Welcome to the essential guide to creating a memorable customer experience in your restaurant! Nowadays more and more businesses are starting to invest in customer experience because they believe it to be one of the greatest differentiators. Making your customers happy makes it more likely for them to come back and ultimately spend more money on food and drinks. How can you make your restaurant stand out from the rest? Read this detailed guide and find out how enhancing the customer experience can benefit your restaurant, how to WOW your customers and what you can start doing to design a memorable customer journey.
Here’s an overview of the article:
- Providing a great customer experience: a crucial factor to strive in a competitive market
- Three ways to WOW your customers and why this should matter
- Do you know all of these, but your team doesn’t apply them?
- Five things you should invest in immediately that will help you improve your customer experience
Providing a great customer experience: a crucial factor to strive in a competitive market
Consumers want experience, not just good food on a plate
In 2016 in London 179 new restaurants opened their doors. With so many dining out options, customers seek not only great food, but memorable, enriching, entertaining and emotional experiences. As a matter of fact, in Europe more than two thirds of consumers are willing to pay a higher price for an excellent service. Moreover, a great customer experience also makes customers willing to spend more money on your products. Are you still wondering why you should invest in building a great customer experience in your restaurant?
The bad review effect
When I am looking for a new restaurant, I mostly use TripAdvisor and almost never pick a restaurant that has 4 stars or less. In my experience, I’ve noticed that restaurants that have an almost equal number of 4 and 5 star reviews are either overpromising (serving poor quality food at high prices, for example), or the customer experience is mediocre. Did you know that it takes 12 positive experiences to equal a bad one, and that people talk about bad experiences twice as much as they would praise a great one?
How you deal with a bad review has a strong impact on how your future customers will perceive your restaurant. Acknowledge the feedback and always reply to it. Be positive and diplomatic, even if the customer who wrote the review was annoying.
5 easy things you can do to create a better experience right now
Providing a great experience to your customers isn’t all that hard, and there are a couple of things you can start doing immediately:
1. Modesty is king.
Always make sure that you promise your customers what you can actually deliver. My most disappointing dining experience was receiving dishes that contained about half of the ingredients they did on the restaurant’s social media profiles.
2. Speak to your customers like you would to your friends.
You can be a fast food chain or a Michelin star restaurant. Being approachable and friendly will give confidence to your customers and make them feel welcome in your restaurant.
3. Don’t just post photos on social media, engage with your customers.
Make sure you’re always there to answer their questions, don’t be offensive (or defensive) when you receive negative feedback, and don’t forget to say thank you whenever you can. This includes making it easier for them to book a table.
4. Be honest.
Nobody expects you or your employees to have a smile on their face all the time. It’s better for your customers to understand you’ve had a hard day than to let them think you are simply unfriendly.
5. If your customer asks you to change your status quo, don’t become aggressive. Try to find a middle-ground solution.
Try to be accommodating. For example, if you are a fine dining restaurant and your customers wish to share the dishes they order in the middle of the table, explain politely that you cannot do so, but reassure them that once the food is in front of every person, they are free to shuffle the plates around as they wish.
3 ways to WOW your customers and why this should matter
You don’t have to do much to create a good customer experience. It is a great one that requires effort. Here are three things you can do to leave your customers filled with awe.
1. The emotional aspect
Quite often customer satisfaction does not only derive from polite staff, good food, a pleasant atmosphere and ease to book a table. To make the experience truly memorable, you need to tap into your customers’ emotions. And what triggers some of the strongest emotions? Positive surprises. Always being a step ahead of your customer, anticipating their needs and going the extra mile are aspects that will create experiences your customers will be excited to talk about to their friends, family and colleagues and most of all, will make them return to your restaurant more often.
My first Michelin experience surprised me with the fact that the entirety of the team knew my boyfriend had a lactose intolerance, because I had mentioned it in a brief message when booking the table. You don’t have to own Michelin stars to pleasantly surprise your customers though, and there is so much to gain from doing it!
What can you do?
- Make a note to your team of any allergies or dietary preferences your customers have, if they provide this information
- Serve something small for free. This can be a piece of your freshly made sourdough with a little butter, a cookie at the end of the meal, or even tea or coffee. €2 won’t make a difference for your business, but they will make a difference to your customers’ satisfaction!
2. Have your dishes in digital format
And be visual. In one of my recent restaurant visits instead of the usual printed menu I was handed a tablet that had high resolution pictures next to every single dish. For once, I did not have to order just from reading words. My appetite grew considerably, and I ended up ordering more than I initially wanted because the starters looked really scrumptious.
You may not need to invest in tablets for all your customers, but make sure you have high quality (and recent) photos of your dishes on your social media profiles, particularly Facebook and Instagram.
- They make it easier for your customers to order.
- They can be the reason why some customers choose to come to your restaurant instead of another one.
- You show confidence and promise consistency in your dishes and are transparent.
- You make it easier for your customers to spread the word about you.
3. Follow up with your customers
A Deloitte study shows that 40% of customers wish to hear from a restaurant at least once a month. The topics they prefer are discounts and special offers, menu related news and personalised messages. This shows your customers that you care about them, while at the same time informing them of your news and enticing them to come back.
How can you follow up with your customers?
- Send a monthly newsletter. Mailchimp let you sign up for free. Their design builder is so straight forward you can put together a sleek newsletter in under half an hour. You can add a signup form on your Facebook page, website and you can even ask for your customers’ email addresses at the end of their meal. But do not add customers’ emails to your mailing list without their consent!
