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Suzi Shopper: Some Surprisingly Simple Advice to Improve Restaurant Service

Suzi Shopper: Thoughts on business from a consumer’s perspective

I invited my niece out to lunch earlier this week to thank her for always being available to help me out.  She gives me peace of mind, so I wanted to treat her to a meal at her favorite restaurant.

We met just before noon – ample time to enjoy a nice meal and get back to the home office before my 1:30 meeting.  We placed our orders (an appetizer and two bento boxes – standard lunch fare for this particular establishment) and waited…and kept waiting.  We waited for over 30 minutes, and all the while, everyone around us was being served, eating, paying and heading back to their day.

FINALLY, when I mentioned to our server that I had a meeting to get to, he apologized, stating that they were short staffed in the kitchen. Hmmm…so he tells me now, instead of setting my expectation up front, before I am agitated? Or better yet, to keep me from getting agitated? And what about the managers I saw out in the dining room?  They couldn’t pitch in to keep things rolling?  (And that still didn’t solve the mystery of why everyone else got their food in a timely manner.)

Anyway, I will go back to that restaurant again. Honestly, we don’t have much to choose from in my little town, and the food there is good. But I wonder: If I lived in a larger city, where there were other choices, would I ever go back? Restaurant owners, keep that statement in mind. Do not forget for one minute that your customers have that choice every single time they choose you over another restaurant…and they can just as easily make another choice after an unpleasant experience. We’re a fickle bunch. Sorry.

Wait…no, I’m not sorry. I am not fickle or picky or high maintenance. I’ve worked at restaurants, so I understand how it is. What I do expect is to be informed of what’s going on. If the kitchen is backed up or there is a problem with my order, just tell me when to expect it. Let me know you haven’t just plain forgotten me. How you handle difficult situations is as much a part of good customer service as how you behave when things are running smoothly.

As a restaurant owner or manager, what, if anything, do you do to train your employees to handle situations that go south? When you’re short-staffed? When there’s a foul-up in the kitchen? Or simply when a customer doesn’t like their food? And as a manager/owner, what do you do to help during a crisis? Let me tell you—it looks bad when you have unhappy customers and you appear to be above rolling up your sleeves and jumping in to help (and it sure goes a long way in the good will department when your customers see you helping, by the way). Anyway, If you don’t have a plan in place, get one.