By Mark Moeller | When it comes to building a successful restaurant, guest experience needs to be the primary focus. Success requires revenue and revenue requires happy guests who return regularly, tell their friends, and share their experiences on social media.
The way to achieve that positive customer experience – day after day – is through seamless operations and strict attention to detail.
When I go out for dinner at a restaurant, I want to feel that my needs are being anticipated – that my order is taken in a timely manner, that my dropped napkin is noticed and replaced, that my water is refilled. I want the dishes to come to my table in a steady, but not rushed, tempo, and for the check to arrive when I am ready to pay (but not before).
To create that memorable and positive experience requires a clear operations plan that emphasizes training, repetition and oversight. Every aspect of a restaurant’s operations needs to work together – from the inventory and food storage to the meal prep and timing of dishes, to the point of sale system and reservation management.
Below are three key focus areas that impact the guest experience – training, online identity and timing.
In order to orient the attention of every server, cook and bartender to the importance of the experience, restaurants need a training manual for every role in the operation. For a fine dining restaurant, I recommend a 10-day training period for the kitchen staff alone, in order to consistently make dishes that meet the highest quality with enough repetition that they can be produced well under pressure. With this training in place, chefs can turn out dishes of the same quality whether it’s a slow night or one with 300 diners. The restaurant may lose a little money on food during these training sessions, but those costs will be recouped opening night when everything goes smoothly.
For fast-casual restaurants – particularly where most of the operations are handled up front – a four- or five-day training period may suffice. But every person on the team should know their role well and should be oriented toward maximizing the guest experience.
2. Online Identity
The concept should drive online identity — including how guests order and make reservations. The in-person dining experience should extend to the online experience and ease of ordering and reserving a table. Most restaurants, with the exception of some fine-dining establishments, need an online ordering platform that is both user friendly and connected to their point-of-sale system. For those that want to use a third-party app like GrubHub or DoorDash, they need to make sure the app is connected to their system. Any other arrangement will require a dedicated person to manage online orders and will introduce the potential for orders to be lost.
Social media marketing can also be effective, and all touch points should reflect the identity of the restaurant, providing an extension of the in-person experience.
Be aware of search engine optimization and ensure keywords are driving traffic to the right pages. Most often, people are going to look for new restaurants via a search engine and a restaurant needs to appear on Google (high-quality pictures, and good reviews, help too).
Does your restaurant offer catering? Make sure that information is clearly available and appears on searches. Catering offers a terrific way for restaurants to maintain and grow revenue, but only if people know about it.
So much about a restaurant’s success in creating a positive guest experience depends on timing. Are the dishes cooked so that they arrive at the table at the same time, equally hot? Does the waitstaff allow for the proper time between appetizers and main courses? Does the reservation system accommodate early and prime-time diners and allow for the maximum number of turnovers? Do diners feel welcomed or rushed?
One of the reasons for ample training in the kitchen is to find the rhythm when it comes to making dishes with different cooking times so that they are finished together and served hot. It’s also essential to orient the waitstaff to notice and respond to diners’ needs and to prioritize their experience. When it comes to reservations, restaurants need to determine whether they will offer reservations to smaller tables or only to larger groups.I advise restaurants to keep most tables open in order to maximize flow. That encourages more walk-ins and makes people more likely to arrive early in order to secure a table. Ultimately, that means a restaurant will turn more tables, increase revenue, and no one feels rushed.Finally, consider opening a little earlier than posted and closing a little later than closing time – guests who arrive early or stay late will feel appreciated, and they’re more likely to return.