8 Tips to Provide Exceptional Restaurant Customer Service
They call it the service industry for a reason. Restaurants are in the people business, relying heavily on customer interactions and providing a unique and consistent experience. Your menu might be what brings people to your doors, but your restaurant customer service will be an essential component in bringing them back. It’s also a great way to lower your customer acquisition costs.
The cost of acquiring new customers can be anything from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones. While this doesn’t mean you should stop trying to acquire new customers, it does mean that investing in your restaurant’s customer service and keeping existing customers happy will be a more reliable way to increase your restaurant sales.
From personalizing the customer experience with data to providing a smooth payment experience, we’ll give you the customer service tips you need to keep guests coming back for more.
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What is restaurant customer service?
Customer service involves every interaction your restaurant has with a customer. This can be anything from answering questions about the menu to responding to a negative review on a website. Restaurants now have multiple touchpoints with customers and this means providing consistent service across platforms, locations, and ordering methods is essential to maintaining a positive image and customer loyalty. Having a great online image and inviting decor is a great way to get new customers, but it won’t mean much if their experience falls flat upon arrival. Once they reach your restaurant, your dishes and service will need to do the heavy lifting so that their expectations align with reality.
8 tips to provide exceptional restaurant customer service
1. Offer staff restaurant customer service training on a regular basis
While dealing with customers might be second nature to some of your staff, providing regular and rigorous customer service training will help ensure your entire team is aligned with how your restaurant experience is meant to be. A lot of your training will revolve around providing important information on how to interact with customers and what to do during specific cases—anything from upselling menu items to handling difficult customers.
- Recurring customer service training programs: Whether you’re training new staff members, or just offering a refresher course on a quarterly or bi-monthly basis, make sure you outline training opportunities in a calendar for your staff on a regular basis. A one-time training might not do the trick especially if you have new staff coming in regularly.
- Employee shadowing: Shadowing takes place when new employees, or existing employees training for a new position, follow or “shadow” another staff member throughout the day to learn the tricks of the trade. This is a great way to show trainees practical tips and real-life examples of how to put them into practice.
- Restaurant employee handbook: While training only takes place on select dates, an employee handbook is a great source of information for employees to turn to whenever they have doubts or questions. This is a great place to incorporate specific language or scripts that employees should use in their day-to-day.
2. Be consistent across customer touchpoints and channels
The customer experience begins way before a customer even sets foot in your establishment. Every piece of communication or advertising starts setting an expectation of your restaurant and how the service will be. Phone calls, social media posts, comments, or emails are all part of the service a customer might come across before they get to your doors. If a customer has completely different experiences at each touchpoint, it can end up diluting your brand and their perception of your restaurant. During your training, make sure to educate your employees on the different channels customers might use and how they should communicate with them on each channel.
Managing alternative revenue streams
With more restaurants offering additional options like takeout and delivery, your staff will likely interact with customers who are ordering in completely different ways. Whether they’re dining in, ordering takeout, or opting for delivery, customers should experience the same level of service. Spend enough time training your staff on how to interact with customers that come in to sit down but also train them on the specifics of handling takeout orders. Some customers might be ordering through third-party delivery providers, and while this gives you little control over the final handoff, you should still be ready to provide the right level of service if there are any issues with an order and customers call you with complaints or concerns. With restaurant customer service, the name of the game is consistency no matter where your customers are interacting with you.
3. Opt for a cloud-based and intuitive point of sale
The tools you use can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy. Your customer service will rely heavily on the type of restaurant management platform you use and that means you need to find an option that’s easy to use and adapts to your workflow.
Employee turnover is a fact of life for all restaurants, which means you’ll likely spend a lot of time training new employees. Whether they’ve used different point-of-sale systems in the past, or are just starting out, you need a restaurant POS that will accommodate the seasoned veterans and the newbies. Having staff that can quickly pick up a tablet and place an order, even if it’s their first week on the job, will save you many headaches with new staff, and will help ensure a more consistent service.
Your restaurant customer service will also depend on how quickly you can make changes to your floor plan or move customers from the bar to the table for example. Make sure your POS can help you make quick changes and even keep you serving when the internet is down.
