Have you ever wondered how to provide excellent customer service in a restaurant? Well, picture this. It’s 8 pm. It’s cold and dark outside, but we have arrived in the warmest of welcomes at our restaurant. Only five minutes from home but commanding a higher-than-average price, we dine here just twice a year for a child-free date night.
Coming in from the cold, the restaurant is small but cozy with soft lighting and dark walls. It has a distinctive ‘Gothic’ feel to it with large mirrors, over-sized greenery and small candles lining the stairs. The rich aroma of delicious seafood instantly hits us.
We’re quickly greeted by the waiting staff. They don’t know us personally. We don’t know them. But you would never know it. The waiters take our coats as we make small talk about the cold weather. As other couples and large families dine, I can see ‘Crab Gruyere’ with toasted garlic ciabatta, roasted scallops with Pancetta and rare fillet steak. The food looks even better than it smells.
We’re told our table is ready but if we prefer, we can head upstairs to the gin and cocktail lounge for drinks. It’s at that moment I realize why we love this restaurant. The experience starts from the moment we come inside. The decor is beautiful. The restaurant is a warm haven from the cold. Our coats are securely taken care of and rather than rushing us to our table, we’re encouraged to first relax with a drink.
We’ve been sitting in soft, comfy chairs for 30 minutes; enough time to sip most of our drinks. Our waitress approaches and offers to take us downstairs to our table, ensuring we’re never left without a drink while we wait for our bottle of wine. They bring warm, fresh bread to our table with a balsamic and olive oil dipping sauce.
As we enjoy this first course, our conversation turns to the owner of the restaurant. “Do you think she’ll be here?”, I ask. “I hope so”. It’s a funny conversation to have while you’re enjoying a child-free date night, but despite all the experience we’ve enjoyed so far this evening, we know it’s the owner of this restaurant that keeps us coming back.
Thankfully, the owner is here, and she’s walking to our table. We’ve not seen her in at least seven months. It surprises us every time to hear she remembers our names. She asks us how our vacation was (we were telling her about our plans when we were last here), and she asks how our daughter is.
Despite having never met her, she knows our daughter’s name. She only spends five minutes with us, but it feels like a long time when in most restaurants we’re used to brief conversations with the front-of-house staff. She takes a real interest in us and our lives, and we take just as much interest in hers.
After eating our dessert, we’re the last patrons in the restaurant as we’ve eaten slowly and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. The owner comes back to our table and insists enthusiastically that we must try her latest gin to finish our evening. It has some flavors I wouldn’t normally choose, but she insists I’ll love this one, and we can enjoy it ‘on the house’. Sure enough, it’s beautiful and the perfect end to a perfect night.
Serving up an amazing restaurant customer experience: Why you should connect with your patrons at a personal level
It’s a surreal experience to receive such personal service from somebody you have met only a handful of times, but this is the service we’ve become accustomed to at our favorite restaurant. We’re not alone either; the owner works every table in this way, referring to all her repeat customers by their preferred name and making mental notes of names of those who are dining with her for their first time.
The level of service we receive at this restaurant is an outstanding example of personally connecting with your patrons. But how can you do it in your restaurant? Below, I discuss some of the examples from above in more detail, as well as other ideas you can use to provide your customers with an experience that will bring them back to your restaurant time after time.
How to provide excellent customer service in a restaurant:
Remembering Names and Personal Details
We were amazed at how many details the owner of our favorite restaurant remembered the first time we returned. She remembered our names and the name of our daughter, and she recalled details about home improvements we were planning to complete. We were left wondering how she did it.
Does she have an amazing memory, or does she document details and somehow refers back to them when customers return? We still don’t know, but this personal attention to detail ensures we keep returning.
Recording Birthdays and AnniversariesPatrons will often visit your restaurant to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Ensure you write down these dates so you’re well-prepared in case they visit again next year. Click To Tweet
While many customers don’t like to ask for anything special for their celebration, most will appreciate a small gesture.
