By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
Service in a restaurant can make or break a diner’s experience. As a diner, how do customers let the server know how they feel? Perhaps a generous tip of 30 percent tells the server they did a very good job. But, does a tip of 10-15 percent say there was a problem? And does management find out that service was exceptional or terrible? Management will most likely find out if service was lacking when a negative review is left online for all of the public to see. But, besides the detrimental effects that review may have on a restaurant, has management been provided any tools about where they can improve in order to not repeat the same issues over and over?
San Francisco-based company Grate has created an App that offers a solution for customers to provide constructive criticism in a discreet and anonymous way. Grate is an iPhone app (it is not yet available for Android) that helps restaurants get information about their servers. Customers can discreetly and privately rate their servers and send comments. In return, management is able to better manage their service staff.
Grate was started by CEO Heigo Paartalu. Based in Silicon Valley, Paartalu came up with the idea after going out with friends to one of their regular restaurants and on one occasion had a bad experience. They did not want to jump online and attack the restaurant but did want to be able to communicate in a beneficial way to the management. The idea was born.
An entrepreneur, Paartalu had spent many years in the restaurant industry, starting as a busboy and working his way up to server and then manager. Food and restaurants have always been of great interest to Paartalu and his experience as a manager makes him very aware of the struggles that managers go through in managing staff.
Paartalu noted that people do not show their appreciation because there is nowhere to show it. Many people do not want to voice their opinion at a restaurant because they do not want to be rude. The public websites sometimes print more negative reviews than positive ones. And many customers scroll through ratings and make their decisions solely based on numbers. In addition, if a restaurant receives negative comments and fixes the issue, the critiques are still online and public.
Grate was created to offer honest reviews that are provided directly and exclusively for restaurant management. The company is very respectful of privacy and will not disclose customer information. At Grate, reviews cannot be purchased. All of the reviews are real and verified. If the system sees continually low scores from one individual, an internal alarm goes off and the reviews are removed.
The Customers’ Experience
For the customer experience, once the app is downloaded onto the phone, customers can search through restaurants in their area or look up a specific restaurant. Grate has aggregated a list of all restaurants through Google and Paartalu claims that “98 percent of restaurants in the world are in our system” So, whether a customer wants to dine at McDonalds or Robuchon, the restaurant is listed in Grate. When looking for a restaurant, customers can review the latest menu and can see the overall scores of servers. They will not see comments as those are for the restaurant only. With this information, the customer can request a particular server or avoid one who has only a one star rating.
Once a restaurant has been selected, the customer can book their reservation and order a car thanks to Grate’s inclusive system. Grate has partnered with Open Table and Uber as “the main goal is convenience,” Paartalu explained. “We want to make customers’ lives as easy as possible. There are a million apps and we don’t want to jump between applications, opening one and closing another.” From the Grate App, the customer’s current location will be noted and the customer will be provided with the navigation to the restaurant and the price options for different cars through Uber. Once selected, the driver will already know the destination.
When the meal is complete, the customer can open the app and will be asked if they want to order a car to return home. They can also rate their server from the list of names provided, or they can add a new name. Customers are asked to score the server on a scale of one to five and to write comments about the experience.
The Restaurant’s Experience
Restaurants do not have to sign up or be members of Grate App. When a review has been submitted, the restaurant will receive a notification. But, like an online dating service, you get more benefits as a member. As a non-member, you will receive a server rating (1-5 stars) but no comments. As a member, you will receive comments and get extensive monthly reports with analytics. Management can search by server or can look at analytics on a specific time, day, week or month.
If a restaurant chooses to become a member, there is a very detailed process to verify that the account is activated by a legitimate restaurant. After 15 days at no charge to test out the system, the cost to a restaurant is $825 per year. At this price, the restaurant receives an unlimited number of reviews and feedback. This cost is a nominal expense when compared to hiring secret shoppers to review the restaurant. Costing $300 to $500 per secret shopper, the numbers will add up for only a few reviews. With Grate, restaurants are receiving a reports from actual customer.
Grate is a young company, having launched in November 2014, and is growing week by week. While their numbers keep increasing, the key to success is the repeat engagement of users. According to Paartula, “Grate has an engagement rate of 78%.”
Grate is also working with restaurants to help improve service based on customer feedback. Paartalu shared the story of a restaurant in New York that noticed that one server was continually receiving low ratings during lunch service. Grate suggested to management to put this server on a dinner shift. During dinner, the server received only high ratings which showed that perhaps some people perform better at different times of the day. Paartalu continued to explain that this particular server only works nights now and has not received a score lower than four stars ever since.
As Grate continues to grow, they are focused on customer service and how to make the business an even more encompassing service. One vision for the future is that the reviews on Grate will be something servers can take with them from job to job. Eliminating resumes, perhaps servers will walk into job interviews at restaurants and let their Grate score speak for itself. After all, as Paartula said, “customers are the loudest voice for a restaurant. High scores and positive comments from customers say more than a resume.”