4. Personalize the restaurant customer service experience using data
How well do you know your regulars? If you have customers that come in on a regular basis, offering a personalized touch to your service shows them you appreciate their business and you take their comments and preferences seriously. A lot of this can be accomplished with proper training. One method involves making sure staff is prepared to take note of names and preferences of regulars. A more analytical method is to use your restaurant management platform and loyalty platform to gather data about specific customers and cater your offers to them based on this. By creating customer profiles and adding specific information about their order history, dietary restrictions, and preferences you’re able to keep track of your customers’ visits and improve their experience with every visit.
Know your menu and details by heart
Whether it’s a question about the evening’s specials or about specific ingredients in a particular dish, customers will always have questions about the menu, and staff needs to be able to answer them with confidence. Part of your restaurant customer service training should involve rigorous studying of the menu, followed by questions and practice runs where you ask specific and common customer questions to trainees. Make sure to throw some curveballs to mimic what an unusual customer menu question might be.
Knowing your menu also means knowing which dishes might pair well when ordered together. This is also a great moment to guide customers through your menu and upsell them on specific dishes. If you have a cloud-based point of sale system with analytics like Lightspeed, you’ll be able to also train staff with advanced insights on best sellers and underperformers and use that data to guide customers strategically around your menu.
For fine dining restaurants with changing menus, always make sure to give staff a rundown of what will be offered in any particular service. If you have an extensive wine menu, educate your servers on wine pairings, or make sure they know to refer guests to your sommelier if you have one.
6. Address negative feedback and complaints
While no restaurant hopes for negative feedback, it’s part of the bread and butter of working in the service industry. When dealing with this type of feedback, the way your staff responds will determine if customers will keep coming back or will take their business elsewhere. A lot of the time, customers just need to be heard. Making sure your staff has the soft skills and empathy to listen to customer concerns and respond in a way that makes them feel understood and heard is essential in maintaining a positive relationship.
It’s not just about listening; however, it’s also about properly addressing complaints to ensure the issues are resolved, and informing customers what you will do to solve the problem. Restaurant managers need to have a system in place so that complaints get the necessary attention and follow-up. This could be a debrief after each service to take notes of all the positive and negative feedback and start brainstorming ways to fix outstanding issues. A complaint can easily be turned into a success story and a lifelong customer if feedback is addressed in a timely manner.
7. Offer a seamless reservation experience
Reservations are an important part of the restaurant customer service experience and key in the planning of each service. Properly taking reservations gives restaurants an overview of how a particular service will look like, and how to get ready. It’s also an opportunity to start creating a connection with the customer and find out their needs before they arrive. When receiving reservations, make sure to add notes and details about the guests and their particular requests. Are they celebrating a special occasion? Will they need a highchair? Are there any dietary considerations to know beforehand? Having all of this information beforehand will help ensure a seamless experience from the minute they sit down at the table.
One way to make sure your reservation information is accurate and up to date is to opt for a reservation system that integrates with your point of sale. This will reduce the chance of human error during reservations and ensure all your information is in one place.
8. Smooth out your payment process
Just because the meal is finished, doesn’t mean the customer service journey is over. Closing out a bill is an important part of the experience. If the process is overly complicated or if wait times are too long, it can easily leave customers with a sour taste.
Customers have enjoyed their meal and are ready to go home, and all they want is a swift and painless payment experience. There are several ways you can go about tackling payments. One option is QR code or online ordering. With QR code ordering customers can pay directly from their phones. This gives them more control over their experience and lets them decide when to close out their bill. With this option, your staff can spend more time making sure their evening has been perfect, and customers don’t need to worry about wait times.
Ideally, your payment processing is integrated into your process to ensure a unified experience throughout. By opting for a solution that is fully integrated with your point of sale you’ll be able to offer faster transactions and eliminate errors related to manual entry. Whether you’re just splitting the bill between two, or 15, it’s essential to have a payments solution that lets customers pay the way they want without a hassle.
Give customers a restaurant experience they’ll remember
Customer service is about meeting or exceeding expectations. Building a relationship with customers takes time. Investing in your customer service is the first step towards creating an experience that keeps them coming back for more. With one-stop tools, regular training, and a data-driven and personalized approach to service, you’ll be well on your way to building a long-lasting experience that does justice to your restaurant’s brand and your customers.
Source: Tess Bemporat, lightspeed