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."
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Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.