We live in a time when guests expect to be wowed with excellent customer service.
More than ever, these guests are empowered to seek out and choose the establishments that meet and exceed these expectations.
For restaurants, things need to go even a step further—they don’t just offer meals, they offer hospitality. To many, that implies an even deeper level of service. Food is personal, and guests are happiest when they’re made to feel like family or friends of the establishment when dining out.
Turns out, the poet Maya Angelou was right:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Above all else, your guests are out to feel welcomed and taken care of when they visit a restaurant. Humans can “eat” anywhere, but they don’t get to feel extremely well-served in every place they do that eating. That's the problem.
Many restaurants fall short when it comes to giving guests an experience that truly wows them.
It’s easy to provide passable service. But truly catering to each guest in a deep and personal way takes time and investment. You will need to chart out exactly what you want your service to look like and how you’re going to make it happen. Many restaurant owners don’t put that kind of time into developing such a plan.
But it’s worth it to invest the time. Providing “wow” level service will pay off. Here’s why, and how to offer the kind of service that will delight all of your guests, every time they set foot in your restaurant.
Reasons to Provide Above-and-Beyond Hospitality
Sure, the argument can be made that good service is totally adequate. If you aren’t getting complaints about your service, it must be fine, right? Wrong.
Think about the times in your life you’ve had truly excellent service.
Those moments when you’ve felt so taken care of that you were delighted by the experience. Those times stick out in your mind. You tell your friends about them. You demand that they go experience it for themselves. You even offer to take them.
These moments make you return to the same businesses over and over, because they make the experience not only satisfying, but memorable in the most positive way.
That is what you should strive for at your restaurant.
Not convinced? Let’s talk bottom line.
A Harvard Business School study conducted at Starbucks locations in 2003 found that there are huge financial benefits when restaurants offer their guests great hospitality. The study found that happy, satisfied Starbucks customers visited, on average, 4.3 times per month, spent $4.06 per visit, and continued to visit for 4.4 years. That’s just a plain satisfied customer.
On the other hand, highly satisfied customers visited, on average, 7.2 times per month, spent $4.42 per visit, and continued to visit for 8.3 years. That’s what top-notch hospitality did for customer loyalty.
This is the difference between companies that succeed and those that falter: lifetime customer value. They simply get more out of the loyal, highly satisfied guest that they cultivate over time.
On the flip side, a Customer Experience Report from RightNow and Harris Interactive found that a negative service experience has the potential to adversely and severely impact a restaurant. That survey found that poor quality or rude service were the top reasons customers said they would abandon a brand or business, and that reason was cited 18 percent more often than any other.
Clearly, guests care how they’re treated (not just what they get) and they act on it.
How To Offer "WOW" Level Hospitality
Now that you’re convinced, you’re probably wondering how to offer the kind of service that will dazzle your guests. There’s no cut-and-dried path that will work in every restaurant, but there are definitely some principles you can apply that will put you on the right track.
1. Excellent hospitality cannot be built overnight. Get feedback. Iterate.
It’s going to take time to create the right environment to foster consistently remarkable service in your restaurant. Be patient, and keep making strides toward providing the experience you want your guests to have. Keep asking them how you’re doing as you try new methods of service. Don’t be afraid to experiment here and there as you “fail forward” into the right type of high-quality hospitality that suits your unique restaurant.
2. Continue to educate your staff
Start by teaching your staff something every day that will help them deliver hospitality that delights, as well as help foster in them a desire to do so regularly. Providing top-tier hospitality takes practice, coaching and dedication. It also takes a person with a heart for providing a memorable experience, so when hiring, look for people who exhibit empathy, compassion, and a desire to learn. Those are the people who will want to provide the level of service your guests are looking for. Technical restaurant skills can be taught to nearly anyone. The right mindsets necessary to hospitality that keeps guests coming back are a bit harder to find. Seek them out.
3. Write it down. Execute.
Make sure your plan for offering your unique brand of hospitality is written out, and that there’s a training plan for every position on your staff, written with excellent hospitality in mind. If you teach it from the beginning, it will become your restaurant’s culture.
4. Treat your staff the way you want them to treat guests
The next step is important and often overlooked: Serve your staff with respect, warmth, and support, so they can deliver the same for your guests. The restaurant industry has high rates of turnover. Staff often work long hours on their feet, and their pay is highly variable. If staff aren’t happy working for you, how can you expect them to provide an exceptional experience to your guests? Treat them well, and you will have built a foundation for them to treat your guests well.
5. Reward and empower your team
When customer-hospitality-above-all-else is the culture of your restaurant, staff will have the momentum they need to provide that to your guests. Give them all the necessary tools, from training to support, to ensure they are able to go the extra mile for guests. And when they do, recognize them for it. Offer incentives to staff when guests report award-winning hospitality—it will up your staff’s morale and sets tangible ongoing goals for customer service.
Put it into Practice
Take Gramercy Tavern, for example.
When putting these tips into practice, it’s a good idea to look to a restaurant that’s already offering the kind of excellent hospitality all establishments should strive for.
New York’s Gramercy Tavern, run by a highly respected restaurateur, Danny Meyer, is world renowned for its delicious food, paired with unmatched service.
One of Gramercy’s policies that can be duplicated at just about any restaurant is its dual mantras toward interacting with guests: “Always try and find the ‘yes,’ and be on the guest’s side.”
“We’re a really popular place, obviously, and we can’t always get everybody in,” says Guest Relations Manager Paul Walsh. “You want to try to find the yes and acknowledge that we would love to have them.”
To that example, Walsh points to Gramercy’s waitlist and its no-reservation seating area as ways it tries to “find the yes” for guests on nights when the guestbook is overflowing.
But if need be, staff at Gramercy will even recommend another restaurant, because their ultimate end goal is to give guests an excellent experience. If they’re unable to accommodate a party, they’ll give that business to a competitor, if that’s what it takes to provide wow-factor hospitality.
The bottom line is that the best hospitality means going as far as it takes to give your guests what they need, even if you aren’t able to provide it.
And in the end, that’s what makes Gramercy such a great example. If nothing else, let that be the takeaway: The secret to delighting guests is to treat them as people, not potential checks.
Making each guest feel like they have had an experience tailored to their wants and needs is the fastest way to create buzz about your guest-pleasing hospitality.
It will take time and work, but once your restaurant is known for the excellent hospitality it provides, the effort will pay off!