Rewarding Customer Loyalty
Building customer loyalty should be at the core of every restaurant’s business plan from the very beginning. But building customer loyalty is something that goes beyond offering perks or rewards to repeat customers; it must be part of an overall, customer-centric restaurant strategy. There are two ways you can reward customer loyalty.
First is a formal referral program that allows your customers to recommend you to their friends in return for a discount in your restaurant. The more friends they recommend, the higher the discount they receive. It’s simple, but as with all reward schemes, it only works if the service and experience you provide is of a high enough standard for your customers to want to recommend you.
The second method is less formal and involves empowering your employees to recognize regular customers who would appreciate a drink ‘on the house’, a taste of a new dish or a ‘meet and greet’ with the chef. These things don’t cost you very much, but they show your customers how much you value them.
Using Social Media to Stay Close
When restaurants use social media, they often forget it is supposed to be ‘social’. When you’re using Facebook, Instagram, or any other social network for your restaurant, ensure engaging in conversation with your followers is your priority, more-so than promoting your business. On the occasions when you do push marketing messages to your customers, don’t forget to be creative.
Use images, create a banner or tell a story to catch their attention. When your customers visit your restaurant, ask them if they follow you on social media, and ask them if you can follow them. To ensure the best customer service, conversation in both your restaurant and online must flow both ways between you and your customers.
Stay in Touch Using Email
Mailing lists are a fantastic way to keep in touch with your customers after they have left your restaurant. They’re useful for sharing longer messages that wouldn’t work on social media and for sharing personalized offers to your most loyal customers. It’s now easier than ever to build a mailing list using tools such as Moosend or Mailchimp, and sending professional emails is simple with hundreds of newsletter templates available online.
Sending an email to a customer after they’ve visited you can be a great way to stay top-of-mind and drive new sales, by adding clear call to actions that prompt your customers to make new bookings. You could, for example, add a link to your restaurant booking site to encourage customers to come back, or even share your reservation link with their friends and create word-of-mouth.
Caring for Your StaffIf you're wondering how to provide excellent customer service in a restaurant, then you should know that caring and valuing your staff is part of a great restaurant customer experience. Click To Tweet
It’s a vicious cycle: if your employees are not happy, then they won’t be able to work with passion. If your employees don’t feel happy and welcome, then they won’t be able to make your guests feel happy and welcome. And if they don’t feel good in your restaurant, then they won’t return.
While excellent customer service is critical to the success of any restaurant, showing your customers just how much you care for your staff is, in my opinion, a way of positioning your restaurant above all others. It’s no secret that waiting staff work hard for relatively low pay, so valuing them as much as you value your customers will ensure they work hard to provide outstanding customer service throughout the whole dining experience.
If customers leave a gratuity, make sure they know it will go directly to the waiting staff that served them. Provide staff the time to engage with customers, and train them to see and attend to the smallest details that provide customers with an exceptional experience.
Noticing the Small Things
There are some things your waiting staff can be trained to notice that will ensure your customers leave feeling like they have been truly taken care of. Learn to look for customers putting on or taking off extra layers. If you notice this often, they may be too cold or too warm. Don’t be afraid to speak with them to ask. They’ll appreciate you caring.
If a customer is very obviously pregnant, consider their dietary requirements. Always reassure them you can accommodate their requests. Take note of the cutlery your customers are using. Sometimes a customer might unexpectedly use a piece of cutlery at an earlier stage of the meal. Make sure you replace it without the customer having to ask.
All these things sound simple, which they are. But your waiting staff won’t spot them unless you provide them the training and the time to look for these small signals.
All the above examples can help you provide excellent customer service to your customers, build a sense of community and personally connect with your patrons. By repeating these things during every service, you’re sure to see customers coming back time and again. Learning how to provide excellent customer service in a restaurant is the key to getting repeat business.
Jamie Harrop is a writer for ReferralCandy and CandyBar