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The Formula for the Perfect Guest Experience

operations service Aug 07, 2018

If you were dropped off in the middle of the woods without a map and compass, your chance of making it back to civilization are pretty slim (especially if you have never been out in the wilderness). Having an accurate map and a way to know if you are going the right direction (the compass) are critical. The same goes for your restaurant. Having standards (your map) and a way to know if you are off course (feedback) are required if you want to stay in business year after year.

The best place to start you path to long term success is to have a solid Cycle of Service Plan. Here’s the thing each step is just as important as the next so don’t skip ahead to just the things you like to focus on. Remember that there are no shortcuts to success, however there is a fast track to failure.

Energy is Everything

When asked what does your restaurant sell? The majority would answer food and beverage. Not really. If it was just about food and drink people would stay home enjoy those activities for a lower cost than dining out. What you sell is more emotional. It’s a memory. It’s a feeling. It’s all about the energy.

If you have ever walked into a restaurant when there are only one or two tables, you would say that the energy is pretty low. That same room during the dinner rush and the energy is high. What changed? Just the energy created by people. While you can’t control the energy of the guests you can have influence on it by making sure your every (and that of your team) is positive and highly charged. Outstanding restaurants go out of their way to manage the energy in their restaurant.

The Steps of Service Map

Like Dorothy’s advice in the Wizard of Oz you too will be told to follow the yellow brick road. The path to success in the restaurant business can be found by following the journey that the guest goes through from the start to the end. Once again, skip a step or look for a shortcut and take your chances with the Flying Monkeys!

Let’s keep score where you are on each step. At the end we’ll total up your restaurant guest experience score and see where you are. This will be fun!

  1. Online Reputation

Welcome to the brave new online world where your restaurant is constantly reviewed, liked, criticized, and photographed. How do you avoid this? You can’t if you want to be known in the world. Even restaurants that don’t exist (ever heard of The Shed in London?) can rise to the top of social media. Is that fair for those restaurants that work every day to improve their online reputation? No. It’s just a reflection of our social media obsessed society.

Make sure your social media presence is as tight as you can be. Updated menus online. Are the directions to your restaurant on google maps accurate? Is your phone number easy to find? Have you been professional in your replies to nasty reviews or do you unleash hell upon those who give you a one-star rating?

The scary thing about the internet is that it doesn’t sleep and it doesn’t forget. Even after you decide to remove the snide comment you made to a bad review, it suddenly reappears in the form of a screenshot taken and now shared around tarnishing your online reputation. Ouch. Just keep in mind that there are no “take backs” to social media.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = Your online reputation is stellar and you have raving fans! Your website is updated and all important contact information is easily accessible (that means at the top of the page).

+ 3 = You have a few things to clean up like updating your menu on your website and being a little nicer when replying to bad reviews.

+ 1 = You have a website and that’s about it. You don’t reply to any comments or online reviews and your social media presence makes people wonder if you are still in business.

  1. The Entry

Now the guest is actually at your restaurant. What do they see? It’s always shocking to see a cool, hip, modern looking restaurant online turn out to be a worn down and poorly maintained property up close. Missing lights on the sign. Weeds growing in the cracks on the sidewalk. Trash that never made it into the dumpster and it piled up on the side of the building say one really don’t care.

Many restaurant workers (including managers and owners) tend to enter the restaurant from the back door. That can leave the front of the building susceptible to neglect. Time to walk the entire property and make a list of what needs a little TLC (tender loving care).

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = Your property sings that you got your act together. Professional landscaping, well lit parking, stand out signage, and an entrance that says “welcome”.

+ 3 = Maybe the parking lot needs some love. Your sign is nice however that missing S and Y on Sassy Café makes your business an internet meme.

+ 1 = Norman Bates has a better looking and more welcoming property than you do! The bird dropping that riddle the awning over the front door look like machine gun fire. Guests tend to drive into the parking lot and quickly drive away out of fear.

  1. The Greeter

Yeah, here is where the tone for the guest expectations really start to form. They might have some ideas from steps one and two. Now, it’s time to see if their perception is reality when they finally have face to face contact with someone on your team. Hold your breath.

If you’ve done your duty as a leader then you have hired a friendly, warm, sincere, and people oriented person as your first human contact point. If not, you just threw a person with no people skills that basically has a heartbeat and can utter basic sentences like “two” as a greeting. They stand behind the host stand and hold onto it like someone is going to walk through the front door at any moment and steal it.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = Your greeter is upbeat and displays a genuine “I’m glad you’re here” attitude. They look professional and they don’t hide behind the host stand they come out to greet guests like they would a friend in their home.

+ 3 = They smile on occasion and at least they are wearing what looks like a uniform. They at least say “how many for dinner” which is better than most. They think that seating guests is a race and often leave the elderly about 30 steps in their dust. They drop the menus and mumble the name of your sever as the pass you on their way back to the safety of the host stand.

