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Chef and customers interacting in clean restaurant
Raising Your Restaurant's Customer Experience Game
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Embracing these five essential restaurant service trends can help customers fall in love with your establishment. 

There is no more competitive business than running a restaurant. For the consumer, choices abound. One bad meal and you risk not only losing them but suffering negative reviews online and by word-of-mouth. Your best tool to combat the competition? Consistently satisfied customers and staying on top of restaurant industry trends. 

So, what does it take to meet high customer expectations? Recent research from management consulting firm Deloitte found that winning over guests included delighting them (43 percent) with touches that exceed their expectations and engaging them (46 percent) by interacting in friendly and authentic ways.

Restaurant leadership needs to have a good understanding of why customers are coming in and what they expect, says Dustin Rogge, associate professor, Hospitality & Business, at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. From food service trends to staff training to restaurant remodeling ideas are all elements of customer experience.

Putting five essential elements into play can help you deliver a great customer experience:

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1. Workplace hospitality

It’s hard to overstate how important having the right staff can be. Your people will provide the human interaction your customers have. The service must meet their expectations, Rogge says. It’s critical to constantly be on the lookout for the right people, who understand restaurant service trends, especially in a tight labor market. And that doesn’t necessarily mean having someone with deep experience in the restaurant business. And that doesn't necessarily mean having someone with deep experience in the restaurant business.

“You can teach someone how to bring food and put a fork in the right place, but it’s much more difficult to teach empathy and true interest and passion for what it is that they’re doing. And that translates to the guests,” Rogge says.

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2. Reliability

Customers want to know that your establishment will routinely meet or exceed their expectations. You need to understand why customers are coming to your restaurant and then deliver the experience they expect, Rogge says. In a fast-casual restaurant, your expectations are to have an elevated food experience, quickly, at a reasonable price. If there’s a mismatch—for example, the service is slow, or the food is poorly prepared or too expensive—your customers are going to be dissatisfied. It’s important to put processes in place to ensure that the experience is the same or similar each time. Cleanliness of food, reliable service, and restaurant cleanliness consistency are all ways to improve your customer's experience. Today, the name of the game is customer experience. 

Rogge suggests developing processes as much as possible to ensure you can standardize the experience no matter who is working on a given day or evening. For example, set a standard that all seated guests are greeted by a server within 60 seconds, and the first course arrives within 10 minutes. When you track such benchmarks, but still give servers the autonomy to handle specific situations the way they think is best, you can help your staff understand what it takes to exceed expectations, he says.

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3. Quality

People go to restaurants to eat, drink, and celebrate, so the food and beverage quality is very important. Equipment should be well-maintained and operational to provide the best possible meal preparation. Water quality should be examined to determine whether additional filtration or treatment is needed. For example, chlorine or related chemicals that municipalities add to water can affect beverage and ice taste. Routinely review food and beverage quality yourself to ensure that the taste and presentation is appropriate for your establishment.

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4. Décor and ambience

Before customers even enter your restaurant, they form opinions based on the way the exterior looks. As they enter the establishment, the décor, layout, and other aspects of its appearance also contribute to their opinion. Floors should be clean and well-maintained to prevent slips and trips. Establishments that look run down or dated may turn off diners. (For soup-to-nuts ideas on branding and décor ideas and products that won’t break your budget, visit 3M Brand You)

Lighting matters, too. A January 2018 survey by restaurant review publisher Zagat’s found that three quarters of those who browse food photos on social media have chosen a restaurant based on dinner shots, so newer restaurants have photo-friendly lighting. And, of course, every restaurant needs a focus on optimizing commercial kitchen space. 

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5. Trust

When diners enter your establishment, they’re placing their trust in you that you’re keeping your establishment clean and taking proper care to prevent food-borne illnesses. They want the establishment to appear clean—especially in popular open-kitchen formats, says Carolina Bautista-Brown, marketing manager, food supply business, at 3M.

“Guests consider how the ingredients are handled, how their food was prepared. If you have an open setting, it is even more important that you have a very clean kitchen,” she says. Using the right tools to easily keep the kitchen clean and grease-free helps improve its appearance and contributes to overall food handling safety.

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