Best Ways to Improve the Restaurant Guest Experience
To say that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the restaurant industry would be a gross understatement. As safety regulations took their toll on restaurants worldwide over two years, the industry had to readjust. Change was inevitable, from how establishments marketed themselves to how they refined their menus and remodeled their premises.
Today, even as measures begin to ease in parts of the world, the customer remains changed. They expect a stellar experience, as they always have, but their new standards mandate new practices and new restaurant qualities. Pleasing the customer has indeed not become easier.
To address this renewed, ever-present challenge, let us explore 6 ways to improve the guest experience in your restaurant.
Defining the guest experience and what affects it
First, to contextualize them, let us briefly explore what constitutes the guest experience.
Colloquially, the term may often simply refer to the on-premises experience. However, that’s far from the case, as it’s often far from accurate enough. What marketers dub the “user experience” (UX) or “customer experience” (CX) may better align with a proper “guest experience” definition.
To illustrate, consider the three primary factors that largely inform a guest’s perception of their experience.
First, marketing plays a crucial role in shaping a customer’s expectations before their first visit. They will quickly notice discrepancies between their expectations and the on-premises reality, which will directly shape their impression. And all too often, a first impression may be the last.
It is thus crucial that you choose your marketing approach carefully, from your email channels to your messaging and brand image. As we’ll discuss next, such elements outside your doors carry significant weight and ample implications.
#2 The on-premises experience
Of course, the actual on-premises experience unquestionably factors into the final impression. This is why the term often focuses on this aspect alone; no marketing or post-visit engagement alone will salvage a poor visit or entice guests to return.
Without a doubt, this component presents the most opportunities to improve the guest experience. From your staff to your menus, and from your reservation system to your cleanliness, every on-premises element counts.
#3 Post-visit engagement
Finally, what marketers dub the “post-sale engagement” perfectly applies here too. Your guests’ experience does indeed extend beyond your doors, and proper engagement may work wonders.
Indeed, the guest experience will primarily hinge on expectations and the visit itself. However, consider feedback collection and loyalty programs as two prime examples of retention strategies. With strategic applications, they may entice a moderately satisfied guest into returning when they otherwise wouldn’t.
In summary, much like Don Norman says UX is “everything”, the guest experience itself is everything. In fact, Ken Norton, a partner at Google Ventures and former Product Manager at Google, also uses the “restaurant analogy” to define UX versus User Interface (UI):
“UI is the table, chair, plate, glass, and utensils. UX is everything from the food to the service, parking, lighting and music.”
This is what the “guest experience” entails in restaurant contexts; everything that makes up interactions before, during, and after visits. LinkedIn also agrees with this definition, beautifully summarizing this point:
“Technically, what the Guest Experience is, is how a guest thinks of you after considering all of their interactions with you. […] It’s the accumulation of every time they think, talk or do something with you.”
Ways to improve the guest experience in your restaurant
With this crucial context in mind, let us now explore 6 key ways to improve the guest experience.
#1 Avoid overpromising and underdelivering
Starting with the marketing component of the guest experience, you may begin with this simple marketing truism. Put simply, avoid overpromising and underdelivering; the inverse can work wonders, but unreasonably inflating expectations is a recipe for failure.
As you do, you may polish your online presence and messaging to further prime your guests for a great experience:
- Correct all contact information. Your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP) information should be correct across all profiles and listings.
- Provide updates on offers. Engaged customers should always know which offers become available and when old ones have expired.
- Maintain a consistent brand image. From your style and tone to newsletters and promotion types, a consistent brand image is crucial toward building trust.
#2 Use technology to improve the guest experience
Next, before and during their visit, you may consider adopting various technological solutions to continue to refine the guest experience further. Thankfully, as the industry faced the aforementioned challenges, the market swiftly provided multiple increasingly affordable solutions for many among them.
Among others, which will depend on your business, its workflows, and your budget, you may consider:
- Online ordering and reservations. Customers increasingly expect reservation options through their mobile devices, so catering to this trend can notably enhance their experience. Similarly, satisfied customers may more often opt for ordering; while not on-premises, this interaction, too, informs the guest experience.
