoring for the best results. Develop a fun program by:
• Recreating real-life experiences via role-playing or sharing examples of good customer service during onboarding.
• Adapting the training to incorporate feedback personalized to your team member’s skill set.
• Explaining both customer service tactics to staff and why they’re important.
5. Add automation without losing your customer-centric approach
People want control over faster, easier restaurant experiences. Convenience and customization are top priorities. Common places to add automation are in your ordering, payment, and feedback processes.
For instance, you can automate to get real-time feedback. Customers can use their cell phone or a kiosk to rate their experience, report problems, or make recommendations. According to Hospitality Technology’s 2019 Customer Engagement Study, “26% of restaurant-goers will select one restaurant over another based on the availability of interactive kiosks.”
However, not all technologies are universally accepted. A Toast survey finds, “Over 50% of millennials say a self-ordering kiosk improves the guest experience,” but this may not hold true for your business model or target market.
For best results, add automated solutions that support and enhance your customer service goals and efforts.
Go from good service to outstanding care with ease
Exceptional customer service requires ongoing effort. It’s vital to prioritize your methods, test the results, and quickly pivot to do more of what works. Use these tactics as part of your overall plan to engage and impress current and new restaurant guests.