In the digital age, it can be easy to overlook what might seem like an outdated restaurant practice: comment cards.
But this easy-to-implement restaurant tool can still play an important role, not just in marketing your restaurant but in collecting important data that can help you better serve your guests.
While restaurant comment cards are simple in theory, it actually takes some skill to execute this strategy well. Although they are not the most scalable practice, they can provide your restaurant with enough guest data and feedback to allow you to better understand what's working and what areas you need to improve on. Read on to learn about how you can effectively use comment cards and things to look out for.
The Benefits of Using Restaurant Comment Cards
If you’re wondering why comment cards for restaurants are so effective, it has a lot to do with how simple they are. They don’t require any expensive or complex technology, and startup costs to implement a comment card program are minimal — all it takes to get started is to print the cards, and train your staff to start using them.
For such a simple addition to your restaurant’s day-to-day operations, comment cards come with a lot of potential benefits.
Immediate feedback on your restaurant and the dining experience
If you hand out comment cards at your restaurant, say by dropping one off with the check at the end of a meal, it means the guest has a chance to leave feedback while the experience is still extremely fresh in their mind. You get an immediate gauge on whether your restaurant is meeting guests’ expectations. Plus, unsatisfied guests have a chance to immediately air their concerns, and you can address them right away. This means guests are less likely to go home and air their grievances more publicly, like by leaving your restaurant a poor online review.
Easy data collection for your restaurant
Using comment cards is an easy way to collect valuable data about your guests that you can use for marketing purposes in the future. For example, if you ask them to leave their contact information, like an email address or mailing address, you’ll be able to reach out to them with future marketing campaigns or special offers. If you ask them to leave their date of birth on the comment card, you can offer them a birthday item or discount to encourage a repeat visit. This is also great
Promotion for your restaurant's brand
A well-designed comment card that incorporates your restaurant’s logo and is written in a voice that aligns with your brand will be memorable to guests. A clear, well-written and well-branded comment card makes guests more likely to remember your restaurant’s name and the personal touches they experienced, which may make them more likely to return.
Here’s a great example of a well-branded comment card from Winghart’s - a burger bar in Pittsburgh.
Winghart’s has a very rustic vibe, and that’s reflected in the design of the comment card. The comment card also clearly displays the restaurant’s logo, and invites guests to find Winghart’s on social media and Yelp.
Overall, the comment card is consistent with the brand strategy at Winghart’s, and customers who see the card will be able to immediately recognize that.
Plus, the card covers a variety of questions without being too lengthy, and ends off with a thank you note - showing your appreciation for your guests time is also key!
Relationship building between your restaurant and guests
Restaurant comment cards create a great opportunity to learn the information you need to form meaningful relationships with your guests.
This is a great way to ask guests:
- What they loved (and didn’t love) about their experience
- What they liked about your restaurant’s atmosphere
- How they felt about the food and service
- Their reason for visiting
By offering a restaurant comment card to fill out at the end of the meal, your guests are more likely to feel that you care about their experience and will put their feedback to good use to make their next visit even better. That’s the kind of impression that will make guests keep coming back for more.
Feedback on the quality of your staff and their training
By giving guests a chance to comment on the service they received, restaurant comment cards give you great insight into how your staff is doing, which is also feedback on how you’re training them.
If all the feedback is glowing, you know you have a great team and your training methods are on point. I
f guests have some complaints, it might be time to do some refresher training or to consider hiring more experienced, talented staff who align more with your restaurant’s mission and your guests’ expectations to be able to provide a superb overall experience.
Marketing and promotional opportunities
Restaurant comment cards are one of the many ways your restaurant can market and promote itself (see #29). Like we mentioned above, you can use them to collect contact information to send your guests deals and discounts. You can use them to collect guests’ birthdays to offer them birthday specials.
If your comment cards contain your restaurant’s name and logo in a prominent way, they help increase your brand awareness. The comment card itself can even be a promotional opportunity.
For example, when a guests fills out a comment card, they become eligible for a discount on a future visit. Not only will this encourage guests to return to your restaurant, but it will encourage them to fill out the comment card, giving you more data to learn from.
Common Challenges Around Using Comment Cards
While restaurant comment cards come with all those benefits, they’re not perfect. There are problems that come with implementing a comment card campaign in your restaurant. Luckily, with some effort, most of those problems can be overcome.
Challenge: Response rates are typically low.
One of the greatest problems businesses encounter when using comment cards is that not very many people actually put in the time and effort to fill them out. One study on fast food surveys found that only about half of all diners say they’ve ever completed such a questionnaire. On top of that, casino consultant Martin Baird estimates that only 30 percent of guests fill out comment cards at businesses where they’re offered. That’s a dismally low response rate, especially when you consider all the benefits your restaurant can reap if more guests fill out their comment cards.
Solution: Offer an incentive!
The solution to low response rates to restaurant comment cards is simple: Offer guests an incentive for filling out their cards. This can be as simple as the trick we mentioned above of using the card as a coupon that they can bring back — filled out — for a discount on their next meal. Since people love instant gratification, you might be able to up your response rate even more by offering a discount on their current check if they fill the card out right away. Giving away that many discounts can be expensive though, so another effective option is to offer the chance to win a prize in a weekly or monthly comment card drawing. However you choose to incentivize your restaurant comment cards, participation will increase if guests see there’s something in it for them.
Offer an incentive for your employees, too, since they’re the ones speaking face-to-face with guests. Try having a monthly competition where the staff member that collects the most completed comment cards wins a prize. Just make sure the prize is something your team members will value so they’re incentivized to work for it (a cash bonus will probably work). And make sure, if you do this, that the comment card has a place for guests to write their server’s name.
Challenge: Guests who fill out comment cards tend to be atypical.
Another problem with restaurant comment cards is that the guests who fill them out tend to be outliers — in order to put effort into leaving feedback, they have to be either really pleased or really disappointed with their experience. The comment cards end up representing the extremes, which isn’t the best representation of your entire guest book.
Solution: Focus on increasing response rates
The solution here is to get more guests to respond to your restaurant comment cards, which is best accomplished by offering an incentive (see above for more). If your goal is to increase total responses, make sure to record how many responses you receive within a specified time period to make sure that you can measure how you’re doing against those goals.
How to Use Restaurant Comment Cards Effectively
Keeping the benefits and problems with restaurant comment cards in mind, there are a few criteria your comment card program should be sure to fulfill in order to be as effective as possible.
Use restaurant comment cards to collect and store guest data
Comment cards are a simple way to collect data about guests, so you should use them to collect as much data as possible: home address, email address, family size, birthday and any other data you might be able to use. Once that data is collected, store it in your existing customer database so you can sort and search it.
Use restaurant comment cards to collect more than just numbers
While having a scaling system for service, food quality and more is a great way to keep things simple for your guests, it doesn’t paint the full picture of the guest’s experience. You should also push to collect as much qualitative data as possible by asking guests for written comments, as well.
Use restaurant comment card data for future campaigns
Once comment card data is stored, you can search, sort and filter it to look for future marketing opportunities.
Email newsletters, birthday gifts and return-visit offers are just a few ways you can use comment card data to market to your guests!
Your comment card should be personalized with your restaurant’s own logo. But you might also want to follow the example of any restaurant you have noticed, who have created great comment cards.
While many restaurateurs view them as outdated, restaurant comment cards still have a place in a good marketing plan.
By putting in the work to launch an effective comment card campaign, you can gain valuable data and insights about your guests, while building good relationships with them and encouraging repeat visits to your restaurant.
Comment cards pay off, and if you aren’t using them already, you should start. Good luck!