By Dave Harris
Former restaurant manager and small business management consultant
It's good to be in the restaurant business. According to the website FranchiseHelp, sales figures for the fast casual industry, specifically, improved by 30 percent from 2006-2010. If your establishment is enjoying that trend, congratulations. Chances are, you got there with a strong business model, sound hiring techniques, and – arguably the most important factor – a good customer service strategy. Customer satisfaction in the foodservice industry is the name of the game, so staying competitive is critical. Here are five ways to keep your restaurant's customer service at a high level.
1. Develop a mobile app
According to SinglePlatform, 81 percent of those surveyed have looked for a restaurant on their mobile device, yet a large number of eateries don't have their own mobile app. The mobile segment is growing at a record rate, and creating a mobile app for your business is a great way to expand marketing and give customers on the go the information they're looking for. Just make sure the app is easy-to-use and includes driving directions, your menu, weekly specials, and the ability to make reservations if your organization accepts them.
2. Embrace social media
Improve your presence on social media and establish a forum for comments. If you already have a Facebook page, monitor it frequently. Customers are now much more likely to make a comment about your business via social media where they can either gloat or vent their frustrations to an audience, so enable them. And if you see something negative on your social media accounts, or on public review sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon for that matter, be sure to get it squared away in short order. Consider accepting reservations through Twitter as well and look into using your Facebook account to let customers place orders.
3. Expand your menu options
CBS News recently reported that close to 2 million Americans suffer from Celiac disease, meaning they're allergic to gluten. Many Americans are also allergic to dairy products, nuts, eggs and soy. In order to attract a larger segment of the American population and improve customer service, why not expand your menu to include some options for people in these groups? Even if they cost more to prepare, you can work that into your pricing strategy so your bottom line isn't affected. My household deals with a few different food allergies and therefore our dining options are somewhat limited; often, finding a place to eat is a challenge. By targeting this customer base, you're putting yourself at a distinct advantage above your competition.
4. Post nutritional information on your menu
Many Americans are making healthier choices with the foods they eat, so by posting calorie counts for your menu items, you can improve customer service and potentially drive more sales.
5. Make your dining experience kid friendly
According to American Demographic Magazine, married folks who have children spend 44 percent more than those who don't. To appeal to this segment, make your dining experience kid friendly. Provide crayons and coloring paper at the beginning of the meal and if your restaurant serves pizza, give them a little piece of dough to play with. Make sure your kids' menu is inexpensive, and consider featuring a few nights every month when kids eat free.
Despite the temptation, don't expand too quickly. Customer service is one of the first casualties when a company grows before it's ready, which can harm more than help your business. Focus on your patrons, provide quality food, excellent service, and then, when you see a clear financial opportunity to expand without compromising any of your values, seize it. Expansion is a boon to any restaurant, just make sure you provide the same level of service that's gotten you to this point.
Photo provided by Flickr user hobvias sudoneighm.