Think carefully about the last time you visited a restaurant. Whether you called for delivery service, ordered carry out, or enjoyed dine in service, you may have experienced subpar service at some point in the experience.
- Was the person who answered the phone smacking gum in your ear?
- Was your food delivered cold?
- Did the server seem bored or bothered?
Poor customer service is one of the most cited reasons customers do not return to a restaurant. And although repeat customers only account for 15 percent of a typical restaurant’s customer base, that 15 percent is responsible for nearly 1/3 of a restaurant’s revenue.
Simply put, returning customers can make or break a restaurant. Going a step beyond and building customer loyalty with 5% more customers can easily lead to an increased average profit per customer of between 25% and 100%, according to a Harvard study.
If you’re looking to increase restaurant revenue, here are seven actionable customer service tips and a few resources to help:
1. Establish Standards
Establishing customer service standards sounds so corporate and boring, but within the restaurant industry, outlining and enforcing an expected level of performance prevents ongoing headaches.
Here is how to make that happen:
- Hire the Right People. Skills can be taught, but hiring front of house staff that naturally embody the culture of the restaurant is priceless. For a more formal environment, it may be important to hire a more subdued staff who are well trained in etiquette. For a fun, casual environment, consider hiring staff that are more high energy.
- Create a Persona. Outline the ideal level of customer service in clear terms. Create the persona by asking questions like, “What makes Sally so personable?” and “What greeting and farewell will our brand use?” Write the standard down in the form of a persona and share at the next front of house staff meeting.
- Create a Handbook. Something about putting the standards in writing seems to stick better with employees. A clear, concise handbook establishes expectations and standards of conduct. If your restaurant is one of the 8% of small businesses that report not having a handbook, get started on one with help from the SBA.
2. Make Upselling the Standard
Upselling is an easy way to increase sales right away and with little effort.
According to the book Marketing Metrics, restaurants have a 5-20% chance of gaining a new customer, but the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%.
Upselling is a no-brainer. Training staff to seamlessly upsell in a way that leaves the customer feeling that they received an upgraded level of service increases sales and ensures repeat diners.
- Provide Useful Suggestions. Rather than reciting a script of specials or upsells, servers and phone staff should practice consultative selling that will be viewed as quality service.
- Use Descriptive Words. In order to make the upsell enticing, staff can use descriptive words to encourage the sale. For example, rather than asking if the customer would like an appetizer, introduce a specific, high profit item by saying, “I would love for you to try our signature appetizer, the garlic roasted focaccia bread with our zesty olive oil, balsamic blend. May I bring one out?”
- Make Assumptions. Customers prefer to respond in the affirmative. One way to leverage this into an increase in sales is to assume the higher end sale. For example, when a delivery customer orders cheese fries, staff may respond with, “A large cheese fry?”
3. Maximize Carry Out and Delivery Potential
The pace at which the restaurant industry has begun to adopt technologies is astounding and the delivery and carry out segments have been the most affected.
Ramping up marketing for delivery and carry out orders is smart, as it is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry.
If your restaurant does not use a third party service, like Grub Hub, for deliveries, getting your delivery service in order is essential for high profits.
- Establish an Online Order Platform. Online ordering software, such as ChowNow, allows customers to order directly from your existing website for either take out or delivery. Online ordering allows for a less chaotic phone handling situation and simple reporting.
- Improve Phone Handling. Let’s face it-phone handling is rarely a strength of front of house staff. But, improved phone handling can increase sales dramatically. Using a call recording and call scoring tool, such as Call Informer, can help to hold staff accountable while on the phone and maximize revenue potential.
- Create a Delivery System. Delivery drivers are part of the customer service chain, as well. Setting up a system where delivery drivers handle details such as packing condiments and tracking direct routes will increase the chances of the customer receiving fresh, hot food with everything they need to enjoy.
4. Address Negative and Positive Reviews
Consumers are relying more and more on reviews for their decision making about where to shop, which products to buy, and where to eat.
According to BrightLocal, 88 percent of consumers surveyed reported reading reviews to size up local businesses.
Without a strategy in place for handling negative reviews, poor feedback can remain on the internet forever, continuously impacting profits.
- Claim Review Accounts. Unless free accounts, like Yelp, are claimed by the business owner, you will not be able to respond to reviews. Get in the habit of responding to positive and negative reviews so that customers know that you are paying attention.
- Keep Calm. Although it is natural to get defensive, the priority should be to restore your reputation, not prove that you are right.
- Make It Right. Addressing the specific concern of the review and solving the issue by offering a refund, a future meal for free, or any concession, is the priority. Once the offer is accepted, encourage the customer to revise the review.
5. Invest in Ongoing Training
Training restaurant employees is not a “one and done” situation. Retraining is important for reinforcing customer service standards and maintaining a company culture.
Restaurant Owner has developed comprehensive Training Manual Templates for both the back and front of house that assist managers and owners with continued training.
The National Restaurant Association recommends implementing e-learning training systems such as:
- Mindflash. Develops training programs using a restaurant’s existing content and assists with management and reporting
- Call Informer. Records delivery and carry out phone calls, scores the according to the restaurant’s standards, and provides employee performance and progress reports all from a convenient dashboard
- eTraining Staff. Replaces employee training manuals and provides specific modules for online training each front of house position
6. Make Order Accuracy a Priority
Order accuracy, especially delivery or carry out orders should be part of a “best practices plan.”
There are few things more annoying than opening a carry out bag with expectations to realize that your order is wrong.
Earning trust and loyalty has everything to do with order accuracy.
- Use technology. Food carry out and delivery technology is easy to use and has become very affordable.
- Outsource delivery. If you can’t seem to get it right in house, do not risk your reputation any longer. Outsource to a third party delivery service.
- Encourage communication. Delivery drivers are an extension of the front of house and should be managed as such. Encouraging teamwork and communication between hosts, servers, and drivers can create a seamless system.
7. Warm Welcome and Farewell
This should be obvious, but, sadly, is not a standard for all front of house staff.
No one likes a surly host or server, although it can be a thankless job.
Training staff to put on a smile and act happy will improve sales, tips, and eventually everyone’s mood. Start with the basics:
- If your brand has a standard greeting, staff should use it every time. And not in a way that sounds like reciting spelling words. If not, encourage your staff to smile and greet each customer in a warm and welcoming way.
- “Please” and “thank you” still go a long way. Manners are especially important while taking phone orders when customers can’t see the smile.
- Showing appreciation as a guest is leaving will leave a positive impression that will stick with them until the next time they dine with you.
Restaurants that embrace hospitality, the relationship between a guest and front of house staff members, by using these seven tips, will realize continued growth and an increase in sales.
Some of the tips will yield immediate results and some are long term strategies, but all of them will improve service and cultivate regular customers.
Do you have an original front of house customer service tip that wasn’t mentioned? Share it with us in the comments.
Author Bio: Julie Wilson has a M.P.S. in Publishing from The George Washington University. She currently writes for several blogs in various industries and is the Marketing Director/Partner of ProblemSolutionHQ, a software company committed to developing simple solutions for small businesses. She is currently focusing on streamlined restaurant solutions with the launch of ProblemSolutionHQ’s latest product, Call Informer.