+ 1 = Once this person finally puts their phone down from texting their friends you get an eye roll and the standard number greeting “4?”. They grab the menus with an exasperated sigh because you interrupted their important gossip with their friend or their checking who has been looking for how many likes their latest selfie on Instagram is doing. You are a thorn in their side and they are angry you are here.

  1. The Dining Room / Restrooms

Now the guest takes a look around your restaurant to access the overall situation. Taking in the big picture is what we do when making assessments. Is the room well lit? Is the music pleasant or should you have brought ear plugs? Is the temperature in the room like Goldilocks porridge: too hot, too cold, or just right?

Does the decor match the brand? Picnic tables work in a BBQ concept, not so well for a fine dining haute cuisine restaurant. Are the colors in the room appealing or more like a Nightmare on Elm Street? When it comes to influencing the guest experience, the details matter.

The restrooms are a hot topic for many and tales of mismanaged restrooms are alive and well on social media.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = You have your act together. The room matches your brand and in fact it reinforces the message. The room sets the tone for the dining experience you are creating. Music is the right for the crowd and the volume doesn’t distract from the ambience. The tables are properly set and standardized. Restrooms are well stocked, clean, and might even have mints.

+ 3 = The velvet painting on the wall of five dogs playing cards doesn’t seem to fit the brand, however, you are okay with it. The tables look more like they are random placement than an actual plan. The carpet seems a little worn due to the clear path you can see where everyone walks. Condiments are half full or missing. The restrooms are okay....trash probably need to be dumped and that graffiti on the wall should be painted over.

+ 1 = The room has a weird smell that you just can’t figure out. Sitting at your table you immediately stick your hand into something that could be honey spilled on the table (at least you tell yourself it’s honey). You see some old French Fries under the booth in the corner. How do you know they are old? The fuzzy mold growing on them. You question if eating here could result in a trip later to the ER. The restrooms are so bad that the women refuse to use them for fear on contracting something that would require antibiotics to cure.

  1. The Team

After the greeting at the door this is your next chance to impress your guests. This is a Critical Guest Interaction Point (CGIP) that requires your full attention. Handle it professionally and you are well on your way to getting a second visit.

Jon Taffer talked about this with Gary Vaynerchuk, “If somebody goes to a restaurant for the first time and has a flawless experience, the statistical likelihood of them doing a second visit is about 40%. The second time a customer comes and has a flawless experience, The statistical likelihood of a third visit is still about 42%. The third time they come, the statistical likelihood of a fourth visit is over 70%. You have to market to three visits, not one. This is the part everyone misses!

Remember that the goal is the third visit. If you blow it here be looking at your online reviews for their comments (spoiler alert: it will not be good)

Here you want your team to turn on the charm and bring the energy. Up until now they have had little interaction with your team other than the greeter, so make sure you only have A-players in play.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = Your team greets each table with an authentic and sincere welcome (with eye contact and a smile). Recommendations are made and orders are repeated back for clarity. The staff is calm, cool, collected, and most importantly working as a team.

+ 3 = They look at you however you’re not sure if they are happy to see you or not. When you ask how is something they reply, “it’s good”. They drop things off in a timely manner yet always seem to forget the one thing you asked for....”can I get some mayonnaise?”

+ 1 = This staff member refuses to look you in the eyes for fear you will steal their animal spirit (hey it could happen). They rub their nose between writing down your order which makes you question if they have a severe cold or a drug problem. When you ask for something extra you get the eye roll and something said under their breath that you might think insulted your mother.

  1. Food and Beverage

The moment of truth! This is what they braved traffic and weather for! Drop the ball here and it’s going to be a long night. Nail it and you have a winning shot of converting them into racing and loyal fans of your brand. The biggest consideration you must realize is that you are six steps into the guest experience and they are just trying your food and drink now! If you have not been on your A game up until now, your food and drink better be life changing good!

Here the best plan is to focus on the fundamentals. Hot food hot. Cold food cold. Drinks properly garnished and mixed well. Wine served in the right glass.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = If they reach for their phone to take a picture of the food and drinks you are in the promised land! People take pictures of moments that want to remember and share so when they pull out the phone you got them.

+ 3 = The guests are smiling and look happy. Nothing bad about happy guests. Happy is good and if good is what you are aiming for than mission accomplished.

+ 1 = Now if they are taking pictures and laughing at the same time, this is a bad thing! What causes this is when your food and drink looks like a train wreck. The drinks are undrinkable and usually barely consumed. They don’t ask for leftovers to be boxed up and they definitely don’t look happy.

  1. The Check Back

You dropped off the food and beverage and now it’s time to check in and see what the guest is experiencing is the same as what you intended. The last thing you want to do is wait too long. Check backs are like a lot of things in life...timing is everything.

Please for the love of all that is scared ask the guests a specific and thought out question that goes beyond the standard, “how’s everything?”

Everything is always fine or good. You want to search for real emotional responses. Wow. Amazing. Incredible. These are the words you want your guests to say. If they are not, keep working on steps 1-6.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = You asked a specific question about their selection, “Is the ribeye steak cooked to your liking?” The manager also stops by to make conversation and introduce themselves. Any additional needs are dealt with quickly and efficiently.

