You would be surprised to know just how few restaurants take customer feedback seriously. It is no coincidence that celebrity chefs get famous because of their atrocious swearing, or anecdotes about how they threw out a customer for asking for ketchup.
It is too easy to forget that running a restaurant means that you are in the service industry. But good customer service is really what it’s all about. OK, you have to have great food at a fair price, but how often would you go back to a restaurant with rude staff, or dirty toilets, however good the food was?
Keeping Customer FocusedWhen Jill Spooner and her husband Geoff opened their gastro pub in Wiltshire, they were determined to make the most of the opportunity by not letting their egos get the better of them.
Jill explained, “Both Geoff and I had years of experience in restaurant management but this was our first venture on our own, using our own money. We had worked hard and saved hard to be able to buy the restaurant and, over the years, we had seen so many placed go bust because of poor business sense that we were determined not to let that happen.”
Jill and Geoff introduced a number of feedback opportunities that meant they were in touch with their customers. Their first excellent idea was to launch a competition in their local paper to come up with a name for the restaurant. This got people talking about the place and helped build a profile.
Jill continued, “It also meant that people in our locality felt part of the restaurant and it made them want to support us. We had some excellent ideas and the competition winner had their photo in the local paper – outside the restaurant, of course! We made sure we had a special offer voucher in the same edition and we used the competition entries to start to build up a contacts network and mailing list.”
Asking For FeedbackTheir next great idea was to introduce a ‘comments bowl’ at the entrance and exit of the restaurant. A simple glass bowl with note cards and pens was placed on a side table with an invitation to give customer feedback. Jill explained, “We put a little sign beside it that said we would give a meal for two, with wine, to the best suggestion each month. Pretty much every customer filled in a card and we made sure to keep all the suggestions. We also would tell the local paper of the winner, if the customer wanted, which really helped to build our profile even more.”
There were a number of excellent suggestions that Jill and Geoff took on board, including giving free bread and chilled water on arrival and providing half portions of ‘adult’ meals for children, rather than the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips which, as one customer pointed out ‘they could give them at home.’
Taking Suggestions on BoardJill and Geoff found that the suggestions were really helpful in giving them a customer view point and, to the best of their ability, they adopted as many as possible.
Jill concluded, “I was surprised that the vast majority of the suggestions were not cost-focused at all – in fact, most were practically free. Ideas like not putting a service charge on the bill automatically actually increased the tips, which pleased the waiting staff greatly. Another suggestion was to not hover when using the chip and pin machine, which has also increased tips. We also now bring a basket of fresh bread rolls, with local butter, to the table straight away, with a jug of tap water with ice and lemon. It costs us pennies but it really has boosted our sales. We all like the feeling of being given good value for money and our customers have certainly voted with their feet.”