By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert
Growing up in the restaurant industry, I would always hear things about how service affected the whole dining experience. I was trained to always make sure that the guest was well taken care of — whether they were right or wrong.
The truth is, what my definition of customer service doesn’t matter. What matters is the customers’ perception of how their dining experience was.
When it comes to perception, there is no right or wrong. It’s either the dining experience was great or it wasn’t. Just because a dining experience in this exact moment isn’t as great as it could be, you can always win over a customer by the time that they leave, as long as you are paying attention to their needs.
But so many restaurant owners are so focused on getting new customers or marketing their restaurant that they tend to forget about what made them special to start out with — and that boils down to service.
Here are three ways to ensure your service is exceptional — every single time.
1. Effective Training Programs and Leadership Coaching
First and foremost, everything boils down to how you train someone in their position. You cannot expect someone to achieve a level of excellence without them being trained properly on every little nuance of the position.
You cannot expect a first time manager to handle upset customers like a manager who has 25 years of experience in the industry. The employee that has 25 years experience also brings their own life experience into assisting the upset customer that the first-time manager probably doesn’t have.
The biggest challenge about training programs is you can’t train everyone for every situation. There will always be a new situation that you’ve never witnessed before. Having the confidence to create a win-win solution comes with time.
Role-playing situations will not only help your team become more confident in their delivery to customers, but it will also make them feel like they are being invested into, which builds brand loyalty.
But the learning shouldn’t just stop at the end of the training program. Training needs to be thought of as a living, breathing thing that builds on itself. You start with the foundation and then continue to build upon itself higher and higher.
In terms of customer service, you start with taking care of their needs. Then you will start understanding their wants and desires. Eventually, an exceptional employee will be able to begin to see trends and personalize every interaction they have instead of reading a “script.” Once they can personalize every interaction with the same goal in mind — creating an exceptional dining experience — that’s when you know your training programs are effective.
2. Secret Diners
Once you have the proper training and employees in place, how do you ensure that the service is exceptional while you’re out of the store? Have you ever wondered why you have been getting poor Yelp reviews about service, but when you’re there, the service is always exceptional?
That could be because they only do their best work while you’re in the store, or they haven’t been equipped with the tools to create an exceptional dining experience for every customer.
Unfortunately, you cannot just hire any Joe Schmoe off of the street to be a secret diner. You could, but you wouldn’t get the best report out of random people. You want to find service-orientated people who know what to look for when it comes to interacting with customers.
Having an effective secret dining program and proper follow-up protocols or procedures will ensure that every customer is treated like it’s their first time every single time they dine in your restaurant.
3. Exceptional Service Lies Within the Follow-Up
Every time there is a poor review on service, it’s 99.9 percent certain that there was no follow-up with the upset customer. Customers are only upset when they have no one to vent their issue to.
This is why it’s important that your staff is trained and equipped with the right tools to focus on following up with every single customer. It shouldn’t be a goal to have the managers touch 75 percent of the tables anymore. The manager should be checking in with every table and every guest who is at that table.
Any upset customer can and should be won over by the time that they leave. A customer should never leave angry about the way they felt their service was. When a manager walks over and asks how they could have improved during the dining experience, it provides people with a safe space to express their opinions.
Remember, it’s the customers’ perception that matters — not yours. Perception is the new reality, whether you like it or not.
At the end of the day, service is no longer seen as a luxury. It is expected that every guest gets a personalized dining experience that they can look back on and say “Yes, this was beyond what I thought.”
Customers will forgive mediocre food, but they will not forgive mediocre service. We should strive for greatness with every single customer and hire the people who agree with this very statement.
It’s time to stop thinking of service as an afterthought because you can put focus on marketing for new customers to come dine in your restaurant. Without exceptional service, you’ll never create the loyalty among customers to have them dine with you again and again and again.
Customer service is the bottom line. When you train your staff to personalize every interaction, you will stick out amongst the competition and you will raise your sales. Exceptional service creates an environment people love to be around and that will mean that they will spend more money in your store. Guaranteed.