+ 3 = You ask the standard boring question of “how’s everything?”. At least you came back and asked, right? You don’t put the big points on the board for being average. Additional requests for refills or extra sauce are delivered within 10 minutes. Just enough time where their food got cold.

+ 1 = Check Back? You dropped the food off and became a ghost! The guest can’t seem to find you and when they ask another person for something they get the “This isn’t my section” response. No management presence is seen on the floor however you can hear them yelling at the staff from the back. The word “idiots” is used often.

  1. The Cash Out

Time to rake in the money! It’s also tip to see if your hard work results in a good tip. The word tip is said to stand for To Insure Prompt Service. That’s nice. A little outdated, but nice. Today many assume that tipping is required and it’s not. Now that might get a few people up in arms and start a debate and that would be good. We need to talk about what is great service and what is good service. What is expected and what goes beyond guest expectations. When you go beyond the average you earn a great tip. Do the minimum and you get squat. Good service is the standard today. Good gets you 10-15% if you are lucky. Outstanding gets you 20-25% (or more) in gratuity.

If you make my experience a positive one and a memorable one, you will be rewarded (99% of the time). Yes, there are some people who just are bad tippers and no life changing guest experience will make up for people who just don’t get it. No reason to get upset because it’s more a reflection of who they are as humans than a reflection of your service.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = You dropped the check with a sincere smile, eye contact, your name, and an invite to return. You have not expectation for the size of tip and trust that your attention to detail (combined with the stellar work from the kitchen and bar) will bring home the bacon! You return promptly with the change or credit card slip and even bring a mint or candy to say thanks. You keep delivering great service (refill waters) even after they have paid. The guests don’t feel press to leave.

+ 3 = You drop the check (after they have to ask for it). You snag up the credit card or cash as soon as you see it ready on the table (you actually are staring at them which makes then nervous to pay). You drop the change with the standard quick smile and “thanks”. Their water glasses are empty and the grandfather looks parched, yet you avoid the table so they get going.

+ 1 = They track down the manager after vain attempts to get the check. They missed the movie they wanted to go see and now are in a bad mood. When you drop the check you stand there waiting for them to break out the wallet. You don’t say anything and grab the bill and method of payment. When you return the credit card slip you forget the pen. If they paid with cash, you return with the wrong change. You make excuse like “it’s been so busy”, to try and get a better tip.

  1. The Farewell

Time to say goodbye. Here is where the entire team needs to get together to ensure that the guest’s energy is higher than when they arrived. The team must gang up to send positive energy towards the guests as they are leaving. You can deliver an exceptional guest experience from steps 1-8, and drop the ball on this one.

There is a little know psychological term called the recency effect that basically says that we tend to remember or place more emphasis on the last event we experience. That’s good to know if you want to score a few extra points at the end of the guest experience.

Score Your Restaurant:

+ 5 = At least 3 people on your team give a warm and sincere thank you (or goodbye). The greeter opens the door for departing guests. The manager or owner personally says something positive to the guests as they leave. Someone on the team offers to carry their to-go bag to the car. Someone on the team offers to walk them to their car with an umbrella when raining.

+ 3 = Someone says goodbye although they fail to make eye contact. The manager smiles at the departing guests, they just don’t say anything. The server asks them, “Do you need help with that?” (Seeing the guest struggling to grab the to-go bag), yet doesn’t jump in to help.

+ 1 = Guest’s receive the non-verbal head nod from the greeter. Guests feel like they are not really appreciated and leave with a dazed and confused look.

How Did You Do?

Time to tally up your Steps of Service Score:

45: You have a rock star guest oriented culture! You make sure every touch point is carefully examined and refined. You have consistent training going every day. You invest in your team by providing them with resources that make them better. You also invest in improving yourself to be the leader they deserve. Your restaurant is in that rare 5% space called outstanding. A+

36-44: You’re working hard to improve. You have a solid guest experience and actually you are about the middle of the market. You’re seen as an innovator and have a steady stream of regulars. B

27-35: You have good days and bad days with your guest experience. Each day it exciting because you never know which way it’s going to go. The team was trained, however without constant enforcement of the standards they tend to backslide to bad habits. You basically are average and fight to maintain your share of the market. C

18-26: You get more complaints than compliments. Every day is a struggle to keep a positive attitude and moral among the team. It’s more like every person for themselves than working together. D

9-17: Your brand is destined to crash and burn you just might be in denial so badly that you can’t see it. You survive on first time guests who stumbled upon your restaurant and repeat guests are few and far between. Your online reviews are a collection of bad times, bad food, and memes of grumpy cat. F

You must treat every guest interaction and every touch point along this Service Map like it was game seven in the NBA Championship. You either play all in and win or you don’t play all out and lose. That’s the difference between outstanding restaurants and the rest. Be honest about where your score is and take immediate corrective action to improve it.


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