Behind the 5 star review, Part 2

Part II: Keeping up with service standards

With competition on the rise, restaurants continue to raise the bar on all fronts, including service. Friendly and attentive service is crucial to a restaurant’s success, but for many customers, this alone does not suffice.

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Canadians’ affinity for dining out has substantially increased over the last decade; and, as shown by the thriving food services industry in an otherwise slow economy, continued growth is predicted. Industry trade group “Restaurants Canada” reports that national restaurant sales amounted to more than $62 billion in 2015, with over 18 million visits to dining establishments per day.

In fact, Jeffrey Pilcher, a food historian at the University of Toronto, likens restaurant visits to mini vacations. Customers, look to restaurants as places that provide affordable, adventurous and educational experiences; claiming that cheap thrills and affordable indulgences are the last things consumers cut off when budgeting during tough times. Robert Carter, of the NPD Group, attributes the increased demand (in part) to the growth of the millennial cohort, stating that “regardless of economic uncertainty, they continue to be the fastest growing segment of the restaurant market”.

“Cheap thrills and affordable indulgences are the last things consumers cut off when budgeting during tough times”

This has led to a dramatic upsurge of restaurant openings across the nation, opening an array of options to consumers, but also creating a competitive setting for restaurants. This has caused “more independent restaurant [closures] than we’ve ever seen before in the Canadian restaurant industry” claims Carter.

In case you missed Part I of this series, Yelp’s user base is largely comprised of a young, educated consumer base, who hold fresh and wholesome foods, outstanding service, ethical practices and a strong digital presence in high regard when reviewing dining establishments. Part II of this four-part series will discuss service.

Excellent customer service is no longer a bonus, but an expectation. In today’s restaurant industry, it is not enough just to be friendly and prompt.

 

What more can servers possibly do?

In a Customer Experience Report, researchers found that the #1 reason customers abandon a brand is due to poor quality and rude customer service. These items were cited 18% more often than slow or untimely service.

A detailed analysis of service reviews on Yelp reveals a pattern of service expectations that essentially fall under five categories:

1. Personalization of Service

In a Customer Experience Report by RightNow, researchers cited poor quality service as the primary reason why customers abandon restaurants. This was cited as 18% more likely to repel customers than slow or untimely service.

Nowadays, good service is personalized service. Gauging the differences between guests’ preferences; some visitors might feel right at home at ethnic restaurants or fine dining establishments, while others may be new to the experience. Understanding these differences will help you tailor your service and ensure that those who are uncomfortable or intimidated are warmly received and excited by the experience, while those who are accustomed to the restaurant are consistently served competently and attentively.

Understanding the purpose of a visit takes equal precedence. Guests on a date will likely prefer privacy and very little interaction with service staff, while guests who seek new experience are likely to pursue educational discussions about the provenance of food, optimal wine pairings and sophisticated/unconventional cooking techniques.

“… Rasa killed it! I was floored by all the kind gestures and thought they put into my dinner. Looking back to that evening (which I do often), I ask myself how a group of people who do not know me, would bother going so WAY beyond expectations to make me feel special and cared for.”

Yelp review by Itanni B, highlighting the impact that personalized service has on customer satisfaction, and ultimately, retention.

2. Competency

Customer preferences are at the forefront of any service interaction. As per Restaurant Engine’s advice, greeting diners appropriately upon entry, using respectful titles, refraining from interruption and being meticulously versed on the restaurant’s menu are all extremely important.

Servers must also take heed of their customers’ food preferences and align their recommendations with requests, be it allergies, dietary restrictions or an overt preference for specific flavors.

The more meticulous customer might even judge a server’s etiquette, particularly at fine dining establishments. Restaurant Engine suggests that the order of service (women, men, then children), the direction from which you serve food and pour drinks, and allowing customers to ask for the check on their own go a long way.

3. Attentiveness

If a diner must wait too long for you to take their order, receive their first round of drinks, appetizers or meals, the customer is already disappointed, at which point it is difficult to win them back. If it takes the server more than ten minutes to take a customer’s order, staff is either scarce or poorly trained. The same goes with serving drinks (ten minutes), appetizers (fifteen minutes) and mains (twenty minutes).

The following methods may help bolster promptness of service:

  • Consider taking a technological approach to solving the problem.
  • Implementing “speed of service” goals, which can take the form of point-based rewards systems designed incentivize employees to maintain prompt service.
  • Ritual, a relatively new Toronto-based service app gives customers the chance to order their food ahead of time so that its ready for pickup when customers arrive.
  • Automated “self-checkout” systems at fast-food restaurants, ticketing systems, and vibrating machines which notify customers when their orders are ready can all help reduce queues and strengthen customer satisfaction.

4. Pro-activity

How does your restaurant react under difficult circumstances?  Despite a business’ efforts, there will be instances where errors are inevitable, where the focus should solely be on pleasing the customer. Issues can range from food quality, staff inattentiveness, room temperature, volume of music, availability of baby chairs and reservation mix-ups.

  • Timeliness; the faster a customer is dealt with, the less time they have for frustration to build. This will save your business from emotionally charged conflict and ultimately, a terrible review. Once the customer has explained the issue and expressed their opinion, take immediate action to rectify the issue.
  • Listen to your customer’s complaints. Do not at any point disrespect the client, argue against their claims, interrupt them or volunteer your opinion. Sincerity can be expressed through tone of voice, body language and eye contact.
  • Calmly take ownership of the mistake, acknowledge the problem, and apologize immediately, regardless of your personal stance. Never blame the issue on a co-worker, policy or the customer themselves.