I have been reviewing restaurants for over a decade, and have had experiences ranging from absolutely dismal to stellar (and everything in between) There are many factors that contribute to a dining experience – it starts with the way you are initially greeted (were you warmly acknowledged by the host, and treated with graciousness and efficiency?) and ends with that last, lingering cup of coffee (did you get prompt, hot refills? Did the waiter bring you the sugar and milk or cream that you asked for?).
If a restaurateur asked me how to impress a food reviewer, I would give him/her the following advice:
• Hire an enthusiastic, professional staff, and facilitate good communication between the kitchen and dining room. This will greatly improve overall efficiency and enhance your customers’ experience in countless ways.
• Keep your restaurant scrupulously clean. That includes the bathrooms, kitchen, and staff uniforms.
• Use fresh ingredients.
• It’s easy to crank out mediocre food. Instead, strive to produce the very best food you can. Your customers will appreciate the effort.
• Deliver menu items at their optimal temperature.
• Be proud of your food and restaurant – believe me, it makes a difference.
• Pay attention to the temperature in the restaurant – are customers too cold, or too warm?
• Pay attention to the background music. It may be too loud. Ask customers if they are comfortable with the volume.
• Care for your customers earnestly and efficiently, and always ask them for their honest reaction to your food. Their responses are invaluable to your success.
• If a customer seems unfamiliar with your menu or cuisine, ask your wait staff to spend a couple minutes offering explanations and recommendations – without being overly chatty. Customers will appreciate the assistance.
• Ask all staff to reserve personal conversations for the back of the house. Customers don’t want to hear about their waitress’ latest breakup, or listen to staff members grumbling about the management.
• Don’t automatically give the check to the man at the table. These days, you have no idea who will be paying the bill.
• There are any number of problems that can occur. Here’s just a few:
Customers have to wait for their table, even though they had a reservation
Meals came out cold to the table
Customers waited a very long time for their food to be delivered
The kitchen ran out of an item after a customer ordered it
A customer hates the menu item s/he ordered
A waiter drops a glass of water on a customer’s lap
A rowdy, large party is making too much noise and irritating the other customers
A staff member is rude to a customer
Problems are inevitable, but how the restaurant handles a problem directly impacts the customers’ dining experience. Problems – regardless of their size – need to be addressed immediately. Managers need to apologize, quickly take care of the situation, then offer reparation – give the customer(s) another menu item; “comp” a portion of their meal, offer them free desserts or cocktails; give them a gift certificate for another meal. If a situation is handled with courtesy and alacrity, a potentially bad dining experience can be turned around. Wouldn’t you rather have a customer tell her friends, “The waiter dropped a margarita on me, but the manager paid for my dress to be cleaned and gave me a $50 gift certificate. What nice people!” instead of, “The waiter dropped a margarita on my lap. It was a mess, it ruined my dress, and I’ll never be back. I’m going to tell everyone I know to avoid that restaurant.”
• Remember to be grateful for your customers, every day. Their generous patronage pays your bills.