We went to a new restaurant in our neighborhood last night. It’s been there for the two years we lived here and we drive by many times each week. We walked in because someone told us that “the food there is pretty good” The food was good and the servers were friendly, actually a bit too over-the-top friendly where you feel like saying “if I keep having to stop chewing to answer questions every few minutes I am going to walk out hungry”. But of course we were polite and said nothing.
At one of the exchanges early on we mentioned to the server that it was our first time. A golden opportunity for the owner to make a lasting impression. Here’s the exchange:
“Oh wow that’s great. You know the food here is really great”
“You should check out brunch, it’s only thirty dollars and the food is amazing”
Here’s the thing: there are at least fifteen to twenty Italians restaurants within half a mile radius of our house. When we feel like eating Italian the challenge is always “where should we go?”
That’s why our newbie experience was a huge missed opportunity for the restaurant, starting with our server.
No one trained her on what to do when a first-time guest shows up. There must be a process that is put into place when someone like us walks through the door. It is a rare chance to turn an average evening into an awesome dining experience.
And the sad part is that it is so simple to implement:
“First time here?”
“Wow, great to have you. How did you hear about us?”
“Are you neighbors or just visiting”
“Well, thank you for choosing us and I promise to make this a wonderful evening”
Then (the process):
Run to the Chef and let everyone know we have a first-time guest
Have the Chef come out for a minute to greet and thank them for coming
Have the chef give them a business card with his personal email in case they have questions
Offer them a glass of wine on-the-house
Give them a five dollar coupon to use on their next visit
While we are quick to dismiss most restaurants with “the food was okay but I’m not sure it’s worth coming back” or worse “I didn’t like the food, scratch this one off the list”, a positive and memorable experience makes all the difference.
“I didn’t care for the food but I would go back there again” is a decision that you (restaurant owner) drives. You’re not going to hit it out of the part with every guest, but they will return because they felt genuinely appreciated.
Customer loyalty is not bought with coupons or artificial friendliness. It is earned.
The hostess can’t view guests as “bodies that need to be seated” and the serving staff can’t approach them as “just keep them fat and happy” either.
It is about culture, systems and training that yields consistency. People we serve every day aren’t a “guest’s check” but a path to a better future, a road that is paved with loyal customers who will forgive you when you underperform and will keep coming back.
Average is like playing Russian roulette with the future of your business. Awesome is controlling that future.