If your area is anything like mine, you’ve probably seen a few handwritten signs pleading for patience taped to the doors of your local restaurants and bars. Forgive us, the signs say, we are understaffed. Maybe you’ve even had to make one yourself.
It’s no secret that 2022 was a bad year for customer service, but with a new year comes new opportunities. Despite a shaky economy and ongoing staffing shortages, there are steps you can take to improve customer experience at your restaurant.
By combining fancy new technology and old fashioned hospitality, you can still provide top-notch service and stand out from the crowd. Here’s how you can knock the socks off of your customers in 2023.
Automation in the restaurant industry is here. It might not be wielding a knife in your kitchen or carrying serving trays in your dining room, but smart technology is already having a big impact on customer experience.
Things like online ordering, online menus, self-ordering kiosks, and digital waitlists can automate simple tasks in your front of house, allowing your staff to focus on providing the best possible customer service.
Online ordering is a great example. Processing takeout orders through your restaurant’s website has many advantages over phone ordering. First, many customers prefer it because it’s easier, faster, and puts your customers in charge. With only a few taps on a smartphone, they can peruse your menu, option food how they want, and pay with either a card or a digital wallet.
For your restaurant and employees, online ordering can make life easier too. Instead of answering a ringing phone, taking orders in the middle of a busy night, and processing payments, technology can do it all for them. All your servers have to do is hand the customer their food.
You can also leverage technology with your in person guests too. If you provide an online menu for your customers to check out before they arrive, or while they’re waiting for a table, they won’t have to wait for a server. This can reduce the amount of trips your servers have to make to each table, speed up the ordering process, and increase table turnover, making it a win-win for your customers, your staff, and your bottom line.
Self-ordering kiosks haven’t quite caught on like online ordering and digital menus, but if you are understaffed they can help. Ordering kiosks allow your customers to view your menu, send orders to your kitchen, and pay for their meal on their own, meaning your servers can focus on answering questions and running food and drinks. Obviously this type of tech won’t fit every concept and brand, but if you need a little assistance with staffing issues, self-ordering kiosks might be just the thing.
At your host stand, online reservations and digital waitlists can also help your customers reserve a table or know where they are in line as they wait for one, and your hosts won’t have to update customers or notify them when their table is ready. A simple piece of software can automate all of it.
While they might not seem as groundbreaking as self-driving semi trucks or ai chat bots, these restaurant automation technologies are spreading quickly across the industry, and they can help you provide the best service in 2023, despite economic woes and labor shortages.
Offer a Variety of Dining and Menu Options
In our post-pandemic world, with so many customers still nervous about crowded indoor spaces, outdoor dining can be another way you can improve customer experience in 2023. Not only is it safer for your guests, it can also be more enjoyable.
For whatever reason, people love dining al fresco. Patios offer a more unique experience by embracing your weather and your neighborhood’s personality, and they can be quieter, cozier, and more romantic than the interior of a bustling restaurant, making them perfect for a night out with friends and loved ones.
Of course, patios also increase the number of tables at your restaurant. While this is great for business, allowing you to seat and serve more customers, it can be tough on a staff that’s already stretched thin, but all of the advantages make a patio more than worth the extra effort to make it work.
For those customers who don’t want to leave the comfort of their own home to enjoy all of your great food (not even to pick up takeout), you can offer delivery. If you’re like most restaurants and don’t have your own delivery service, you can partner with a third-party delivery app like Gruhub, DoorDash, or Uber Eats.
Third-party delivery apps do almost everything for you. They advertise your business and menu, take orders, process payment, and cover delivery. All you have to do is get the food out at the right time. They don’t do all of this for free. But their service fees are worth it for most. After all, if you don’t offer your own delivery or partner with a delivery service, you’re likely losing business to competitors who do.
Along with offering a variety of ways for customers to interact with your restaurant, offering a variety of menu options can also boost your customer service. As more consumers than ever worry over the connection between animal cruelty, climate change, and industrialized meat production, more restaurants than ever have started offering vegetarian and vegan menu options.
Staying on top of these consumer trends can better allow you to provide great service to all of your customers. Luckily, the days of flavorless garden patties are long gone. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats offer delicious plant-based patties, wings, sausages, and more that taste nearly identical to meat, making it an easy upsell for many restaurants. Also, consider offering a few gluten-free and dairy-free options, and go the extra mile to accommodate any other dietary restrictions and concerns your customers might have.
Offering a variety of dining and menu options can help you meet the needs and wants of different customers, but it might also require a new menu.
Keep Your Restaurant Clean and Train Your Staff
Next comes those old-fashioned customer service strategies. Strategies like keeping your restaurant clean and training your staff are so well known they can be easy to overlook, but they go a long way toward improving customer experience.
When it comes to keeping your restaurant clean, develop a cleaning strategy and stick to it. Regularly cleaning all areas of your restaurant, including the front and back of house, dining room, bathrooms, and kitchen, is a must. Make sure to include tasks like sweeping and mopping floors, wiping down tables and counters, and sanitizing surfaces.
You should also train your staff on proper cleaning procedures, including teaching them the correct way to use cleaning products, as well as how to properly store and dispose of them. Don’t forget to invest in high quality cleaning supplies. Using the right supplies can make all of the difference in the cleanliness of your restaurant. Consider investing in microfiber cloths, which are more effective at trapping dirt and bacteria than traditional cotton cloths. You should also invest in commercial-grade cleaning solutions that are specifically formulated for use in food-service environments.
While you’re thinking about training your staff, you’ll also want to make sure your servers and hosts know how to provide excellent customer service. Customer service training while onboarding new staff, and periodically throughout the year, can be the best way to set yourself apart from your competitors.
Role-playing can be awkward and unpopular, but it’s a great way to practice real-life customer service scenarios with a partner or group, which can help your front of house learn how to handle difficult customers and situations. Periodic on-the-job training can also provide even your more seasoned servers with guidance and support, refreshing their memory on their roles and responsibilities in a real-work setting.
And if you’re wanting to provide the best possible customer service, make sure your staff is well supported, well compensated, and happy. A happy work environment can breed quality customer service, making it easier for you to keep a clean and enjoyable environment for everyone.
Ask for Feedback
Finally, you’ll want to get feedback from your customers so you can learn where your restaurant can be better. The best way to get feedback is to ask for it. You can do this in a number of ways. You can ask tables yourself, or you can train your front-of-house manager, or your servers, to ask and report back. This works, but it might not be the most efficient way.
A better way to collect feedback might be through a review platform like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google. You can make it as easy as possible for customers by using QR codes on your menu or table tents. QR codes can direct guests to review profiles in a matter of seconds via their smartphone camera app. The easier you make it for them to leave a review, the more likely they are to do it.
If you are new to QR codes, you can find free QR code tools that can make collecting feedback a breeze. Additionally, you can incentivize online reviews with things like a free beer or dessert. Giving away something small might be all the incentive customers need to leave a review.
It’s Always About Customer Experience
The restaurant industry has always known that it’s always about customer service, even if we’ve had a hard time making good on it lately.
Customers who have a positive experience are more likely to return and recommend your restaurant to friends and family; good customer service can lead to increased customer loyalty, which can be particularly valuable in a competitive market or during and economic downturn; and good customer experience can build a positive reputation for your business, which can attract new customers and help establish your restaurant as a trusted and respected establishment in your community.
In 2023, the recipe for quality customer service isn’t much different than what it’s been in the past. Get back to those tried-and-true customer service basics like efficiency, cleanliness, and friendliness, and use technology when you can to help.