One of the greatest challenges for growth — and indeed, the greatest opportunities — is designing an unforgettable customer experience; one that “Wows” and leaves customers with a desire to come back, craving more. There are no better investments than those that go towards creating loyalty and repeat business, and chief among these is designing an optimal experience that leaves the customer wanting more, eager to share that experience with their friends.
In the age of Social Media, this is an imperative business activity, and one that if you get right will lead to massive rewards several times over. It is also an investment that can make all the challenges of running a restaurant business a bit easier by keeping people continually moving through the door.
Below, we share some guidance and a few tips in creating the best possible customer experience for your restaurant, along with elements of the overall atmosphere and ambiance to pay attention to.
“The customer’s perception is your reality.” – Kate Zabriskie
Have you ever stopped for a second to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes? This goes beyond training role-plays and the occasional refresher for your waitstaff on the 7 (or 11) steps of great service. We mean actually starting from the parking lot, closing your car door, opening the front door of the restaurant, feeling the grip of the handle, seeing the small fingerprints on the windowpane, and stepping through the front door.
What are you seeing?
What are you hearing?
What are you drawn to?
If you haven’t done a full, end-to-end experience audit of your restaurant — the good, the bad, the ugly; the things you can control and the things you can’t — you should do yourself and your customers a huge favor and go through one. Documenting all of the little things can often reveal some of the biggest factors influencing the success of your business. Here is a brief list of questions you may or may not have ever asked yourself:
- The Approach – What is the drive approach like to your restaurant? Is there annoying traffic? A lot of speed bumps? Is it difficult to find your restaurant in a crowded shopping area? Is it easy to find parking? Is the walk far? Is it handicap accessible?
- The Exterior Atmosphere – Are there any unsettling noises (like a freeway, or large crowds) as you approach? Is it a festive atmosphere? Is there music playing? Are there any nearby attractions?
- Restaurant Presentation – What is the outer appearance of your restaurant like? Is it well lit? Are there any lights out? Is there any foliage and plants and are they being kept properly? Is there any trash laying about?
- The Front Door – What does it feel like to open the front door? Is it heavy? Is it squeaky? Is it clean?
- Entering the Restaurant – When you first enter the restaurant, what are your eyes drawn to? What do you smell? Did you receive a welcome from the staff that was genuine and authentic? How does the inner atmosphere of the restaurant compliment or contrast the exterior? How is the volume of the music? Can you hear dishes being clanked around in the dish pit? Is there laughter and fervent conversation, or is it relatively peaceful and quiet? Are the door mats clean and free of debris?
- While You Wait… – If you had to wait (as we would recommend you do in order to get the full experience. Keep in mind, the easiest time for the experience to break down is during the busy times), how did it feel to wait? Did it increase your anticipation of the experience, or dampen your mood? Were any small appetizers brought out, or crackers to snack on? Were menus made available to you to start considering your order? Were the chairs that you sat in comfortable?
- Don’t Forget the Kids – Was there any entertainment available to kids while you wait? Kids make or break the experience for most parents, so it’s best to make sure they are kept busy and happy, and not too hungry, especially while you wait. We’ve seen some restaurants bring out animal crackers or goldfish to appease hungry tummies, and even use pizza dough like playdoh to tame fidgety, active children. Everyone has come across a disruptive child at some point, and they affect much more than the parents’ experience. They affect everyone’s experience around them, so it’s important to have strategies like coloring books or mild forms of entertainment at the ready in order to deal with them. It is equally important to equip your staff with tools and strategies for dealing with children who become disruptive or leave an inordinate amount of mess. Be careful, those tools like crayons and pizza dough can become tools of destruction for the disruptive child as well, so make sure your staff is observant and at the ready.
- The Table – When you were brought to your table, were the chairs pulled out for you? If it was a booth, was it clean in the cracks? Did it have any tears? Was the table set consistently and correctly? Was the salt missing?
- The Setup – What did the silverware feel like? Did it have a solid weight to it, or did it feel light and cheap? Was it spotless? Was it put on napkins, in rollups, or directly on the table (we would strongly suggest you avoid the latter and avoid any health concerns and negative consumer perceptions)? Are the napkins made out of paper or cloth? Is the cloth soft, silky, or rough? What is the color of the napkin?
- The Server – What was the mood of the server? Were they engaging, funny, or serious? Did they guide you through the menu? Were they knowledgeable about your questions? Were you upsold? If so, did it feel salesy or authentic? Throughout the meal, did you feel that the service was attentive, overbearing, or unavailable?
- The Meal – Was any complimentary snack, like bread, made available to you while you wait for your food? Was the plating and presentation of the dishes enticing? How was the portion size of your meal? How did the meal taste? Did it meet or exceed your expectations? Were you offered dessert in a polite manner? Did you feel like you were too close in proximity to other tables?
- Closing out – Were you offered boxes? Did you feel rushed to leave the table (i.e. were your plates taken too early)? Was the check handled promptly? Was the check holder clean? Was the check holder standard, or did it have a creative presentation? Did the pen provided to you have ink? Did it feel cheap or was it a solid pen?
- Exiting – Were you thanked on the way out? How did you feel in comparison to when you arrived? Was your table mostly cleared before you left or were your plates still there? Were you offered a mint or toothpick at the host stand on your way out?
A lot of these questions are important to ask because it gives you an idea of the collective amount of minutiae that adds up to your holistic atmosphere, ambiance, and the overall customer experience. It may be easy to brush off some of these questions as over-zealous or too tedious, but it’s important to remember how much each of these small factors contribute to how your customers perceive you, and whether or not they will return and tell their friends. Everyone’s got their things that make them tick; one wrong thing can set someone off, while one right thing can completely win over the customer.
Where to Start?
Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them. – Kevin Stirtz
This is only a brief and incomplete list (consider, for example, how impactful a restroom experience can be on a restaurant’s perception!). It’s important for you to come up with your own list that reflects not only your own store, but the values and experience that you want to provide. For the questions above, the only right answer is the one that you sought to deliver, and what the customer will come to expect from you. There will be natural differences there, but the more you can come to understand all these little things that make up a phenomenal experience, the more you can turn dissonance and friction into harmony and fire.
You can start with interviewing your staff and find a few trusted regulars that will give you honest, in-depth feedback. Go in with an open mind and allow yourself to feel things fresh, as if experiencing it for the first time. Be careful not to sugarcoat the negatives, but rather take each ‘negative’ you discover as an exciting opportunity to turn it into a positive. Every little thing you discover will add up and make a significant difference over the long haul.
Translating the Experience Online:
“You can’t wait for customers to come to you. You have to figure out where they are, go there and drag them back to your store.” – Paul Graham, Y Combinator
We would be remiss to not touch on the digital experience of your restaurant, where your customers go to learn and order online, as this is a direct extension of the brick and mortar experience. In the busyness of today’s world, often the greatest and easiest to implement assets of your business is your online presence. With NetWaiter, you can rest assured that you are set up for success with our marketing tools and beautiful ordering experience that makes it the best online ordering platform out there.
When we designed the NetWaiter online ordering experience, we studied user behavior and optimized the ordering process to promote the best possible outcome for both the customer and your restaurant. All those small details that you pay attention to in your restaurant, we took care to agonize over with even more scrutiny with the online ordering process. We also ensured that we built something that could be easily customizable so that restaurants can build a one-of-a-kind experience that compliments and accentuates what customers experience in person. Every little detail matters, from how menu items are displayed, to how upsells are accomplished, to how easy it is to pay. Our online ordering platform and network are trusted by so many restaurants because we put so much care into this experience.
Test it out today and see for yourself!