Five ways to improve customer experience

Nine times out of 10, what makes a restaurant experience memorable for a customer is how they're made to feel, said to Jeff Joiner, a corporate trainer at Advantage Waypoint. This trumps even the menu.

"Great service makes up for mediocre food every time. However, great food can never make up for poor service," he said.

Joiner, who spoke at the North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show held recently in Columbus, Ohio, said creating a better guest experience can increase sales 30, 50, even 100 percent. He outlined five keys operators need to embrace to achieve this success.

1. Be brilliant at the basics.

Teaching your employees the basics may seem trivial, but it's not. Joiner recommends reiterating what's important every other month or so. That includes politeness, cleanliness, food temperature, etc.

"Vince Lombardi taught his players what a football was. These were guys who had been playing football their whole lives, who were good enough to be professional. John Wooden taught his basketball players – college-aged – how to put on socks and shoes. Going back to the basics, and doing them right, is what success is all about," Joiner said.

2. Get rid of your satisfied customers.

If you're shooting for customers who are "satisfied," you're shooting too low, Joiner said.

Satisfied is one step above dissatisfied, and falls within a zone of indifference. Operators should aim for customers who are loyal or, better yet, apostles of their brand, spreading positive messages about the business.

"Pizza places benefit the most from apostle customers because pizza is group oriented," Joiner said. "How do you get them? Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising tool. But it's also a double-edged sword, so you have to do it right. Owners that don't change or listen to others' ideas will fail."

3. Put on your cross-training shoes.

The most successful business has employees who are trained for multiple jobs; employees who know how to open and close, and who also know how to scoop ice cream or serve hamburgers.

"Once different departments realize they have a common goal of pleasing the guests, the operation will run better," Joiner said.

4. Turn servers into surfers.

Teach your employees how to upsell. Many restaurants, Joiner said, can generate $7,000 to $37,000 extra a year through efficient upselling.

This can be done in three ways:

  • Sell, then sell. Take a customer's order, and then remind them you have something else that may interest them.
  • Strive for 25. Customers start to get uncomfortable if you try to upsell them more than 25 percent from their original order. Keep it within that perimeter.
  • Relate, don't irritate. If someone is calling for pizza, try selling them a salad or some breadsticks – something that complements their main order. If you try to sell them a burger or other entrée, it may turn them off from the entire order completely.

5. Look for ways to go the extra mile.

Joiner said one night he went out to a Cincinnati restaurant with some friends and his wife. When she asked if she could have a derivative of the special, the waiter stopped her mid-sentence and said, "You can have whatever you want. If the chef can't make it, I will."

Joiner noted that his wife felt good the rest of the night, and that he tipped the waiter extra because of his efforts.

He said another restaurant near his house frequently has long lines out the door because the owner is known to hold an umbrella over guests as they walk in from the parking lot in the rain.

"People are so used to being blown off and marginalized, that when they're treated well, they're going to remember it. Always look for ways to do something people aren't expecting, even if it's just something little," he said. "These are things that will separate you from your competition."


Joiner acknowledged it's difficult to keep up the pace of owning a restaurant and remembering to find time to re-train employees about basic customer service.

"But when you consider the reasons businesses lose customers, you realize how important service and hospitality really are," he said.

Those reasons include:

Death, 1 percent

Customer moves away, 3 percent

Customer is influenced by friends, 5 percent

Customer has been lured away by a competitor, 9 percent

Customer is dissatisfied with your product, 14 percent

Customer was turned away by the "attitude of indifference on the part of a company employee," 68 percent

"Sixty-eight percent of customers leave because of something that can be avoided by going back to the basics. Teach service, encourage it, edify it," Joiner said. "Your total cost out of pocket for doing so is $0."

Read more about customer service/experience.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Jeff Joiner
    Anyone interested in utilizing my consulting services or training can contact me at

    Thanks, Jeff Joiner
  • Greg Costley
    thanks for nothing
  • Marvin Greenberg
    I have given up my search for the words and motivational techniques that will make every foodservice owner, operator, independant or chain understand that NOTHING NOTHING supercede the importance of service. Call it what you will, excellance, basics, inspriational NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT TO THE CONTINUING RELATIONSHIP OF A CUSTOMER TO A BUSINESS THAN THE QUALITY OF IT'S SERVICE. It is the principal component, element, fawcet, ingredient; call it what you will but service is the Prime essence of the Experience. If you don't have time from the very beginning of a person's employment to insure that they know this and that you will continue to support all the methodologies of training & teaching to insure a service culture; then get out of it, you're killing your business and bismirching the industry with you ignorance!
  • Jeff Joiner
    I TOTALLY agree with you, Marvin. I started this seminar by asking people to share a “great experience” they had at a restaurant, and what made it great. Then I asked them to share a “terrible experience” they had at a restaurant. Interestingly, every single story was about service and hospitality, essentially, how they were made to feel. Not a single person mentioned the taste or quality of the food.

    Obviously, offering high-quality, delicious menu items is important, but it is not usually what makes a dining experience memorable. Many operators are looking for the magic menu-item that will double their sales. It doesn’t exist. But, providing excellent service will lead to returning customers and increased word of mouth.

    Interestingly, I do consulting and training throughout the food industry, but I think this concept is most important in the Pizza segment, where the menu offerings of your competitors is most similar, and dining is almost always a group decision.
  • Takeaway Training
    Fantastic article! Great Customer Service is imperative!! check out this cd- modular on site learning already working in over three thousand pubs, bars and retaurants around the world!
    Hospitality Customer Service Training CD

    This training is ideal for your whole team or individual learning. Included in each of the ten fantastic sessions are Information and guidance, tips and techniques to implement and more...
    A. Information and Guidance
    B. Tips and techniques to implement
    C. Simple rules to follow
    D. Activities and games to conclude the learning

    and much more!

    Hope you find this useful if you want to shine in customer service as this article reinforces and be a part of a huge success story!
    We love great customer service!!!
  • Teri Fuller
    The customer service aspect has been the challenge for us since we opened in August. We have been doing business as a Fast casual counter service with carry out, dine in and delivery. I really appreciate the information we received in this article. It has enabled us to boil down to the basics what we need to do to bring our employees up to the level we desire them to serve our customers. Thanks.
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