As we all know, first impressions count. A lot! When starting a restaurant, a series of bad reviews can break your business, especially at the beginning. In this article, you will find 10 different ways to impress your customers from day one.
1. Don’t open unless you know you’re ready
Aside from your family and friends, your first customers will most likely be those hyped about your concept and food. If you don’t feel prepared to deliver your highest possible service, it’s better to wait for another week, than open too early. You surely don’t want to disappoint that food blogger or Instagram influencer who have come to your restaurant excited to write and post about you! Here is a list of things you should consider before opening your doors.
2. Instead of profit, focus on crisis management and satisfying your customers
When you open a restaurant, the first couple of days will be full of challenges. Things may suddenly stop working, some customers may be unhappy, you may run out of dishes in the menu. These are normal, especially at the beginning. Given that the food accounts for only 20% of a restaurant’s success, make sure you are ready to handle any arising crisis and stop thinking about profit.
If you cannot deliver your full service, don’t let your guests be disappointed, then ask them to pay the full price. If you’ve been particularly slow, or have run out of most dishes in your menu, or something in your kitchen broke and you can’t prepare any dessert, apologise, say it is your first day, then offer your customers something for free, be it the drinks or the food. Tell them you are learning and that you will improve and look forward to seeing them again. Promise them the full experience and choice, and deliver accordingly when the time comes!
3. Don’t book more tables than your staff can handle really well
You cannot expect your team to function like a factory production line. They’re most likely new and no matter how many tests you have all worked on, none of them compares to dealing with actual customers and the emotional pressure of the first days. It’s okay to leave a couple of empty tables in the first week, until your staff gets used to the service and becomes more efficient. Firstly, your customers will not appreciate slow, inattentive staff. Secondly, you will give your team a little buffer time to get used to the pressure of an almost full house.
4. It’s better to over-stock than not have enough
As I’ve noted before, there are two kinds of people who come to your restaurant during your first couple of days: friends or family and passionate foodies. While your friends and families might understand it if you run out of half of the dishes in your menu, you will disappoint the passionate foodies who would be happy to talk about you to their friends. Plus, you don’t want to get some bad reviews from the start, do you? It is crucial that you make sure you’ve got most of your dishes from the start.
It’s better to over-stock ingredients and be ready to prepare (preferably) all your dishes in the menu, rather than disappoint your customers by telling them you’ve run out of what they would like to eat. You can also use the leftover ingredients to thank your staff for their hard work – I’m sure you know the first couple of days are particularly hard.
5. Let your guests know of any issue that can disappoint them
Don’t expect everything to go smoothly on the first day. If it does, you are truly lucky! Most of the times things don’t go according to the plan: your POS system hasn’t been delivered; the ovens stopped working; there are a lot more customers than expected and not enough food. These can cost a customer’s bad experience if they’re not communicated properly. Try to anticipate and surprise your guests. Send a text message to the customers who have booked a table if you can’t take card payments. Post a message on Facebook apologising for the lack of ingredients to cook all the dishes in the menu. There’s nothing more disappointing than going to a restaurant excited and finding out you must walk for two kilometres to the nearest ATM, or that out of the fifteen dishes they had seen on social media, only three are left.
6. As a manager, be there at all times and interact with all your customers
As a manager, you shouldn’t rely on your staff to handle everything in the first couple of days. First of all, the staff may need a little extra support, and it is your duty to provide it. Secondly, your customers will appreciate you caring about them. Chat with them, ask them how their experience is and what can be improved. Listen attentively and be friendly to everyone. Remember: the unhappiest customers are more likely to voice their dissatisfaction louder than the positive surprise of the happiest customers!
7. Treat all customers the same
It is frustrating to go to a restaurant and sit next to the chef’s relatives or friends, who get a lot more attention and better dishes than you do. If you tell some customers you’ve run out of fish, don’t serve it twenty minutes later at a different table. If you wish to focus on your friends and family, it’s better to open the restaurant earlier and spend a whole day serving them and celebrating with them. Treat all your guests similarly and make sure all of them are enjoying their time.
8. Talk about the chef, the dishes and what makes you special
Make your guests feel special – give them the opportunity to meet and greet the chef, and encourage your staff to talk to your customers about the dishes, how they’re prepared, the concept of your restaurant, and anything that differentiates your restaurant from the others. This can imply talking about the fact that you only use local, bio or natural products, or the fact that you use less sugar in your desserts, or that the chef has worked in Michelin starred kitchens, or that it is the first restaurant in the city that delivers specific products.
9. Collect feedback from your customers
Ask and collect feedback from your customers. I cannot stress enough how important feedback is for your business. Ask them what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they would improve. Listen carefully, as some of them might provide you with valuable insights and might give you great ideas for an even better experience. You can do that by talking to them directly, you can text those who booked a table and you can encourage your social media followers to send you feedback. Your customers will appreciate it and some will be very happy to help you get better. No matter how well you’ve done, ask for feedback. At the end of the day positive feedback is always great to hear, isn’t it?
10. Assume your successes and your failures. Be humble
There’s nothing more annoying than a restaurant manager telling their customers that they did everything perfectly and that they don’t understand why the customers are unhappy. It is okay to fail or make mistakes. Some of the customers are just simply more difficult than others. It is important to be honest and assume whatever went wrong. On a short term, you can fix it by giving your guests something on the house, by talking to them and understanding the root of what made them unhappy, by going the extra mile for them. But if you’ve failed to deliver in the first couple of days and do not look back and readjust, it is likely that you will keep failing.
Once the first couple of days passed, everyone will feel more at ease: you, your staff and your customers. However, this is not where your efforts end: keep striving for excellence, be resilient, respond to customer reviews and invest in marketing, but most importantly, keep working on creating a memorable experience for your customers!