The 10 Most Important Restaurant Touch-points to Ensure a Great First Impression
Restaurants only have one opportunity to make a good first impression on a new customer. This impression can be made through different touchpoints, or contact opportunities, and can be the reason why a customer decides to revisit or avoid your establishment. In addition, our socially connected customers want to tell all of their friends about both their good or bad experiences on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and various other social media avenues. Knowing this, restaurant owners need to ensure that the impression they are making on each and every customer will guarantee a positive share, encouraging the customer to revisit and their friends to pop in.
We recently had the pleasure of attending the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada where we gained some first-hand knowledge about customer touchpoints from the renowned Micah Soloman. Micah is a business speaker, consultant, and two-time bestselling business author on customer engagement and loyalty who held two packed room educational sessions called “The 10 Most Important Customer-Service Touchpoints in a Restaurant,” detailed as follows:
Discovery is how the customer hears about your restaurant and then forms an impression. Discovery can be made via a website, a social media account, word of mouth, and through reviews online. To offer a good impression upon discovery, make sure your website includes your menu and current prices, the correct hours of operation, an appropriate address or GPS location, as well as visual interest through colors, text, and photos. Mr. Soloman also mentioned the Google Streetview trick. This trick involves having progressive photos that offer viewers a look in to your establishment. The recommendation is to have a street view image of your restaurant followed by a closer image of your opened front door, and a final of the interior of the building that a customer would see when walking in. This allows for a visual representation of you welcoming the customer into your establishment from the street, through the open door, and into your actual building.
The face of your restaurant/the first physical impression
Consider the impression that passersby get when they glance at the exterior of your restaurant. Is the building clean? Are the windows clean? Is there enough lighting for people on the street to see your interior? Is the parking lot free of pot holes? Is there enough parking with clearly marked spots? Are there visible accessible routes for individuals with disabilities? Is the sign visible and easy to read? These questions could go on and on as there is so much to consider, but focusing on a neat and clean exterior with ample and accessible parking to welcome customers driving by is your best bet.
What happens at the host/hostess station
If your restaurant has a host/hostess, consider the impression customers get from this first interaction with your restaurant. Is there an immediate acknowledgement of their presence by your host/hostess? Is the customer greeted with a welcoming attitude? Does the host/hostess honor special seating requests? Is the customer rushed to their seat or given a good pace to follow? If the customer is a regular, does the host/hostess acknowledge that? Is the terminology he/she uses appropriate and welcoming? In addition to considering the staff, it’s important to consider the actual hostess/host station. Is there appropriate signage to communicate a host is on duty or if the customer should seat themselves? Is the station welcoming and clean? If the underside of the station is visible, is it also clean? These may seem like little things that you don’t think customers will notice, but they often do.
Seating and at-table greeting
When your customers are seated, consider the impression that they get from the table set up in conjunction with the restaurant atmosphere. Are the tables clean and free of crumbs? If there are silverware settings, are the pieces clean? Are the chairs or booths wiped off and inviting for customers to relax? Have you sat in your chairs and booths lately? Try it and have your staff do it as well. Make sure they are safe and that the tables aren’t wobbly. When seated, does the hostess ramble off the specials in a way that lends to the customer feeling like they are rehearsed? Is the temperature in the restaurant comfortable? Is the noise level appropriate? Taking the time to sit and focus on answering these questions will really help you stop to consider these important aspects of each customer’s experience.
When it comes to your menu, we’re talking about what really brought your customer in. Therefore, the way you present your offerings is the key to the impression you will make on your customer. First off, is your menu clean? You surely don’t want to offer a menu that is sticky or dirty so be sure that your staff cleans them regularly. Next, is it easy to read? Does the font lend to ease of reading without a magnifying glass? It is easy to navigate? Are there too many offerings that could create a customer to become overwhelmed? Finally, consider pricing. Are the prices clearly identified? Do the prices reflect the appropriate value of your menu items? When it comes to menus, you could really consider so much more than what is offered here. But, these are the most important areas to consider because they make the biggest impression.
