Picture this: You’re standing at the back of your restaurant, observing guests walking through the door while your staff makes little to no effort to acknowledge them. It’s a cringe-worthy moment because what happens in those first few minutes sets the tone for the entire dining experience.
In today’s world, creating an exceptional dining experience is more vital than ever, with challenges like inflation and the ongoing labour shortages still plaguing the industry.
Experts say operators must go the extra mile to turn occasional customers into regulars, which begins with delivering top-notch service.
According to Laura Taningco, Gordon Food Service® business solutions specialist, quality front-of-house service is the secret sauce to customer satisfaction. “Operators need to see things from the guests’ perspective,” she insists.
Recent data indicates that lower service quality keeps more folks at home rather than dining out, negatively affecting operators.
“When people do come into your restaurant, your No. 1 goal should be to give them an experience that exceeds their expectations and brings them back again,” Taningco advises.
Customers Want More Than Just Good Food
Customers crave a valuable dining experience; the key is offering “consistency, convenience and quality,” Taningco says.
Matt Dyson, a Gordon Food Service business solutions specialist, said putting those three elements into action is a powerful way to counteract what experts call consumer “trade-down” activity, where people spend less on dining out. It’s a trend, with QSR/Fast Food traffic rising while full-service restaurant traffic is taking a hit.
Why does this happen? It’s about not meeting customer expectations, Dyson said. A guest’s experience starts even before guests enter the door – think websites, social media and online menus.
Here’s what Gordon Food Service experts say is most important to the overall success of the dining experience:
- Consistency is crucial. It’s what customers want, something they can count on. Taningco points out that McDonald’s is an example of an operator nailing that consistency. Customers know what they will get from the moment they place their order.
- Convenience counts. When service suffers, the dining experience becomes anything but convenient for a guest. Online ordering, take-out and delivery should be easy. Guests don’t want to have to work for it when it comes to placing, picking up and receiving an order. Operators should provide guests with what they can’t make at home or easily get elsewhere.
- Quality remains top of mind. With almost half of Americans looking to dine out to socialize, they can also experience quality through the restaurant’s atmosphere. That means keeping the operation inviting and clean –inside and out – makes a difference.
Know Your Audience
Stephane Renaud, Gordon Food Service business solutions specialist, emphasizes that operators must understand their audience. Tailoring online interactions to cater to the customer base is a smart move.
“It’s about demographics and digging into what makes your customers tick,” he said. Training staff to know and understand the patrons will also result in returning customers and better profits.
“For years, operators have focused on chefs and food and neglected the utmost importance of service and front-of-house experience. Training for waiters is lacking, and we feel it in many restaurants,” Renaud said.
He observed the fine-dining segment continues to train their staff, but he said most “mid-scale” restaurants haven’t prioritized training.
It’s about going beyond customizing an employee handbook. Taningco suggests one-on-one sessions with front-of-house staff to ensure they understand expectations. It’s the little things that have the most significant impact, she said.
“When servers greet each table, they should do so with a genuine smile, a mindset to exceed the guests’ service expectations and gratitude by thanking guests for choosing to dine with them. That’s hospitality,” she said. She said the check presentation should also be seamless, with an invite to return and another thank you from the server for their business.
Those positive interactions are what leave lasting impressions on guests. And word of mouth is potent: Happy customers can become an operator’s biggest fan.
“We need to put some love back in the front of the house,” Renaud said. ”More people will come to your restaurant for the whole experience and not only for food.”