How to Enhance Your Restaurant Service & Improve Guest Satisfaction
The pandemic hit the restaurant industry particularly hard, leaving with it a variety of lessons. Struggling restaurateurs face a much longer return to normalcy than expected, a journey that is more than just ensuring guests’ safety but retaining customers for the future. Among these lessons, owners and operators relearned that convenience is king and that guest satisfaction is critical in providing excellent restaurant service. Good customer service remains a vital step in any operation. With a struggling economy and the potential for more delta-variant-related lockdowns on the horizon, let’s look at how enhancing your restaurant service now can develop a culture of happy and hungry guests loyal to your brand. Let’s give the people what they want!
Lead With Kindness
It should go without saying, but the key to any restaurant service operation is happy guests. Whether it’s given or received, acts of kindness improve everything from your mood to your health. Customers read reviews before coming in because they value the opinion of others. Despite popular belief, you can’t please everyone all the time, but statistically, the more people that have a positive experience, the more likely they are to return and maybe even tell a friend. Make sure that from top to bottom, everyone on staff leads with kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness.
Staffing Shortage Solutions
It’s no secret that restaurant turnover rates are high, especially since the onset of pandemic lockdowns. While concerns about minimum wages and benefits dominate the national conversation, worker stress is often overlooked in employee retention. Let’s explore how restaurateurs can enhance their restaurant service with the right staff.
Employee Retention Efforts
Right now, restaurants need new employees. During the height of the pandemic, a whopping 110,000 restaurants closed temporarily or permanently, with an estimated 5.5 million jobs at the onset of lockdowns. Worker demands have driven wage increases and other perks throughout the industry, which is a key factor in hiring and retaining employees. Losing employees creates a gap in the ability of restaurateurs to provide excellent restaurant service while creating the financial burden that comes with onboarding new employees.
As we mentioned above, happy workers are key, so much so in fact that one restaurant in the U.S. closed for a day to give their employees a much-needed mental health break. While restaurateurs may not always have this option, building in time for restaurant mindfulness of staff can go a long way in helping alleviate the stress of the day.
The Rise of the Restaurant Robot
One alternative to employee retention is the restaurant robot. There are various options available from robots that serve guests, who prepare food, and who can deliver within set areas. Unfortunately, robots may be cost-prohibitive for many businesses, carrying not only their initial price tag but the need for dedicated staff to update or manage them. Consider running a Pro-forma to determine the long-term benefits of a robot versus a living workforce.
Another potential alternative to employee retention involves using contactless techs like kiosks or QR codes. These innovations allow guests to act independently. As of 2019, a reported 65% of all guests preferred self-service kiosks. That indicates that the remaining 35% are interested in the experience. As with employing robots, kiosks and other self-service stations come with back-end costs that may prove prohibitive to smaller operations, which may not afford long-term maintenance.
It’s hard to get a clear picture of the future, especially with so many variables. Still, reports indicate that more than half of U.S. restaurant guests will continue eating home rather than dining out. As of August 2021, only 65% of adults felt okay to dine out, reflecting the uptick in pandemic cases. Those anxieties are well-founded, and while they present a challenge to restaurateurs looking to return to normal. There are technological solutions that can address this aspect of your restaurant service.
Contactless technologies existed before the pandemic but have only improved since then. Although the coronavirus hasn’t been proven to spread through surfaces, proper sanitation understandably remains important to customers. While controversies continue over mask mandates, the CDC has recommended social distancing as a viable strategy. Let’s look at the most common contactless restaurant technology and how it can enhance public safety, mitigate staffing issues, and improve your restaurant service.
- QR Codes – Using QR Codes, guests can access waitlisting and reservation systems and menus through their smart device. This minimizes staff contact by putting the power in the hands of your customers.
- Order Ready SMS – With this feature, you can alert guests that their table is ready or any other changes using smartphone technology to communicate.
