4 Ways to Constantly Improve Your Restaurant's Service

By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert

How does your restaurant stand out? There are articles talking about the restaurant bubble and how it’s about to pop because there’s a surplus of restaurants. Having delicious food isn’t going to guarantee that people will keep coming back. Having terrific service isn’t going to be enough.

It’s a specific combination of the food, the service, and being the restaurant in the front of everyone’s mind. But exceptional service is critical to achieving success in the restaurant space.

How can you get your restaurant and your team to be constantly striving for excellence on a daily basis? Here are four ways to constantly improve your restaurant’s service so your restaurant won’t slip into the “mediocre” territory.

1. Turn Your Restaurant’s Service into a System

If there’s anything that you spend your focus on, it’s creating systems within your restaurant to have things run on autopilot. (While still keeping the human side of hospitality, of course.) I was told by a mentor that systems are necessary because they “save you some time, energy, and money.”

How amazing would it be to walk into your restaurant and you hear exceptional service being given to every single guest? There’s not a single complaint and everyone is loving every minute of their experience. Sound too good to be true?

Let’s be honest, there’s always going to be a complaint and there’s always going to be someone not getting the best service. That’s life because you employ humans and sometimes...life is just messy. But Danny Meyer said it best: “A great restaurant doesn’t distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes but by how well they handle those mistakes.”

Create a system for your management team that will allow them to coach the staff to provide exceptional service. Remember, it starts with your training, but then you need a system once the training has ended.

You don’t want the culture of your restaurant to change depending on who the spokesperson is. Everything needs to be congruent, and the only way to ensure congruency is to create systems so that no matter who is in charge, they’re able to snap anyone out of mediocrity and into excellence.

2. Go for the Easy Wins (Lemon Wrap)

This is something so simple but makes your restaurant stand out from others. I have spent the majority of my career in casual-dining restaurants and rarely would spend time in fine-dining restaurants. One of my first experiences with a fine-dining restaurant was with a bunch of friends that I met through my business coach.

We had a mastermind and went out to dinner afterwards. The special was steak and lobster, so I figured it was time to splurge. When the plate hit the table, there was this juicy steak, giant lobster, mashed potatoes with gravy, sautéed vegetables, and right next to the lobster, was this yellow half-sphere that was wrapped at the top.

I quickly realized that it was a lemon and was blown away that someone took the time to understand that no one likes lemon seeds and lemon pulp falling onto the lobster. So, they saw a problem and created a solution. It was BRILLIANT.

But that’s what most restaurants are missing. You don’t need to be a fine-dining restaurant to have this high level of service with a devoted attention to detail. I bet if your service staff treated every table like a fine-dining restaurant, your customers would be blown away.

People will always be willing to pay more with exceptional service. Every time.

3. Focus on a Few Specific Goals

This was a very profound lesson that I learned early on in managing a team of people. Managing people is exhausting and that was because I was taught that you need to correct everything the moment it happens. No matter what.

But when it starts to get busy and you notice a bunch of things that need to be corrected from a bunch of people on your team — that’s going to be a long day. I don’t care how good of a manager you are, if you focus solely on what needs to be corrected and do it in that instance, it’s going to get tiring and you’ll forget why it even matters.

Your management team should be a solid unit. Come together and create specific goals for the week. Then fine-tune those goals until your team perfects them to the best of their abilities. Then, move onto other goals. Of course, there are moments for in-the-moment coaching, but keep it specific to the goals you set.

Focus on the quality of the goals and the intention you want to set in motion, instead of the quantity of times you had to correct someone.

4. Drop the Negativity and Question Everything

Lastly — it’s easier said than done — drop the negativity. Nothing gets done when you focus on the negative. You just feel gross, weighed down, and lethargic. Of course, you need to address negative feedback, but your service will not improve if you never focus on the positive.

Let people know when they do a great job. List specifics. Be involved on the floor and get to hear the opinions of your customers.

The reason why I say question everything isn’t just about following up to ensure your team is doing an excellent job. You know they are providing an excellent experience because you’ve created an effective system. But you need to question everything to figure out how you can get the customers who are in your restaurant back again tomorrow.

I remember interviewing for a management position and they said a lot of people come in 4-5 times per week and 2-3 meals per day because of the high-quality service they received and the food is always consistent.

Never settle for anything less than exceptional. The minute you accept mediocrity is the minute your restaurant begins falling behind. Constantly be looking to improve.

Question everything so you can do better tomorrow than you did today. When you are bold with your service and elevate your standards on a daily basis, you will be rewarded.