Sunday, July 24, 2011

Make Every Customer Experience Special - A Restaurant Mini-Case Study

Nothing Can Help You If You Don't Recognize The Consumer POV

By David Miranda

The following mini-case study is a good example of how recognition marketing can help a business. Recognize the root problem. Recognize the appropriate solution.

A friend of mine who was in the restaurant business asked me for advice regarding a new casual dining restaurant which had been open for about a year. He said the restaurant was located in a highly competitive area, but was not performing up to expectations. He thought the concept was appropriate; his prices were competitive; no history of negative customer comments and the management and staff were capable, yet his restaurant was underperforming the competition. What could be the problem? Did he need to spend more on local marketing? Have more promotions? Change the menu?

I agreed to pay the restaurant a visit as a mystery shopper. Here is a synopsis of my experience.

I called the restaurant around 3PM for a dinner reservation later that evening. The phone rang, and rang and rang. Finally a recorded message came on. "Thank you for calling O'Malley's (not the real name). Our hours of operation are lunch, Monday through Saturday, from noon until 2. Dinner is served Monday through Friday from 5PM to 11PM and Saturday from 5PM to midnight. Thank you for calling." I decided to call back. This time I got a real person. I related that I wanted to make a dinner reservation for that evening. I was told the restaurant did not take reservations. I asked whether there would be a wait if I arrived around 7PM? "Yes. Around that time there might be up to an hour wait." was the reply.

I arrived at the restaurant at around 7PM. The interior lobby was filled with patrons waiting for their table. I worked my way through the crowd to the reception desk where I found myself in front of two hostesses who seemed busy filling out charts and lists. When they were ready, one looked up and said, "How many in your party, sir?" "Two", I replied, "How long is the wait?" "About an hour. Can I have your last name?" I gave her my name and she gave me a pager.

During my wait (of over an hour), I watched as more new people entered the lobby, while some jumped up as their pager went off. I thought is was very Pavlovian. During my wait, I visited the restroom. It was untidy - paper towels on the floor because the waste basket was overflowing. No hand soap in the dispenser. Soon my pager went off and I approached the reception desk and turned in my pager. A hostess with an armful of menus asked me and my guest to follow her to my table. She not only got to the table and deposited the menus before we were seated, she passed us on her way back to reception commenting that Sue would be our server.

Sue arrived. The first words out of her mouth was "Can I get you something from the bar?" After our drink orders, she told us to look over the menus and she would be back with our drinks. Sue returned with our drinks and said "Are you ready to order?" We said no and she quickly disappeared. A little while later, we were indeed ready to order. No Sue to be found. We did see her flitting around other tables, but could not get her attention. Finally, Sue was ready. "Are you ready to order?". We placed our order and it later arrived. As the empty plates were being taken away, Sue asked us would we like anything else. We said no, and, she immediately pulled out our prepared check and said "I will take that when you are ready".

We paid the bill and made our way out of the restaurant. No comments from Sue or the hostesses when we departed. During our dinner, we also did not have any contact with a member of restaurant management.

The next day I called my restaurant owner friend. "So how was dinner? Did you come up with any ideas? Do I need to change menus, pricing, do more advertising?" I said no to all, but I did give him the following advice.

  1. You are not selling food and beverages. You are selling experiences. The experience starts and ends with first and last human contact a consumer has with your establishment whether that contact be in person or over the phone.
  2. Answer your phone during all hours of operation and make sure the person answering the phone is a trained people person, not just the person who heard the phone ring. If the person calling took the time to call for a reservation - take it and say thank you, we look forward to seeing you tonight, Mr. Smith.
  3. Hire and train professional hosts and hostesses. These are your first impression ambassadors for your clientele. Demand that every new guest be greeted and once they know the customer's name- use it, as in, Mr. Smith, welcome to O'Malley's. Your table will be ready shortly. Ban the host or hostess from yelling out a patron's name to advise their table's ready. Have the host or hostess go find the customer. When customers are escorted to their table, make sure they are comfortable before departing the scene. And ditch the pagers.
  4. Pay constant attention to the cleanliness and tidiness of the public areas. It is a direct reflection on the cleanliness and tidiness in other areas of the restaurant.
  5. Hire and train professional people-friendly service staff including wait staff, bus staff, and bartenders that can engage customers. Opening statements like "Would you like something from the bar?" is not as engaging as "Welcome to O'Malley's, my name is Sue and it is my pleasure to serve you this evening." Shoving a check at customers while their dinner plates are being removed is a signal "to pay the bill, we have more people we have to seat." Suggestive selling will improve the average check and profit, such as "Do you have room for some of our great desserts. Our Key Lime Pie is to die for? or "May I suggest a latte or cappucino?"
  6. Restaurant management should visit every table every meal period to introduce themselves and ask how their experience was. Here is where a restaurant can gain immediate insights on the clientele, what they liked, suggestions regarding the menu, is this their first time, how they heard about the restaurant, i.e. word-of-mouth, advertising, drove by. A daily management diary with these comments is better than any focus group and serves as a body of information to assist in running the business.
  7. When customers leave a restaurant, everyone (wait staff, bartenders, bus people, host and hostesses, and management) should take a moment to say thank you and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

My friend shared my experience with his team and he has implemented a recognition marketing program to put his customer experiences first. I returned some time later and recognized the difference.