- Follow up with them on social media when they share a photo of your dishes, tag your page or your location. Does someone tag you in their Instagram story? Does someone add a photo of you to their timeline? Send them a private message thanking them for their visit and asking them how it went. But, of course, do that without becoming a stalker!
- Follow up with your customers after their booking. Did they book a table via email or Facebook? Write to them, thank them for their visit and ask them how it went. But do not call or text them if they made their booking on the phone!
Do you know all these things, but your team doesn’t apply them?
A lot of the above points may seem obvious at first, but are they to your whole team? Here are some ways in which you can help your employees share the same goals.
Build a strong restaurant culture, inside and outside of the kitchen
If you would pull one of your team members out of their shift and ask them ‘what are our restaurant’s core values?’, would they be able to answer immediately? Is the answer what you have in mind? A strong restaurant culture means that all team members understand and share the same goals, values, and ways of doing things. However, it is your responsibility as a leader to make sure they do.
How does your restaurant benefit from a strong culture?
- Sharing the same goals means being equally motivated to achieve them. Studies have shown that a strong culture leads to higher levels of team motivation, and ultimately to increased job performance and employee retention.
- Having well defined values and goals will also make it easier for you to make sure you hire the right people.
- This in depth Harvard Business Review article mentions that companies with a strong culture also score higher in customer satisfaction.
Ready to start building your restaurant culture?
How to design your set of values to encourage creating a memorable customer experience in your restaurant
A survey conducted by OpenTable in 2016 concluded that company culture is a top priority for restaurants, and the main reason for it is to create quality food and experiences. Here are some tips on how you can differentiate your restaurant through a culture that focuses on creativity and customer service.
- Empower your team. Encourage them to be who they are and let them express themselves freely. Support them when they need it and provide them with constructive feedback. Give them some of your own time every now and then: go on team building, have a drink together one evening, go play basketball. This will create stronger interpersonal relationships, will lead to higher job satisfaction and encourage them to speak their mind.
- Be transparent. Get your team involved in important decisions, let them know how the business is going, and what your growth goals are. This way you can make sure they are on the same page and understand what your goals are, while giving them a position of importance in the growth of your restaurant business.
- Encourage a culture of learning. You can do that by providing your team with training. If, however, you do not have a large budget, simply organise a ‘skill share’ activity once a week (for example). Then, for every session, choose a person from your team (that includes yourself) and let them share some of their skills or knowledge with the rest of the team.
5 things you should invest in immediately to improve your customer experience
As you most probably know, big changes don’t really happen overnight. To help you improve the customer experience in your restaurant, here is a list of things you should start investing in.
1. Buy and read Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness
“We must never lose our sense of urgency in making improvements. We must never settle for ‘good enough’, because good is the enemy of great.” – Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness
It doesn’t matter that you’re not in the online retail business. In his book Delivering Happiness, the CEO of Zappos discusses some important aspects that are applicable in any business: how to create a strong culture, how to focus on the happiness of your employees in order to deliver great customer service, how to empower your employees, how to encourage them to exchange knowledge and skills. The book is both very useful and a delightful read!
2. Invest in customer service training
“For a company to be truly customer-focused, an employee must understand how important customer service is to the company, how service fits into the culture and how he or she plays a role in it. That doesn’t happen spontaneously; it requires training.”, says Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert, in a Forbes article.
You can invest in a customer service course, invite a trainer to your restaurant, or simply develop your own system of training your staff. This is the most important first step you should take when hiring new people.
Here is a great selection of books that can inspire you in finding the best solution for your restaurant.
3. Invest in creativity training
“Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.” – Ken Robinson
Being able to design a truly memorable customer experience takes more creative, out-of-the-box thinking than rational thinking. It makes you focus on your emotions, on elements of surprise, and takes you back to rediscover your inner self. And what better than designing a service you are willing to pay for and that will delight you?
If you do not wish to hire a creativity trainer, don’t worry! There are plenty of resourceful books out there that will help you solve problems in a more creative way. This book will give you ideas on how to gamify your processes and better engage your employees.
4. Invest in a building a regularly updated collection of photos
Hire a food photographer to come and shoot your dishes when you change your menu. Or buy the gear you may need to make sure you always have updated photos of your dishes. You would be surprised by how little money you actually need to build a small photo studio.
Did you know that our brains process visual content 60,000 times more rapidly than text? Did you know that 55% of users spend less than 15 seconds on your website? On Facebook, photos get 39% more interaction and generate more user engagement than any other post. Having a sleek set of recent photos of your dishes will help you during the entirety of your customer journey, while allowing you to benefit from easy PR content ready for the world to see.
5. Hire a person in charge of communications and PR
Just accept it: do-it-yourself marketing doesn’t work. Having someone in charge of your brand image will help you with various points that you came across in this article, such as: following up with your customers, making sure bad reviews or comments are not ignored, building a newsletter to stay in touch with your customers. Additionally, this is also a great way of adding someone creative who has the potential to bring an entirely new skillset to your business.
Ready to make your restaurant stand out from the crowd? Before you start designing a memorable customer experience in your restaurant, sit down and think about your resources and priorities and make a clear plan. Communicate it clearly to your team, and make sure they are all on board to start the adventure. Finally, if you need any tips and tricks, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Until next time,