Making pizza

Principles of great restaurant customer service

Restaurants are one of life’s truly universal experiences. Everyone is familiar with eating out and that makes standing out at customer service particularly difficult as each patron has previously established service expectations that every restaurant needs to exceed.

To an extent these expectations are defined by the style of restaurant – you don’t expect the same type of service at a roadside McDonalds as you do at a Michelin starred venue – but smaller independent restaurants can find it difficult to define their experience and so the lines of what customers expect can become blurred. If you are eating at a small family-owned Thai restaurant, you expect table service, reasonably quick service, and polite staff – but what else? Everyone expects something different, and so it is hard for these restaurants to define their customer relationships.

Here are three tips to improve restaurant customer relationships.

1. Define expectations

It is important to make it clear to the customers what sort of service they should expect form the outset. Restaurants can hint at this through the decor of the rooms and the prices they charge, but also in how the staff are dressed and how they talk to the customers. Should customer’s be called “Sir” and “Madam” and staff deferential, or is the restaurant a more friendly and relaxed vibe? This is for the restaurateur to decide. If you are opening a new location or online sales and delivery option, maybe even look at publishing a guided tour to help set expectations and build excitement.

2. Consistent quality

No matter which price point the restaurant is set at, customers expect a consistent experience each time they visit, and any changes to favourite dishes should be carefully explained by the staff. Loyal customers are the best source of word-of-mouth marketing, and you want to keep them happy.

If a restaurant or food brand has multiple locations, then the food should be of the same standard no matter which venue customers enter. McDonalds and Starbucks are successful because of their legendary quality control, which means no matter which country you are in – you know what to expect. They are an extreme version, but the same holds true for small restaurant chains with just a handful of locations – consistency is key.

3. Manage wait times

It doesn’t matter if the restaurant is a fastfood outlet or a fine dining restaurant, people do not like being left waiting. Expectations vary, you expect a Big Mac in under five minutes, but a rack of venison from a Michelin starred restaurant understandably takes significantly longer – the important thing is to manage the expectations of customers.

If the restaurant is particularly busy, inform the customers immediately that they may face a bit of a longer wait and manage their expectations. An efficient restaurant relies on its staff to be able to pull harder when things get buzzing, so treat your staff well and train them what to do and say to make sure everyone comes away happy.

Photograph by Engin_Akyurt