The most interaction your customer will have is with their server. It is important that many considerations are made when hiring, training, and continuing education with these staff members. In hiring, Marilyn Sherman, a certified speaking professional and author of the popular book Front Row Service, suggests that restaurants hire for attitude and train for skill. A good attitude and a friendly personality go a long way in the service industry especially when a customer’s impression of your restaurant is so important. Ask yourself these questions about your servers: Do they have a clean appearance? Are they smiling and welcoming to every customer? Are they friendly and offering a pleasant attitude? Are they attentive to the customer while dining in your restaurant? Are they reaching over guests to pour drinks, serve guests, or clear the table? Are they clearing the plates too quickly and/or rushing the customers out? Are they using positive terminology like “you’re welcome”, “thank you”, and “my pleasure” when responding to needs, special requests, and complaints? Also, consider nonverbal communication. Servers should be smiling, always facing the guests, and attentive to their needs rather than attending to other distractions that have nothing to do with the customer. It should be known not to vacuum or mop while guests are eating or to complete tasks that cause a disruption to the dining experience. Servers have a great effect on your restaurant’s impression so hire and train the best.
Food and drink: appearance, timing, presentation
People eat with their eyes so when they are presented with a dish that is visually pleasing, they’ll be ready to eat! Plus with the social media craze, restaurant dishes are becoming a popular center point for images shared all over the internet. It’s best to be prepared for the spotlight. With regard to appearance, are your chefs paying attention to what each plate looks like when they prepare it? Is the size of plate consistent with the portion of the food? Are the plates and glasses clean? Are you providing a garnish to finish it off when appropriate? Is there a good balance of contrast with colors and textures on the plate? Are your servers doing a last check on the plate before it is taken to the customer? Is the food appealing? In addition, timing is key. Timing can be the difference between a visually appealing plate with food at the perfect temperature and one that may look good but with cold food. Are hot foods served on a hot plate and cold foods served on a cold plate? Are foods taking the expected amount of time, is it too slow, or is it too fast? The way you present your food and the amount of time it takes to reach the customer are both considerations that can serve as a huge impression on each and every customer.
Service recovery: how you handle when something goes wrong
The typical customer service cliché is that the customer is always right. If your customer has a bad experience and tells you about it, it’s your job to handle it in a manner so that their “story” changes. Their story about the horrible restaurant with poor service and bad food will turn into a new and better story about how wonderful the manager was and how he/she remedied the situation. Remember, you aren’t trying to prove anything to your customer and nobody wins an argument with a customer. So, having plans and policies in place on how to handle when something goes wrong is important. Consider compensating the customer for a re-make of the items the customer was not happy with. Act quickly so as to minimize the amount of time that a customer is angry and stressed. You may even offer a coupon for their next visit, give them a free menu item during their current visit, or come up with a creative way to offer a little something extra. Your efforts to remedy a situation that goes wrong in your restaurant will create an impression that you care about your customers.
Payment and exit
When a customer makes the decision that it’s time to go, their exit should be easy. Therefore, if your payment and exit process is timely, difficult, or unclear, the impression you are making is not so good. Ask yourself these questions regarding your customer’s exit: Is your payment process timely or is it rushed? Do the servers ask the customers if they are ready for the check? Is the payment process organized and secure? If there is a kiosk on the table for ordering and payment, is the server still checking in rather than letting the kiosk be a replacement for them? Are your servers asking if there is anything else they can get for the customer? Is there a host/hostess at the door to say goodbye and to welcome them back for a future visit? Are there any services that you can offer to make a good impression like holding the door upon their exit or holding an umbrella and walking the customer to the car? The last impression that you have with a customer can be as important as the first in leaving a lasting impression.
Visiting the restroom
Last but certainly not least, is the impression a customer gets when visiting the restroom. Is the restroom clean…floors, sinks, toilets, etc.? Is the garbage overflowing? Is the bathroom stocked with the necessary supplies? Are there accessible stalls that host bars at the right height for those who need it? Is there enough room for customers to easily move about in the restroom? Are there visible checklists to ensure that cleaning is done on a regular basis? Including the restroom as an important part of your restaurant is something that all restaurants should consider. Making sure it is clean, stocked, and accessible will ensure only positive first impressions.
Customer satisfaction is the key to any business, particularly in an industry that is so competitive. Like Mr. Soloman recommends, taking the time to give special attention to the moments that customers remember are of upmost importance if you want those customers to return. Your attention to these touchpoints will ensure happy customers who only share positive experiences at your restaurant.