By Brian Murphy, Foodable Industry Expert
Guests choose to spend their money at your establishment for a variety of reasons, and while that can be exclusively for the food or the beverages, the overall experience is what leaves a lasting impression. Your guests interact with more than your staff and what’s on the menu — the things they see and touch are more powerful than you think, and can direct the guest experience in a positive or negative way.
Creating the guest experience begins from the moment they enter the parking lot, step on the sidewalk in front of your establishment, or even passing the gutter next to your food truck.
When you yourself get closer to your restaurant, notice your surroundings with eyes wide open, and do it frequently so that you feel the same experience your guests are receiving. Oftentimes, owners and staffs enter through an employee entrance and park elsewhere — this creates a disconnect because you are regularly entering and exiting through a different space, not the one your guests are seeing.
Be sure the parking lot is in good shape and not in need of extensive repair. Ensure there is no garbage, graffiti, or anything else that doesn’t belong. Think about the first and last impression guests are receiving when they must walk past broken glass.
Use the front door regularly. Train your staff to check for cleanliness, lighting in the entry way, plants in need of water or trimming, hinges that need oil, and other details. Set up a painless way for staff to submit maintenance requests, no matter how small. Have a vision and establish expectations, then train staff to recognize and care about that standard during each shift.
The Dining Room
The dining room is the largest opportunity to make your guest’s lasting opinion of the establishment a positive one. Service aside, the intangibles here can easily get lost with larger day-to-day issues and normal operating procedures.
Are the menus clean, complete, and undamaged? Check them for food and beverage stains, greasy fingerprints, or missing inserts or pages. Table tents or tabletop marketing should be given the same scrutiny.
Be sure glassware is clean, chip-free, and good quality. Even a small independent can appear to be so much better when a few more dollars are spent on quality table settings. Make the plates, glasses, and utensils appropriate for the establishment, but opt to not partake in the disposable forks and knives that feel cheap in a customer’s hand and mouth.
Make sure your tables are secure and stable, and watch out for the legs that perhaps sit on an uneven floor. A wobbly table or chair is a deal breaker for guests and gives the impression that you don’t care. Make sure upholstery is intact — not stained or ripped — and that there is no evidence of someone having just eaten there. Bussers should be trained on checking more than just the tabletop to stay on top of this.
Take whatever steps necessary to eliminate anything sticky or uncomfortable. Syrup, cocktails, sodas, gum, and desserts can all contribute to this unsettling feeling for guests. No one wants to step on sticky floor or touch something sticky on or under the table. And most importantly, no one wants to sit on anything sticky.
The standard for guests’ opinion of your overall cleanliness and quality is usually based upon their experience in the restroom. Guests assume that if the restroom is dirty, the kitchen must be, as well. Don’t give one inkling of doubt to your guests and ensure the restroom is in tip-top shape.
This is the case for all establishments, including ones where employees use the same restroom as guests. Training needs to be crystal-clear for employees to check restrooms and check them often. They will appreciate a clean restroom, as well, so keep it maintained for them and they will likely recognize things that need to be improved for guests.
Have a fund set aside for restroom repairs. Graffiti, broken items, painting, plumbing, and the endless supply of paper or linens make restroom maintenance a rather large portion of the budget. Don’t procrastinate when anything needs repair. Ideally, you are having a professional cleaning team come in at least occasionally, but be sure your staff has a schedule to check the restroom throughout the day and night. Keep your restrooms stocked and polished, and you will enjoy high levels of guest approval. Guests will also be more inclined to keep up the etiquette, too. Once you start to let it go, guests perceive that and it can deteriorate quickly.
You are working hard to make your product and service the star, so don’t let some minor repairs or penny-pinching behaviors detract from the whole experience. Know that guests are thinking that “If this is broken or dirty, what else is not quality in this establishment?!” Don’t let that thought even enter their mind. Remember, experience is more than the menu. Take care of the smaller details for bigger rewards.