- Order Ready Screens – An order-ready screen functions as advertised, giving your guests peace of mind about how long their order will take.
In each case, the technology provides a service to the customer that precludes the need for more staff while minimizing potential points of contact between guests and staff.
Automatable technologies can play an invisible role in improving your restaurant service. Common restaurant guest complaints include wait times, inattentive staff, and inaccurate or incomplete orders. Earlier this year, a report indicates that 91% of restaurateurs were prepared to invest in kitchen automation. The reason is simple: restaurant technology decreases pain points in your front and back-of-house (BOH). Let’s examine a few pieces of tech that can address those guest concerns.
A good restaurant technology platform will include a robust kitchen display system (KDS). A KDS is a back-of-house logistics tool that helps kitchen staff properly prioritize incoming and outgoing orders. For example, a great KDS will alert staff to prepare order items sooner than others based on their cook times. In doing that, you can ensure that each order comes out fresh and ready to serve. Here are a few features that will improve your restaurant service worth considering:
- Bin Management – Bin management is a programmable feature that allows owners and operators to use historical data to plan. During busier times, bin management reminds staff to prepare critical ingredients to ensure continuity of service without pausing to prep essential items.
- Meal Coursing/Delay Routing – Delay routing is the mechanism that ensures that each order item is given the time it takes it needs for proper preparation so that the entire order can come out hot, fresh, and ready to go. This is a great way to mitigate returned orders, which may have arrived cold or less than ideal to your patient guests. Like delay routing, meal coursing is a programmable tool that looks at the entire order to guarantee that appetizers, drinks, the main entree, and desserts come out in an ideal sequence.
- Data Analytics – Data analytics provides restaurateurs with opportunities to base their future decisions on their pre-existing data. Doing so can inform everything from what ingredients you order to your staffing levels and beyond.
- Tag-On-Touch – With tag-on-touch, kitchen staff can mark individual order items complete without inadvertently erasing the entire order. This is especially useful to prevent mispacks, but even more so as a quality control tool to ensure that each order is inspected before it goes out.
In each of the above examples, automation has done the work to streamline BOH efficiencies. These functions become rote, muscle-memory to staff designed to slash ticket times, improve quality, and provide other invaluable tools to address pain points in the kitchen that otherwise hamper restaurant service and customer satisfaction.
For front-of-house (FOH) restaurant technologies, a restaurant reservation and waitlist system is an important organizational tool. Whether through the aforementioned contactless technologies or via more conventional means like online or over-the-phone contact, reservation and waitlist management systems control incoming and outgoing guest traffic. In doing so, restaurateurs can ensure that they have the optimal capacity needed, which proved especially useful during quarantine capacity maximums. With a reservation and waitlist system, you can set guest expectations while staying aware of your upcoming demand.
Enhance Your Delivery Channels
Before we leave, remember that convenience is king. For years now, the restaurant industry has focused on enhancing off-premise dining channels, which proved critical throughout the pandemic. Now, a reported 68% of consumers are more likely to order takeout than before the pandemic, with 53% considering off-premise essential. Off-premise has taken on such popularity that a cottage industry of third-party delivery alternatives, ghost kitchens, and more, each with a proven staying power.
An effective way to enhance restaurant service is to ensure that every order goes to the right person. Off-premise order aggregators were designed to address the influx of delivery traffic. A survey from 2019 lists 40 minutes as the maximum acceptable wait time on service, while the biggest complaint was identified food that was not fresh or warm. Customers want their food quickly and correctly, and they want it warm.
Restaurant Service: Conclusion
Don’t be fooled: the challenges that restaurateurs have faced are far from over. As coronavirus variants continue to surge cases, interventions may become necessary again, whether that’s a return to lockdowns or just improving internal safety protocols. Restaurateurs can prepare for those uncertainties now while remaining focused on restaurant service and guest satisfaction. Have anything to add to the conversation? Let us know in the comments section below.
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About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.