It’s no secret that the restaurant business is incredibly competitive. Your customers have countless choices, so it can be challenging to create a memorable customer experience (CX) that results in loyal, repeat patrons.
Delivering an outstanding customer experience offers a way for restaurants to differentiate in even the most competitive of markets. However, customer expectations and preferences are rapidly evolving, so there needs to be a constant focus on understanding how to best serve your guests and cater to their different needs.
Currently, there’s a trend towards guests — particularly millennials — wanting to be served faster and more efficiently. Focusing on different ways you can improve speed of service can enhance CX and assist in increasing customer loyalty. This trend can be seen in things like loyalty programs and the move to mobile ordering and cashless operations where customers can self-serve.
When working to improve your overall CX, it’s important to note that small changes can make a big difference. Start by looking closely at how things operate day in and day out, and you’ll likely identify minor changes that can be made to your operations easily, but will have a surprisingly big impact.
This blog will discuss three strategies for improving restaurant efficiency and driving guest loyalty.
Make peak dining times more efficient and optimize the reservation process
When it comes to making your peak times run as smoothly as possible, reservations are often an area that can create challenges. While online reservation services like Open Table have improved the reservation process and changed customer expectations when it comes to reservations, guests still find their needs aren’t met, as reservations aren’t available during certain high volume times or blackout periods.
The solution to this customer frustration is for restaurant owners/operators to offer more flexible options to serve guests and put measures in place to ensure they have a full house while preventing guests from waiting tirelessly for a table.
A “wait list” is a common procedure many restaurants use, but it can often be ambiguous as it is hard to quote wait times for guests.
A way to make this process more efficient is to create an On Waiting List (OWL) system for reservations where the guest’s name is put on the waiting list, and a table is set aside as close to their reservation time as possible. The guests may then have to wait 15-30 minutes even if they arrive at their preferred reservation time.
The benefit of the OWL system is that people walking in the door who didn’t call ahead will be put on the waiting list below those waiting on their OWL reservation. Using the OWL approach means people that make a reservation don’t wait as long, and the restaurant isn’t turning down reservations completely. Best of all, the restaurant isn’t stuck holding tables for reservations at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and turning away business during peak times because they have flexibility with reservation start times. This gives guests the ability to secure a table during peak hours when reservations would normally be refused.
The process can be further optimized with reminders via text or email, such as confirmations and reminders to change reservations if the group size changes.
Outside of the challenges with reservations, every restaurant faces times when they’re completely slammed, such as the lunch rush wherein a single 90-minute period, they need to get people in and out quickly.
If your goal is to create loyal customers, efficiency during peak times matters. Guests will return time and time again to a restaurant that can get them back at their desk within their lunch hour.
There are many other areas within your restaurant where the level of efficiency impacts your customer experience.
For example, ensuring you have adequate staffing during peak times and tracking trends so you know exactly when your peak times occur is critical. It’s not just about having enough serving staff; you need to have a fully staffed kitchen and an appropriate number of support staff available to keep your peak times running smoothly.
Things like an overly long wait time when it comes to taking guests’ orders or using the POS to pay their bill can be a huge turnoff and have a negative impact on CX.
Most of all, communicating clearly with guests to help manage their expectations is critical. If people like your restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere and food, they’re generally willing to be patient when things are busy — as long as they know what’s going on. Nobody wants to feel like they’ve been left hanging, so your staff needs to make a point of keeping guests up to date throughout their experience.
Gather and act on customer feedback
Most restaurants have specific standards for their operation or brand, but it’s challenging to ensure that those standards are upheld at each location or even on a specific shift.
Offering a consistent experience — no matter the location or time of day — is something customers expect, so gathering customer feedback is a critical part of being able to measure and manage your customer experience.
Most restaurants offer comment cards or an online survey that customers can fill out, but unless these are pointed out to your guests, they will often be missed. Ensuring your guests know you want to hear from them about their experience is something all of your staff should be trained to proactively promote to customers.
Mystery shopping is another avenue you can pursue to get an unbiased third party opinion of what is happening in your establishment. From what happens when they walk in the door to the speed of service to their overall satisfaction with their meal, mystery shopping can provide an end-to-end view of your restaurant’s experience.
Once you have this feedback to work with, then you can take action.
The process of collecting feedback is only helpful to CX if there’s a focus on acting on feedback in a timely manner. There need to be action plans put in place to address feedback and improve processes, and these need to be mapped out with a timeline and specific steps that’ll be taken. For example, following up with a customer directly can be a great way to recover after a poor experience. When something happens in your restaurant, your staff should be trained to immediately attempt to resolve the issue. If someone gets the wrong meal and ends up having to wait an extra 20 minutes for what they actually ordered, your go-to solution could be to waive their bill. While in this case, the issue was resolved when the customer left, a follow-up call or email to see if they are satisfied with the solution can go a long way to building loyalty. Your customers want to feel as though you care about their business, so taking five minutes after the fact to follow up can be the difference between them sharing how much they love your establishment — or them never returning.
Showing customers that when they talk, you listen, is one of the best things you can do to ensure they keep coming back.
Train staff and ensure they take daily action
In a restaurant, each individual employee has a significant impact on CX, and much of that comes down to ensuring daily actions are executed as required.
The experience provided at your restaurant depends on having highly trained staff, and this starts at the beginning of their time with your business and should be ongoing. When looking at your training programs, consider what you have in place for ongoing education or even the certification of staff.
Consistently informing staff of changes and modifications to processes as they happen is how you can ensure they’re ready to be of the highest service to customers on every shift. This can be done through a regularly scheduled staff meeting or a briefing at the start of each shift.
To enforce policies and procedures on a day-to-day basis, mobile checklists can be incredibly helpful. These checklists ensure that staff follow procedures and for management to verify execution. This helps to identify and address any issues and helps to deliver a consistent experience for guests on each visit.
According to Upserve, in 2017, the hospitality industry saw an over 70% turnover rate. This number is indicative of how challenging employee retention is in the restaurant business. Creating and fostering an environment where employees plan on staying for the long haul goes a long way when it comes to customer experience.
Everyone loves going somewhere and sitting in their favorite waiter’s section or having a chat with the host who knows their name. These little things are what customers remember and make them more likely to come back time and time again.
No matter what systems and processes you decide to implement in your restaurant, the bottom line is that better efficiency promotes greater customer loyalty. If you want your customers to keep coming back for more, consistency and efficiency is always going to be the key to success.
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