With the holiday season in full swing and hopefully Black Friday a distant memory, restaurant operators and their teams can now look forward to the most prosperous part of the year. From the moment the doors open on the day after Thanksgiving to last call on New Year’s Day, restaurants enjoy a bustling business that often determines whether they earn a profit for the calendar year. Many restaurants, both corporate and independents, conduct all-store meetings to prepare for the busiest time of the year. Holiday specials, gift card promotions, and new menu items typically encompass some of the important topics discussed during the pre-holiday, all-store meetings. Yet the one topic that dominates pre-holiday restaurant meetings involves the discussion of customer service.
It is a favorite topic of restaurant operators because providing superior customer service is what drives sales. A restaurant can provide value, produce delicious menu items, and maintain an impeccably clean appearance, but that means nothing if the level of customer service trails the level of service provided by the competition. Most restaurants fail at customer service not because they recruit and develop the wrong people, but because they do not understand the meaning of customer service. The operators of these restaurants fall for some, if not all, of the following customer service myths.
“The customer comes first” is a mantra that restaurant operators declare whenever they cannot come up with something more original to say. Sure, guests pay the bills, but the employees who serve the guests are the ones that ensure the guests return. If you do not invest in your service and culinary teams, then you can count on your restaurant losing money. Some of the ways to take care of employees include advanced training, reward programs, and pay raises.
We Should Focus on the Competition
Some habits never die and that applies to the habit of checking out how the competition is doing. Restaurant operators stop by competing restaurants to monitor business volume. These operators have misidentified the true competition: their customers. They should focus on winning over the people who enter their restaurants and not worry about how the other restaurants are doing in the neighborhood.
The Customer is Always Right
“The customer is always right” is one of the first concepts most restaurant operators teach new employees. Unfortunately, this myth can drive a wedge in the relationship between operators and team members. Some customers are more trouble than they are worth. They inhibit customer service by demanding too much of a server or bartender’s time and they constantly complain every time they dine in the restaurant. Do you want to boost employee morale? Stand up for the team whenever a customer is out of line.
We Want Satisfied Customers
I am not sure when the term “Satisfied” leeched into customer service jargon, but it seems to me the term implies settling for an outcome that is less than optimal. You can be satisfied with your shopping experience at Wal Mart, but you should expect to “Wow” your restaurant guests. “Satisfied” is akin to receiving all C’s on a report card. You want your guests’ experiences to be full of mirth and fond memories. Satisfied customers may never come back to your restaurant. You want to provide a level of service that creates lifelong patrons.
We Need New Ideas
Corporate home offices are idea incubators. Middle and upper management teams put their heads together to create the latest customer service innovations. Look at one national restaurant chained initiative called “Service Evolution.” This idea actually created more steps of service and thus, bogged down what was once a smoothly run service-focused machine. You do not need new customer service ideas. You need to abide by the creed, “Only implement the steps necessary to provide timely guest service in a friendly manner.” Anything else is a waste of precious time.
Sidework is an Essential Part of Customer Service
They should string up the person who created this myth. Restaurant operators should eliminate anything that detracts from providing customer service and that means the running sidework many restaurant operators demand from their service teams. One of the Catch-22s of waiting tables or bartending is many restaurant owners expect their service team members to perform running sidework and be on the floor taking care of guests at the same time. Servers and bartenders should be in view of their guests whenever they are not ringing in orders.
Secret Shoppers Accurately Depict Service
Why would any restaurant operator want input from someone who never worked in the restaurant industry? Restaurant evaluators who have no restaurant experience make up the majority of secret shoppers. They do not know what to look for whenever service slows down and they have no idea what servers and bartenders must do when they are not in the dining room. Judging the level of service in a restaurant by computing secret shopper scores is like judging popcorn by counting the kernels.
Electronic Comment Cards Help Improve Service
Many restaurants utilize cyberspace to receive guest feedback. This is an even worse idea than allowing guest to complete paper comment cards. Anonymity entices people to try tactics that help them receive freebies. Guests who simply had rotten days may take it out on team members who provided excellent service. Guest counts give restaurant operators a better measure of guest service levels.
Survey after restaurant survey concludes that customer service is the most important element of a guest’s meal. However, most restaurant operators either neglect teaching customer service skills or they operate under one or more of the customer service myths. Providing superior customer service requires the recruitment of people who possess gregarious personalities, organize their time, and rarely wilt under pressure. Once you find these types of people, you can then put them through a training program that teaches invaluable customer service skills, such as repeating orders back and table maintenance. As my mentor once told me, successful restaurant operators “Hire personality and teach skills.”
We know that is not a customer service myth.