Six Things That Will Bring Customers Back


It takes only seconds for customers to decide if they’re enjoying themselves in your operation, and whether they’re likely to come back.

Researchers say our collective short-attention-span decline is due largely to our “digital lifestyle,” including our inability to put down our smartphones and other portable devices. 

The best way to overcome this is to raise the bar on customer service. Customers should be able to feel your commitment to their great time from the moment they walk in your door.

Here are six qualities that will capture customers’ attention right away and keep them coming back.

Quality. “Good enough” isn’t acceptable. Strive for exceptional quality in every way. Have each team member define “exceptional quality.” Post the answers on a wall. Then ask how each job classification, from buser to cook, can demonstrate exceptional quality. Make that standard part of their job description.

Appreciation. With mere seconds to show customers how much you appreciate them, hosts have a lot of power. They have to be consistently engaging and keep guests aware of wait-time status for tables. A server’s first words when greeting seated guests should be a variant of “Thanks for coming in.” 

Attention. Your entire team needs to keep its eyes up and open, scanning the environment for guest signals—chairs pushed back, heads up, eyes looking for an employee. It is everyone’s job to respond to these signals. “Not my table” is unacceptable. What that phrase says to a customer is, “You don’t care about me.” 

Responsiveness. Responsiveness has three parts—ask, act, report. Ask questions of each guest and write down what they say. If a guest says something needs attention, act right away, whether it’s a compliment for an employee or a complaint about a dish. Report to the table what you did, and remind guests how much you appreciate their feedback.

A focus-on-others mentality. Every customer is different. Teach your staff to draw out what a customer needs and expects. That way they’ll know to keep drinks filled, stop by the table every 10 minutes, or to bring the bill with the main course because guests are in a hurry.

The experience. Repeat business is never about just one thing. But losing repeat business is always about one thing. A high-performance team will make the dining experience memorable for all the right reasons. 

These six things require an ongoing investment in team development. Remind your team members every day that they need to give customers a reason to come back. 

If someone on your team can’t or won’t deliver on your service commitment, draw them out and flush them out … now. Anyone who’s not contributing to your success is detracting from it. Remember, a business is only as good as its worst employee. In a world of ever-shortening attention spans, you don’t have the time to waste. 

Customers are watching, so pay attention to the details

A perfect meal can leave a bad taste if diners feel ignored, rushed, or pressured. Here are ways to improve service by working on your timing. 

Connect quickly. Answer the phone within two to three rings. Respond to texts and emails promptly.

Greet guests immediately. Greet guests as they enter—even it it’s just to say hello and tell them a host or hostess will return shortly.

Set expectations—and exceed them, if possible. Be up front about wait times. You may even want to overestimate them a bit. Guests seated sooner than expected are happy even before they order.

Attend to seated guests promptly. Guests who’ve waited 20 minutes for a table don’t want to wait long for their server. 

Read guest cues. Guests who are dressed up may be headed to a show; those with papers scattered about may be conducting business. Recognize these things or ask up front.

Determine who’s in charge. Learn who’s the decision-maker at the table. This person helps control the pace by directing you to who’ll order first, who has special diet needs, or how to divide the check.

Be check-ready. End the meal on a good note by not frustrating guests eager to be on their way. Be in tune with the table so that guests don’t have to request the check. But if they do ask, deliver the check with no waiting.  Expedite payment by standing up the check portfolio. When it’s lying flat on the table, that’s a signal for the server to return.

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