- Payment systems. In much the same way, robust payment systems can significantly reduce delays and avoid displeasing complications. An easy means of splitting bills is a particularly noteworthy feature to consider, if yours do not provide it. When considering your budget, invest in a technology suite that integrates with a variety of POS providers.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions. Finally, restaurant CRM systems can serve as an excellent means of guest experience personalization. Interaction records can inform menu recommendations, for example, and customer data can reveal opportunities for outreach like birthdays and anniversaries.
- Robust restaurant technology. Providing a top tier guest experience begins with the right tools. Consider a suite of software that allows for order management routing, recipe viewer capabilities, off-premises order management, informed business insights, curbside efficiency, and contactless options – connectivity also contributes to an optimized and, ultimately seamless, guest experience.
#3 Consistently train your staff
Within your premises, your staff understandably plays a significant role in final guest satisfaction. Thus, consistent staff training and monitoring, along with proper rewards and interventions, offers near-incomparable opportunities to improve the guest experience.
Training subjects will vary, but can include:
- Proper etiquettes. A crucial element of customer service, all staff should consistently uphold all etiquettes you have established. From smiling and showing patience to recurring customer care like refilling drinks, their conduct will shape the guest experience.
- Collaboration and communication. Equally crucial is collaboration and communication among staff. For instance, coordination between wait staff and kitchen staff offers a great example of timely customer service. Similarly, proper communication with managers as regards shift changes will help avoid short staffing. In addition to communication, consistency is important here. When it comes to training, keep learning consistent with recipe viewer software and empower your staff to maintain consistent service based on customer expectations.
- Customer communication. Finally, staff should always maintain proper customer communication. From timely care to wait time transparency and keeping guests busy during longer waits, communication is key.
#4 Ensure cleanliness, hygiene, and safety
Next, in these post-pandemic times, the ever-essential quality of cleanliness holds undeniable value. Guests will mind it, and adherence to local safety measures, more than ever before – so restaurants should promote it relentlessly.
Consider areas of your restaurant where cleanliness, hygiene, and safety will improve the guest experience like the following:
- Dining areas. The first area a guest will observe, dining areas and their immediate surroundings should always be well-maintained and clean. Should local safety measures apply, such as mandatory distances and provided disinfectants, remember to uphold them as well.
- Few areas are as prone to poor hygiene as bathrooms, but they too should always remain pristine. An unclean bathroom will often ruin your guests’ appetite and subsequent impression of your restaurant.
- Finally, while generally less accessible, kitchens and equipment should remain spotlessly clean and maintained. Perhaps unsurprisingly, studies find that diners scrutinize kitchen cleanliness like that of few other areas.
#5 Encourage and reward customer feedback
Similarly, constructive customer feedback will accurately inform you of your guest experience and allow you to improve in response. As such, while unconstructive feedback will come in too, encouraging feedback is highly advisable.
In this regard, consider such practices to improve the guest experience as:
- On-premises feedback. Initially, it is crucial that you clearly offer feedback and complaint forms on-premises. Staff will also receive feedback organically, so proper training should include feedback acknowledgments and polite diffusions when necessary.
- Online feedback. Similarly, online feedback plays a crucial role in your establishment’s online image and reputation. Encourage feedback through reviews, tickets, and comments, and respond swiftly and politely to best display your interest and professionalism.
- Feedback incentives. Finally, you may further incentivize both forms of feedback in various brand-appropriate ways. From simple desserts to coupon codes, consider which incentives align with your intended image and employ them generously.
#6 Implement a loyalty program
Having largely ensured a stellar guest experience, you may finally go the extra mile and implement a loyalty program. This tried-and-tested practice both improves future guest experiences through personalized rewards and enhances customer retention rates, an equally crucial metric.
Among its benefits, consider the following:
- Satisfied guests will often refer their friends and peers, offering very effective word-of-mouth marketing.
- Higher retention rates. Similarly, satisfied guests themselves will remain loyal; an invaluable metric when acquiring new customers costs up to 7x as much as retaining existing ones.
- More revenue. Finally, loyal guests will spend more, both per visit and over time. In turn, CRM-fueled personalization will help reveal upselling opportunities for further benefits.
To summarize, the guest experience includes everything before, during, and after a visit. Embracing this interpretation of the term should allow restaurant owners to better cater to guests’ needs and expectations in this post-pandemic era and improve the guest experience holistically. From prior expectations to post-visit feedback and interactions, guest satisfaction hinges on a broad customer-first philosophy more than ever.