As the old saying goes, “the customer is always right”. In other words, if you want to stay successful in your foodservice business, you have to ensure you’re giving your customers what they want.
Of course, in order to do this, you need to know what the customers want. The big mistake is to assume you know what they want rather than taking the time to find out.
That’s why the smart foodservice operator recognises the importance of customer feedback. If you don’t know what your customers want, you need to ask them.
In short, you need to first listen to your customer, and then respond accordingly.
There are lots of ways to gather customer feedback — the most obvious (yet often overlooked) is to train your staff to ask for it. Make sure the front of house staff, from the waiters to the reception desk, ask customers whether they’ve enjoyed their meal.
And here are some other suggestions:
Check out restaurant review websites
There are a plethora of these sites nowadays, from Urban Spoon to Eatability and everything in between, from bloggers to online ordering apps. All of them feature reviews so do a quick google search for your business — you might be surprised to find what some customers are saying about you.
Of course, some reviews can’t be taken that seriously — they’re clearly spiteful, or written by customers whose expectations were obviously unreasonable. But if you find several reviews all complaining about the wait time, or the service staff, or the state of the toilets, then this can be valuable feedback which you may need to act on.
Rather than trolling the web for third-party reviews, it’s relatively simple to set up your own Facebook page for your business and invite customers to write up their experiences. That way you can more easily keep abreast of feedback, both positive and negative — but be sure not to leave negative feedback up on your page without responding to it (preferably in a constructive manner).
And of course, as the most important element of any foodservice business is the food, you should invite customers to nominate their favourite items on the menu.
Customer survey forms
Hotels and quick service restaurants often have survey forms for customers to fill in, but this trend hasn’t really taken off in restaurants in Australia, though it’s popular in countries like the US. But certainly it never hurts to give customers the option to tell you what they think — and many will appreciate the opportunity to express their thoughts in writing (especially as it’s easier to deliver criticism that way rather than face to face).
Sometimes you may need to incentivize customers to participate in surveys and one way of doing so is to offer a free drink, complimentary dessert or other bonus giveaway in exchange for their having taken the time to fill in the form.
And there’s no shortage of online tools to help you create a customer survey form and tailor it to the specifics of your own business. For example, Microsoft Office has a free restaurant survey template which you can adapt for your own use, available at http://office.microsoft.com/en-au/templates/restaurant-survey-2-per-page-TC103988303.aspx, or you can use an online app like Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) which enables you to create customer surveys and distribute via mobile devices or social media.
Event hosting to generate feedback
Another way to obtain customer feedback is to gather some of your customers together in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. For example, you could create a special event occasion — a Christmas or New Year party, Melbourne Cup lunch or similar — to which you invite regular customers, ostensibly as a way of thanking them for their ongoing loyalty, but also to give you valuable feedback.
Special events also provide a great opportunity to trial new menu ideas and get a firsthand response from customers. You can then tweak the food as required to ensure a great reception when it emerges fully-fledged onto the menu.
And you should also bear the following in mind …
* Always thank customers for their feedback
Remember that whenever you ask a customer for their feedback, you’re asking them to give up their time for you, so always thank them politely (even when the feedback is not something you want to hear). You are being judged on how you respond, so always show the customer that you care and you’re willing and interested to listen to their concerns. If they have a complaint, undertake to try to resolve it to their satisfaction.
* Positive feedback can be a valuable promotional tool
Positive customer feedback can be more valuable to your business than you might at first think. Consider using positive feedback to promote your business, quoting satisfied customers in flyers or brochures or on your website. Make sure you get your customer’s permission first, but nine times out of ten you’ll find that most people are only too happy to see their name in print and if they’ve praised your business, won’t have a problem with you capitalising on their goodwill.
* Positive feedback can help motivate your staff
Nothing motivates a staff member like knowing that a customer has singled them out for praise. It’s one thing to have an internal employee of the month scheme, but even better when customers tell you that your wait staff or maitre d’ is excellent and that’s one reason they keep coming back. Be sure to pass on this positive feedback. On the other side of the coin, repeated negative comments about staff members can be valuable too … but more for you, the employer!
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